Friday, August 31, 2007

Times: Give Peace a Chance. Forget the War on Drugs


A fine pro-drug law reform op-ed appeared in the Times Yesterday titled: Give Peace a Chance. Forget the War on Drugs. by
"All these observations point to a simple conclusion: simple, though not easy. The global war against drugs is in contradiction to the war against violent crime at home and the war against terrorism internationally. Legalising, or at least decriminalising, drugs would, not on its own, end terrorism or gang violence — and it is no substitute for long-term measures to promote development abroad or improve education at home. But a ceasefire in the war against drugs would at least give peace a chance — not only in Afghanistan, but also in the streets of Britain."
Excellent to see another staff writer on a major UK broadsheet getting their head around the need for reform. It increasingly leaves the shrill voices of prohibition (Hitchens, Phillips, Heffer etc) looking increasingly extreme, ideological and isolated.

There is an active debate going on in the 'have your say' section beneath the online article.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

UK Drug policy 1997-2007 - The evidence un-spun

As part of Transform's response to the drug strategy consultation process we have produced a detailed briefing on the evidence of policy effectiveness over the last ten years, featuring, for each of the four key target areas, the Government's claims, followed by a Transform reality check and commentary. There is a great deal wrong with the drug strategy consultation:

  • Its content (no policies - and certainly no policy options- are proposed to 'consult' on)
  • Its format (not enough room to answer questions, no facility to make external submissions, limited questions etc).
  • The process by which it is being undertaken (the public are being asked to comment on cannabis reclassification - a scientific harm evaluation that ACMD are resonsible for, responses are being 'collated' in non-transparent ways by a private company).
(Note: As well as preparing our own response, Transform have complained about the problems with the consultation to various relevant Government bodies. There is at least one effort underway to have the consultation subject to a Judicial Review. News of these efforts will be posted on the blog)

The consultation document is so bad that various civil servants we have spoken to over the past year had cause to warn us not to get our hopes up. It was suggested that 'Whatever your expectations - lower them'. And, unusually for a Home Office drugs publication, this one didn't dissapoint.

Of the document's many problems, one of the most obvious is the fact that it presents an absurdly positive view of the past ten years 'success', as viewed through the rose tinted spectacles of Home Office spin, cherry picking, and statistical sleight of hand. At the end of its forensic deconstruction of the Government claims the briefing concludes:
"It is imperative that the debate on the future of UK drug policy not be clouded by statistical misrepresentations and spin that dresses up failure as success. This is in no one's interest and will lead to the perpetuation of failure rather than meaningful engagement with evidence of what works and a rational and honest debate about the future direction of UK drug policy."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Foriegn Policy Magazine and Fox News ask 'should drugs be legalised?'

The drug law reform debate has been getting some high profile coverage lately. Last week saw powerful opeds in the Washington Post and Washington Times, the week before saw two more in the Financial Times. This week sees a cover story in the prestigious Foriegn Policy magazine (this is currently subscription only - but the text is available here thanks to

The Foriegn Policy cover story by Drug Policy Alliance director Ethan Nadleman (who has written on this subject for FP in the past) has also garnered some comparatively rare coverage in the US's conservative Murdoch news channel Fox News. Whilst the brief studio discussion is dismnissive, the actual news piece does at least allow for Nadleman to make his point and summarizes the arguments reasonably well.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Prohibitionist rant trashed in the FT Economists' forum (with some help from Transform)

It is gratifying to see that the absurd prohibitionist rant from Joseph Califano that appeared in last week's Financial Times ( 'Drug legalisation is playing Russian roulette' ) has been thoroughly trashed in the FT Economists' forum as part of the paper's ongoing high profile debate on drug legalisation and regulation.

The Califano piece followed two pro-reform op-eds that had appeared earlier, all three of which are covered in last weeks blog , including a point by point critique of Califano's statistical and analytical crimes against reality. It is of course appropriate that the FT allows the different points of view in this debate to be aired, but equally correct that statements made by either side are held up to critical scrutiny. This is precisely what the Economists' forum (for the 'world's top economists') -and indeed the FT's public forums- are for, and is one of the joys of the internet.

I was pleased to see that a comment from myself was included in the Economists' forum. I make no claim to be one of 'the world's top economists', my economics A-level doesn't really qualify me, even with a grade A, FROM BACK WHEN IT MEANT SOMETHING! I do, however, have some knowledge of drug policy, and the forum occassionally accepts guest comments 'on merit' or by invitation. My first comment concerned misunderstandings about the term 'legalisation' but, mercifcully I thought, left the published Califano piece unscathed.

