Monday, July 16, 2007

Number 10 website petition to end drug prohibition: the Government responds

The text below was emailed to those who signed the petition, providing a concise summary of the Government's miserably weak intellectual arguments for maintaining prohibition. I have added some commentry (in blue italics to avoid any confusion).

Drug policy petitions on the Number 10 site are considered in some detail in a previous blog here (the blog is titled 'Number 10 drug policy petitions: a total waste of time?' . Read on to discover the all too predictable answer). For the record this particular petition was set up by the Transform Blog's very own founder, Ali G, for a blog post last year.

16 July 2007

We received a petition asking:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to End The Prohibition of Drugs And To Regulate A Safer Marketplace For All Currently Illegal Drugs."

Details of Petition:

"To reduce the criminal and social harms associated with the prohibition of drugs, we the undersigned, petition the Prime Minister to end prohibition and to regulate strictly the sale and marketing of potentially dangerous and currently illegal substances perhaps via licensed pharmacists. The costs of prohibition far outweigh any benefits."

Read the Government's response

Thank you for your petition seeking the legalisation and regulation of all currently illegal drugs.

The Government has no intention of legalising the recreational use of any currently illegal drug. In response to the Home Affairs Committee report on The Government's Drugs Policy: Is It Working? in 2002, we stated that "We do not accept that legalisation and regulation is now, or will be in the future, an acceptable response to the presence of drugs".

You can read this response here, the last time I can remember an official written statement on this issue. Notably the original response to the Committee was a derisory cut and paste job of Government policy, totally failing to answer the questions asked on decriminalisation / legalisation. The rather affronted committee had to then demand answers to the questions asked. There is some discussion of this response in a previous blog titled: 'Classification and Deterrence: where the evidence?'
An end to the prohibition of all currently illegal drugs and their regulation in a managed way, as you would wish, inevitably draws attention to the international dimension of the problem of drug misuse and its legislative control. It is a huge global problem which poses an ongoing threat to people in many countries worldwide, including the United Kingdom.
Completely true. Bravo.

The international community has - since the early 1960s - taken the view that, for protecting public health and welfare, effective measures to restrict the availability of drugs of misuse would require co-ordinated and universal action. The course taken has been that of prohibition, as set out in the three United Nations Conventions on drugs (1961, 1971 and 1988).

It is also true that this has been the view of the international community (or at least its view as translated through the UN drug conventions under the bullying hegemonic dominance of those entities by the overlords of Global Prohibition: the US). The fact that the enforcement of the conventions (and their translation into domestic legislation) has failed in quite spectacular to 'restrict the availability of drugs' (which have incontestably become more available with every passing year) or to protect 'public health and welfare' (which have similarly deteriorated under the drug laws in question) is conveniently overlooked. Effective measures indeed.
Any possible reversal of this position would be likely to require a similar, concerted UN-agreed initiative. As a signatory to the Conventions, the UK will not alter its stance on legalisation without international agreement based on sound reasons for doing so.

Breathtaking abdication of responsibility. If a law or legal framework is demonstrably unjust, ineffective and counterproductive, as is the case with global prohibition ('sound reasons' for changing it), then you fight to change it, if needs be through a 'concerted UN-agreed' initiative. UN conventions can and have been revised, updated, and reformed. Its not easy or quick, but that is not a reason to ignore failed legislation and it is certainly not an argument against the policy in principle. There is a section on precisely this question in Transforms new report After the War on Drugs, Tools for the Debate which will be available online later this month.
The Government's view is that the drugs subject to our misuse of drugs legislation are controlled for good reasons.
But they are N O T C O N T R O L L E D, are they. Control of the £300 billion a year market in dangerous drugs was abdicated to violent gangsters and uncontrolled criminal dealers when we bought into global prohibition back in 1961. (see above). And what are the 'good reasons'?
Many - like heroin and crack cocaine - are clearly addictive and harmful to health.
The fact drugs are harmful is the reason why they need to be properly controlled and regulated within the law, as alluded to in the petition. There are of course a number of legal drugs that are also 'clearly addictive and harmful to health'. The Government's response entirely fails to tackle the screaming contradiction and hypocrisy that exists within it's own policy on 'addictive and harmful drugs'.
Legalisation of currently illegal drugs would run counter to the Government's health and education messages.
In what other area of public health policy is heavy handed enforcement of criminal law used as the primary tool to send out public health messages? Surely the stunning failure of this approach in drug policy (which has witnessed consistent rise in overall drug use, especially of the most dangerous drugs, for two generations) should prompt a pause for thought. Maybe there is a better way to educate the public about the dangers of drugs and encouraging responsible lifestyle choices, through, for example, established public health education channels.
Our educational message - to young people in particular - is that all illegal drugs are harmful and that no one should take them.
Only illegal drugs?
To legalise their supply for personal consumption would send the wrong message to the majority of young people who do not take drugs on a regular basis, if at all, with the potential risk of increased drug use and abuse.