Subsequently, however, Califano posted his entire published FT op-ed (unedited) in the Economists' forum, rather than respond specifically to any of the posts that had been made previously, apparently misunderstanding the the 'discussion' part of 'discussion forum'. This prompted a robust response from Professor William Buiter, author of the pro-legalisation piece that had provoked Califano in the first place. Buiter notes, amongst other useful observations, that:

"I don’t really know how to respond to the long contribution by Joseph Califano, which is more of a rant than a logical and fact-based argument. The non-sequiturs in the way he jumps from the experience of localised liberalisation (in the Netherlands, Zurich and Italy), to the likely impact of global liberalisation are almost painful to behold. Righteous anger is no substitute for reason."
The FT's Martin Wolf then suggested I provide a forum response to Califano's post, specifically its dubious factual content. Since I had already blogged along these lines I posted an edited version of that critique, which was also published. Wolf then notes:
"I want to thank Steve Rolles, in particular, for destroying the factual basis of Joseph Califano's shocking intervention. It is depressing that this combination of hysteria, misrepresentation, intellectual confusion and mindless moralism continues to foist upon our countries a policy with such catastrophic consequences.

Like the Bourbons, Mr Califano has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. He seems totally incapable of distinguishing the consequences of drugs from the consequences of prohibiting them. Tragically, the attitudes he displays continue to sustain a policy that is destroying millions and millions of lives around the globe.

I am encouraged, however, by some of the other comments here, which suggest that people are relearning the good old principle that when in a hole one should first stop digging.

There's not really much to add to that except a general observation that giving hard core prohibitionists a platform seems, increasingly, a good thing, since they do such a splendid job of making themselves look stupid and undermining their own position - especially when exposed to rational debate and intelligent informed scrutiny. Thank you then, the Financial Times.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Washington Post: 'The Lost War'

An excellent comment piece by Misha Glenny on the failure of prohibition appeared in yesterday's Washington post. It is titled 'The Lost War', subtitled 'We've Spent 36 Years and Billions of Dollars Fighting It, but the Drug Trade Keeps Growing'.

Read the complete article here

There is also a live online discussion with the author today at noon (5pm UK time) to which you can submit questions

some quotes:

"Thirty-six years and hundreds of billions of dollars after President Richard M. Nixon launched the war on drugs, consumers worldwide are taking more narcotics and criminals are making fatter profits than ever before. The syndicates that control narcotics production and distribution reap the profits from an annual turnover of $400 billion to $500 billion. And terrorist organizations such as the Taliban are using this money to expand their operations and buy ever more sophisticated weapons, threatening Western security."

"The trade in illegal narcotics begets violence, poverty and tragedy. And wherever I went around the world, gangsters, cops, victims, academics and politicians delivered the same message: The war on drugs is the underlying cause of the misery. Everywhere, that is, except Washington, where a powerful bipartisan consensus has turned the issue into a political third rail.

The problem starts with prohibition, the basis of the war on drugs. The theory is that if you hurt the producers and consumers of drugs badly enough, they'll stop doing what they're doing. But instead, the trade goes underground, which means that the state's only contact with it is through law enforcement, i.e. busting those involved, whether producers, distributors or users. But so vast is the demand for drugs in the United States, the European Union and the Far East that nobody has anything approaching the ability to police the trade.

Prohibition gives narcotics huge added value as a commodity. Once traffickers get around the business risks -- getting busted or being shot by competitors -- they stand to make vast profits. A confidential strategy report prepared in 2005 for British Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet and later leaked to the media offered one of the most damning indictments of the efficacy of the drug war. Law enforcement agencies seize less than 20 percent of the 700 tons of cocaine and 550 tons of heroin produced annually. According to the report, they would have to seize 60 to 80 percent to make the industry unprofitable for the traffickers."

Misha Glenny is a former BBC correspondent and the author of "McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Underworld," to be published next year.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sentencing Guidelines Panel planning review and consultation on drug offences

The following correspondence has been forwarded to Transform from Dave Barlow, who represents Casey Hardison, currently in prison for 20 years for the manufacture of 7 grams of LSD. His case has been discussed in more detail elsewhere on this blog. As well as providing a useful commentary on the mis-classification of LSD within the current ABC system, Dave's letter to the Sentencing Guidelines Secretariat (querying Casey's 20 year sentence), prompted an interesting response.

It appears that the Sentencing Guidelines Panel are planning a (long overdue) review of 'issues relating to the sentencing of various offences arising from the supply, manufacture, importation or possession of prohibited drugs' to be undertaken 'over the course of the next year' and that this will 'involve the publication of a consultation paper to which anyone may respond'. (This may be public knowledge but is the first that I have heard of it).

This is good news, and it is hoped that, whilst not challenging the fundamental injustices of Prohibition, there may be some shift in the guidelines that see a non-violent, talented young man producing a few grams of LSD (for recreational use by consenting adults), imprisoned for longer than most terrorists, rapists and murderers.

1 August 2007

Dear Mr McCormac,

I am writing to you as Head of the Sentencing Guidelines Secretariat concerning the 20-year prison sentence imposed on the American chemist Mr Casey Hardison for the manufacture of 7 grams of LSD-25. Despite the fact that the length of sentence was double that recommended in the sentencing guidelines given in R. v. Hurley, Appeal against Sentence was dismissed at the Royal Courts of Justice on 25 May 2006. The background to the case and legal texts are available at .

LSD has a similar chemical structure to the psilocybin found in magic mushrooms and produces similar effects - the main difference is the duration of effects (4-5 hours for psilocybin, 8-10 hours for LSD). Both drugs are non-toxic and non-addictive. Yet they are both placed in Class A, the same legal category as heroin!

The government was advised in an independent report by the Police Foundation in March 2000 that LSD should be transferred from Class A to Class B (recommendation 8) . This advice was ignored.

In July 2005 the Government's Strategic Unit Drugs Report, which the Prime Minister refused to publish, was leaked . It contains a number of references to LSD:
Page 5: Dependent Users: LSD, 0.
Page 11: Least potential addictiveness of all drugs: LSD.
Page 12: Total cost (£/week): least expensive, LSD.
Page 15: Deaths per annum: LSD, 0.
Page 19: Damage to health and social functioning: LSD has the same rating as cannabis.
Page 33: "Users of heroin and/or crack cause high levels of every kind of harm".
Page 34: "In comparison, users of other drugs do not cause significant harms"
Cannabis, Ecstasy and LSD have the lowest harms rating.
Page 35: LSD users cause the least harm to self and the least harm to others.

In March 2007, Professor Nutt of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs published Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse in the Lancet (attached). In Figure 1 (P. 1050) each substance is given a mean score by independent experts. Both alcohol and tobacco are in the top 10 of harm causing substances while LSD is rated as 14th out of 20, three places lower than cannabis.
"Our findings raise questions about the validity of the current Misuse of Drugs Act classification, despite the fact that it is nominally based on an assessment of risk to users and society. The discrepancies between our findings and current classifications are especially striking in relation to psychedelic-type drugs."
I would be most grateful if you could raise this matter at the next meeting of the Sentencing Advisory Panel as I do not feel that a 20-year prison sentence is appropriate for a non-violent offender for manufacturing a non-toxic, non-addictive drug which bears a close similarity to ones found in nature.

Yours sincerely,
David Barlow

Dear Mr. Barlow,

Thank you very much for this e-mail and for the hard copy letter sent to the Chairman and members of the Sentencing Advisory Panel.

The Chairman of the Panel, Professor Andrew Ashworth, has asked me to reply on the Panel's behalf.

The Panel does not comment on the decisions in individual cases and so cannot respond to the issue that you raise in relation to this particular sentence.

However, it is likely that the Panel will be considering issues relating to the sentencing of various offences arising from the supply, manufacture, importation or possession of prohibited drugs over the course of the next year. This consideration will involve the publication of a consultation paper to which anyone may respond and any comments that you have will be gratefully received.

As with all papers issued by the Sentencing Advisory Panel or the Sentencing Guidelines Council, this consultation paper will appear on our website -

Yours sincerely,
Kevin McCormac
Head of Sentencing Guidelines Secretariat,

4th Floor,
8-10 Great George Street,
020 7084 8130

Transform briefing on drug classification

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Transform granted special consultative status at the UN

Transform has become the first UK-based organisation, campaigning for an end to global drugs prohibition to be recognised officially by the UN, with special consultative NGO status. At its Substantive Session of July 2007, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) granted Transform special consultative status at the UN, joining a total of 67 NGOs in the drugs field(from a total pool of 1279 registered drug NGOs).