You send whatever message you deem appropriate (e.g. don't do drugs, they are bad for you) using public health education, media campaigns, school education and so on. There all manner of risky consenting adult behaviours that are not subject to legal sanction as a way of discouraging them. Why are (some) drugs different. Can you provide any evidence to show that this unique approach to reducing the harms associated with one specific consenting adult choice is in any way effective? No?
The Government's objective is to reduce the harms caused by use of all illegal drugs substantially, not to encourage increased consumption due to more ready access to increased supply.
Where in the petition does it mention 'encouraging increased consumption' (something, I note, that prohibition seems to have achieved with great success), or indeed 'more ready access to increased supply' (something, I further note, that prohibition seems to have achieved with great success)? If I read the petition correctly it called for the Government to 'regulate a safer market place' (one where the government controlled availability and supply, not the mafia), specifically 'to regulate strictly the sale and marketing of potentially dangerous and currently illegal substances perhaps via licensed pharmacists'. So, just to reiterate, that's strict regulation of dangerous substances, as opposed to violent unregulated street markets and criminal anarchy.
Our existing 10-year Drug Strategy is delivering tangible improvements in communities and reducing the harms caused by illegal drugs. Overall drug use amongst 16-59 year olds has fallen by 16% between 1998 and 2005/06. The Young People and Drugs Programme has been introduced to ensure that a comprehensive range of support is in place for young people. The use of any drug amongst 16-24s has fallen by 21% between 1998 and 2005/06, whilst Class A drug use remains stable.

This statistical tricksyness is dealt with in some detail on the blog here: How to spin prevalence data: a beginners guide
The Government has also achieved huge success in delivering treatment services and a national target of 170,000 people receiving treatment has been exceeded two years earlier than anticipated. More people are also successfully completing treatment programmes or being retained in treatment - 78% of those treated in year in 2005/06.

Throw money at the problem then trumpet lots of impressive sounding process measures. Sadly no mention of treatment outcomes (because they are all rubbish).
Drug-related crime is falling - recorded acquisitive crime (to which drug-related crime makes a significant contribution) has fallen by 20% since the introduction of the innovative Drug Interventions Programme (DIP) in April 2003.

There is absolutely no evidence that the DIPs are responsible for this drop in crime. The Government does not measure what crime is 'drug related' so any conclusions presented is speculation and inference based on secondary data sources. The drop in crime could equally well be related to the failure of supply side interventions that have led to increasing drug availability and significantly: falling price. When dependent drug users can get there drugs cheaper they don't have to nick as much to raise the money to buy them. So failure in one area of UK drug policy is potentially being dressed up as success in another. Needless to say if the drugs in question are made available on prescription, as is the case with heroin to a very limited degree, the need to raise money to buy those drugs disappears entirely. That would be the 'licensed pharmacists' then.
Around 3,500 drug misusing offenders are currently entering treatment each month through DIP. We are on track to achieve an overall target of 1,000 offenders a week into treatment by March 2008.

Process and throughput indicators again. No mention of outcomes (because...etc)

We have also developed better enforcement through an intelligence driven approach to tackling street level dealers and organised trafficking groups at all levels in the supply chain.

No mention of that pesky 'fact' that drugs are cheaper and more available than ever before. Grrr
The Government nevertheless accepts that more needs to be done.

meaningless platitude

In particular, this includes a stronger emphasis on dealing with problematic drug users and the problems they pose, and on reducing the harm from drug misuse to their own well-being and that of others.

....a large part of which is either exacerbated by or a direct result of prohibition and its enforcement.
The existing Drug Strategy ends in March 2008 and we need to build on our achievements so far. Our intention is to commence a consultation on the new strategy over the Summer and consult widely.

...then ignore anyone who suggests we do anything differently, announce a new strategy exactly the same as the last one dressed up with a few headline grabbing spin-itiatives, and launch it in a torrent of tough talking soundbites (with a bit of faux-compassion chucked in for the Guardian readers).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here is another PM response to a legalise cannabis petition.

It covers much the same ground, but may I draw your attention to this interesting sentence, which is a pro-prohibiton line I haven't heard before.

"On the human rights front, it is widely agreed that the law has a function in protecting public health and welfare, including protecting people from the consequences of their own actions - compare, for example, speed limits, seat belts, safety and crash helmets, tobacco health warnings, etc."