Transform can now designate official representatives to the UN headquarters in New York and the UN offices in Geneva and Vienna. In the words of the UN – “the regular presence of your organisation will allow your organisation to implement effectively and fruitfully the provisions for this consultative relationship.”

Danny Kushlick, Transform Director said:

“Transform is delighted to have been invited officially to join the NGO community at the UN. It is testament to the work that Transform has done over the last ten years that we are now considered to have a valid place at the international policy making table. We join the likes of the Institute for Policy Studies in advocating for reform of international drug policy in order to reduce suffering and put in place policies that are effective, just and humane.”

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

After the War on Drugs: Tools for the debate

After nine months of toil Transform's latest publication is now available online to download in PDF format

After the War on Drugs: Tools for the debate is a guide to making the case for drug policy reform designed to:

  • Re-frame the debate, moving it beyond stale ideological arguments into substantive, rational engagement
  • Provide the language and analysis to challenge the prohibitionist status quo, and to make the case for evidenced based alternatives

We also have some rather beautifully produced print versions available, so get in contact if you would like a copy (we are asking for a small donation to cover print and postage costs).

It would be great to hear any feedback on the guide so please post comments below or email them to Steve

Any help you can offer with publicising 'Tools' would be much appreciated. This can include:
  • mentioning it on your blog
  • linking it from your website
  • mentioning/linking it in discussion forums
  • sending the link to colleagues and other interested individuals
  • suggesting individuals to whom Transform can usefully send print copies
We have already done a large scale mailing to parliamentarians and are now sending copies to various policy makers, media commentators, NGOs and others in the drugs field and beyond.

Thanks for your help and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

The first couple of chapters are also available, in edited format, on the blog here;

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6
part 7

Monday, August 06, 2007

Thank you to our anonymous donor

A big thank you to the anonymous donor who generously donated £500 to Transform last week through our website's secure online giving page

Transform supporters are many and varied.

We are keen to expand our donor base and support, large or small, is always welcomed.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

drug prohibition / regulation debate in Parliamentary adjournment session

The following is a speech given by Harry Cohen MP (Labour, Leyton and Wanstead) during the parliamentary adjournment debate on July 26th. He uses the speech to draw attention to and quote extensively from a new book by Julia Buxton, called the Political Economy of Narcotics, before calling for a debate of legal regulation of drugs and the failure of prohibition.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I start by offering my humble apologies to you, to the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons and to the Opposition spokesman? I shall not be able to be here for the winding-up speeches, as I have to go to a local health meeting at a hospital in my constituency. However, I shall read the whole debate with interest.

It is customary to say that we should not adjourn until we have discussed a particular subject. I do want the House to adjourn today, but when we get back, I want us to have a full-scale, grown-up, informed debate on drugs policy, the drugs industry and the drugs trade. I am not talking about pharmaceuticals; I am talking about the illegal drugs trade and its domestic and international ramifications.

I should like to draw to the attention of the House the best book on the subject that I have seen for years. It was published last year, and it is called "The Political Economy of Narcotics" by Julia Buxton, a senior research fellow at the university of Bradford. She gives a history of the subject, along with masses of information and a very good analysis. I got the book from the House of Commons Library, and I can tell that it is a good book because its source, the British Library, demanded it back straight away. I read it through to the end, however, and it should inform the debate. If there is more in-depth analysis of the subject, however, we should bring it forward. Indeed, the Government should bring forward their own in-depth analysis.

Ms Buxton refers to the United Nations and the international drug institutions, and to "institutional crisis and decline". Yet I know, from a parliamentary answer that I have received, that the UK is a major donor to those institutions, and to this failing effort. She refers to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the UN international drug control programme and the International Narcotics Control Board. She talks of

"the inability of the apparatus to revolutionize its working practices or to refocus policy."

Because of the institutions' dependence on donor countries,

"the mechanisms for debate, policy evaluation and review within the UN were limited and this further impeded the reform of UN and drug control approaches."

She goes on to say that,

"while there might be a lively debate on changing aspects of the national drug laws in some countries, the reality is that national governments have very limited room for manoeuvre in terms of developing domestic drug strategies."

Importantly, she concludes:

"This situation is regrettable because the system of international drug control does not work. All the statistical information shows that, rather than decreasing, the number of people who are producing, distributing and consuming harmful drugs is increasing. The expansion of the trade in drugs has been particularly pronounced since the collapse of Soviet communism in the early 1990s and it has accelerated in line with the globalization process. On that basis alone, drug control policies have failed. Not only have they failed, they are also counter-productive...The current control model has not adapted to the enormous changes that have occurred in production and consumption trends during the 1990s and 2000s. As a result, drug control strategies are no longer simply counter-productive; they are doing more harm than good."

Four types of drugs are dealt with in the book: poppy for opium and heroin; coca for cocaine, crack and other derivatives; synthetic-type drugs such as LSD and ecstasy; cannabis and marijuana.

The book also provides valuable information about the financial value of the drugs sector—estimated by the UN as in the region of $300 billion to $500 billion a year, which is more than the market value of steel, cars, pharmaceuticals, meat, chocolate, wine, wheat, coffee and tea. In 2003, the global retail cannabis market was worth an estimated $140 billion a year; cocaine $70 billion; opiates $65 billion; and synthetics $44 billion.

In fact, the lucrative drugs market of north America accounted for 60 per cent. of amphetamine retail sales; 52 per cent. of ecstasy; and 62 per cent. of cocaine sales. That is interesting because America is the country most insistent on the prohibition policy—yet it has the biggest drugs market. What we have seen economically, because of the failure of the control system, is supply up, prices on the street down, demand up. Clearly, the current prohibition policy has failed.

What worries me most is the connection with crime. As with alcohol prohibition, which led to Al Capone and the US mafia, drug prohibition creates the most dangerous organised criminal gangs and threatens civil society beyond just drugs. For example, in Columbia, three presidential candidates were assassinated as a result of the drugs trade. The drugs industry almost went to war with the state in that particular case.

The book notes that drugs prohibition has been advocated by the US Christian evangelists, who also brought in alcohol prohibition: the US likes bans and prohibition. I see that its policy on drugs is "Just say no". That same phrase, by the way, applies to HIV/AIDS in Africa—but again it is not realistic. The British and US Governments have fallen out over that issue and we recommend supplying condoms. America says no to global abortion rights, but abortion should be a right. I note that our International Development Ministers are to address the Marie Stopes conference—again that shows that we are adopting a different position from that in the US. If the US will not change, we should be prepared to adopt a different policy on drugs. The book also points out that US foreign policy takes precedence over its counter-drugs policy. The US will condone drug states or drug players if that is seen to be in its best interests. That factor will be used against whoever the US regards as its enemy.

The drugs industry and the prohibition strategy, which makes it so profitable, lead to wars—Afghanistan is a clear example—and narco-states such as Columbia. That was the status of that country in the past and perhaps still now. The response is unreasonable militarisation and the mass denial of civil liberties; and environmental damage when crops are sprayed. There are also employment and livelihood issues. Bolivia is cited as having almost half a million people—16 per cent. of the work force at one point—employed in the drug industry. As we know from Afghanistan, people often have no other feasible livelihood. While the trade remains illegal, producers get a good price and the process is highly organised. There would be a better chance for alternative production to be pursued if the bottom were to fall out of the market.

Julia Buxton says that the prohibition conventions of international organisations are out of date. They were brought in before the HIV/AIDS epidemic, before the collapse of communism and before globalisation. She argues that they spread harm while the real policy should be one of reducing harm. She refers to HIV/AIDS and drugs in prisons. Clean needle supply would help to combat the disease, and even safe supply could be justified. That would be better than the current practice, which ends up causing more HIV/AIDS as a result of dirty needles. The choice does not have to be between total prohibition or total liberalisation; Julia Buxton suggests that we could have a third way through regulation and an element of control. That is attractive because it would remove the worst of the criminality.

Let the House consider the equivalent industries that are also often viewed as unsavoury. There is the sex industry, for example. There are some bans, quite rightly in some respects, but that industry is not totally banned; indeed, most of it is legal and highly profitable, however unsavoury. The arms industry—most of us detest it—is not illegal; it is regulated. Tobacco is another example; it is legal, but we are quite rightly imposing ever more constraints on it. Alcohol is licensed. There is a third way, a third option, that could be adopted for drugs policy.

Whenever this matter is discussed, the debate is seldom thorough. It is all about soundbites—a simple matter of whether we are tough or soft on drugs. I admit that drugs have an impact on our streets and even in people's homes when it affects their loved ones. It is, of course, a political issue, but we need to have a proper debate about it. I believe that we need to do what is best for public health and for society as a whole. I urge the House to have that discussion.

available here

Drug testing company welcomes expansion of drug testing - shock

In an altogether unsurprising development the drug testing company Cozart, that produces the saliva drug testing equipment and kits used in the Home Office's flagship Drug Intervention Programme (DIP) , has welcomed the Government's drug strategy consultation, with a particular emphasis on the drug testing bit.

In a press release issued today Cozart claim that:

"Testing technology helps reduce drug-related crime by 20 percent"

"With the help of innovative drug testing technology from Cozart, the Home Office's national Drug Interventions Programme (DIP) is already enjoying unprecedented success."

"Police across Nottingham, West Midlands , Greater Manchester and South & West Yorkshire have adopted the technology across their entire forces. While drugs-related crime has fallen by up to a fifth in these areas since the introduction of the DIP, recent statistics from the latest British Crime Survey show an overall 10 percent rise in police-recorded drug offences nationwide."

Cozart rapiscan - detects 'drugs of abuse' (but only illegal ones) in spit
This is all very confusing. According to the British Crime Survey (which for all its faults is the best we have) there has indeed been a drop in property crime since the DIP were introduced.

However it needs to be pointed out that:

1. 'drug related crime' is not a recorded statistic.

There are crimes like possession and supply that are recorded, and there are crimes like shoplifting, robbery and burglary, many of which are committed to raise money to feed an illegal drug habit. However the the proportion of the latter that are 'drug related' is pure guess work and inference based on some drug testing on arrest studies. The methodology is riddled with holes and it's all very unreliable data to start with. We do not have a measure of drug related crime, and specifically do not have year on year data to make comparisons or show trends. In the unlikely event that you don't believe me, here are a few recent Parliamentary questions and ministerial answers:

Mr. Jeremy Browne : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many incidents of robbery reported to the police in 2006 were classified as drug-related crime. [PQ No. 117790]

Mr. Coaker : Data on offences of robbery recorded by the police are available from the recorded crime statistics. However, it is not possible to determine those that are drug-related as no information is collected on the circumstances surrounding the offences.


David Davis: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the average annual illegal income of arrested (a) heroin and (b) crack users. [PQ No. 47717]

Mr. Charles Clarke: We do not have the information requested.


Mike Penning: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment his Department has made of the proportion of crime undertaken as a direct consequence of drug addiction; and if he will make a statement. [16701]

Paul Goggins: Crime statistics used for monitoring overall crime trends, such as recorded crime and the British Crime Survey, do not contain information about the drug habits of individual offenders or their motivation for offending. It is therefore not possible to provide firm estimates of the total amount of crime undertaken as a direct consequence of addiction.

2. Even if we did have a measure of 'drug related crime' there would be no way of relating the recent crime fall to DIPs

This link has been made again and again by the Home Office, on its website, in promotional literature and in almost every pronouncement made by drugs minister Vernon Coaker - all part of the increasingly desperate attempt to dress up the shocking failure of the 10 year strategy as success (discussed at length elswhere in the blog, here for example). Yet the obvious implication of the statement, that DIPs are responsible for the drop in crime is entirely un-evidenced. DIPs have been implemented in different ways, with different resources, in different areas. Can a statistically significant link be demonstrated between the degree of DIP roll out in a given area and the extent of the fall in crime? I don't know, and nor does the Home Office because that work has not been done. What about using areas that didn't have DIPs at all as a control to test the assertion? After all, if we are going to throw stats around, shouldn't we at least attempt to adhere to basic scientific good practice? But again, the work simply hasn't been done, or if it has, it has produced politically unpalatable conclusions and has been suppressed.

It is likely that DIPs have had some effect on crime levels, but at present this is entirely unquantified and could account for anywhere between 'none' and 'all' of the 20% fall. Yet in the absence of any actual research to back up or refute the Home Office's claim they continue to very publicly (and I would suggest shamelessly) take credit for the crime fall, without having the faintest idea if it is deserved or not.

An alternative theory is that due to the spectacular failure of the billions squandered on Government attempts to stifle the availability of heroin and cocaine -which are now more available and much cheaper, around 20% cheaper, than they were in 2003 - dependent users have to steal less. About 20% less. So maybe, in fact, the 20% crime fall is due to the failure of the Government's supply interventions and not the success of DIPs. This seems like a plausible theory to me, but unlike the Home Office, I hold my hands up and say that it is just a theory and I don't have any evidence to back it up. I also don't have an army of civil servants and researchers at my disposal who could easily gather that evidence.

Meanwhile the drug testing companies who are, I believe the technical term is 'absolutely minting it', from the DIP roll out are more than happy to parrot Home Office propaganda and welcome the consultation, safe in the knowledge that the next strategy has already been largely determined and will most certainly involve lots and lots of drug testing. Calls for less testing will be ignored and evidence of its effectiveness will be found, whether it exists or not.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Transform in the Economist

The following article appears in this week's Economist, quoting Danny Kushlick from Transform. It is a typically level headed piece from the Economist, long time supporters of pragmatic drug policy and law reform, on the basis of some fairly obvious cost benefit analysis.

Drug-strategy review

Prescription renewal

Jul 26th 2007

No one can get rid of drugs but reducing the harm they do is cheap and simple

IT WAS the day the cabinet came out of the closet. When Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, admitted on July 19th that she had smoked cannabis in her student days, ministers rushed to get their own confessions out of the way. By the end of last week seven of her senior colleagues, including the chancellor and the drugs minister, had come into the open about their own youthful pot-smoking.

By wonderful irony the prime minister, Gordon Brown, had a day earlier ordered a review of the drug's legal status. In 2004 cannabis was downgraded from a class B drug to class C on the official three-point scale of seriousness which supposedly reflects the harm that illegal drugs cause and determines the penalties attached to possessing or dealing in them. Now, as the government prepares to renew its ten-year drug strategy, Mr Brown has hinted that he favours upgrading cannabis again.

It is only two years since the last review of cannabis classification, which left things alone despite reports that modern varieties were stronger than the sort that Miss Smith used to puff. And it is just a month since Mr Brown declared he had no wish to revisit the subject. A recent Tory report calling for cannabis to be upgraded, among other “tough” anti-drugs proposals, may explain his change of heart.

Britain's main problem drug, in fact, is alcohol. Young Britons swig far more than their peers in any other rich country, according to UNICEF. Drink-related deaths nearly doubled between 1991 and 2004, to 8,221—many more than the 1,644 who died from drugs in 2005. But Britain is also the stoned man of Europe. Among teenagers, only the Swiss smoke more cannabis; British adults beat most others on heroin, cocaine and ecstasy. The government says drug-taking is falling (see chart), but most of this is down to a dip in cannabis. Cocaine, more dangerous, has flourished.

This is despite a decade of real “toughness”. The number of jail years given for drugs offences increased by 22% between 1998 and 2005, thanks to longer sentences and more convictions. Officers seized nearly seven tonnes of cocaine in 2003, compared with less than one in 1996.

It is hard to know how strongly would-be drug users are deterred by the law, but the decline in cannabis consumption since it was downgraded suggests not very. And despite the efforts of the coastguards, cocaine is cheaper now than it was a decade ago. The government will not say how much its drug-enforcement efforts cost, but an estimate from the UK Drugs Policy Commission, an independent board of brains, puts it at about £2 billion ($4.1 billion) a year.

The £570m allocated for drug treatment last year is a fraction of this, but it is nearly a third more than three years ago (alcoholism charities now say they feel left out). The number being treated has more than doubled in the past decade; some 55% of those the Home Office identifies as “problem” users are enrolled, compared with 17% in America. Measuring results is more important than just “pushing people through the door and counting them”, says Danny Kushlick of Transform, a campaign group. But efforts to measure effectiveness are improving too. On July 25th NICE, the body that measures the cost-effectiveness of medical care, released guidelines on drug treatment, recommending innovations including vouchers for those who wean themselves off the stuff.

Those who cannot give up can still be helped. Doubling the proportion of primary schools that provide drugs education has not stopped cannabis use among 11-year-olds from increasing, but may help children who take risks to do so more safely. An official “safer clubbing” campaign warns youngsters not to mix ecstasy with other drugs if they choose to take it. Needle-exchange depots give heroin users a chance of escaping AIDS and hepatitis. Ayesha Janjua of Turning Point, a charity, would like sterile spoons, filters and other equipment to be made more widely available. This strategy seems to be paying off. Until 2001 the number of deaths from drugs had been rising steadily. Since then it has fallen back to below 1997 levels.