Monday, September 24, 2007

Gordon Brown on Drugs: friend of the mafia, enemy of pragmatism

Gordon Brown has made his first big party speech as PM and has well and truly nailed his colours to the mast regards drug law reform. In a seemingly unambiguous statement he has said, amongst other comments, that:

“drugs are never going to be decriminalised.”
We’ll come to this implications of this statement in a moment but first I think it is important to point out that the Government is in the midst of a major ten-year drug-strategy policy review and consultation process (closing on October 19th), what it claims to be the 'biggest ever public policy consultation' in its history. Now maybe I misunderstand the meaning of the words ‘consultation’ and ‘policy review’, indeed, maybe the Government should have waited a few weeks until their consultation on how to do consultations had finished and reported before undertaking the biggest one ever. That said I’m absolutely positive that a key rule is that you don’t decide on policy – and announce it publicly - before the consultation has even taken place.

Gordon has now done this twice and we should all find it profoundly troubling.

Firstly, he has let it be known he wants cannabis was to be re-re-classified, rather than merely referred to the ACMD (as he had previously announced). This is odd since the ACMD, the expert body appointed by the Government specifically to advise on nominally non-political technical matters like drug harm rankings, haven’t even begun to look at this again, let alone report back to the PM. Also odd since the (endlessly tedious) issue of cannabis reclassification was specifically added to the drug strategy consultation. Yes, the one that hasn’t closed yet and isn’t due to report its findings till next year.

Now, with today's announcement, for the second time in his short PM-ship, Brown has done it again. He has ruled out an entire swathe of policy options regarding drug law reforms something that rather goes against the 'discussing the options' spirit of a 'consultation and review' . Now, whilst admittedly contentious, the reform position is held by a significant proportion of the public and the drugs field, as well as intellectual, media, academic, political, and religious opinion. Other countries have moved in this direction with considerable success yet, apparently un-bothered by rational evaluation of evidence, Brown has not only ruled out such a move in the short or medium term, he has effectively closed down the debate FOR ALL TIME.

Now I understand Brown wants to make a high-principles political splash, and that their may be an election looming, but these announcements are frankly offensive to all the 1000s of NGOs and members of the public who have, or still are, diligently contributing their thoughts and suggestions to the drug strategy consultation process. This remains true regardless of their opinions on classification or decriminalisation: there is a serious process problem here.

As we have said, and will be saying again more vocally in the coming weeks, the drug strategy consultation is horribly flawed in its design, content and implementation, and if we are being honest, a completely fraudulent waste of time. But couldn’t they at least maintain some vague semblance of it being meaningful, or that they might have not already decided what the next drug policy was going to look like (i.e. – EXACTLY like the last one)?

There is something alarmingly arrogant and contemptuous of your 'stakeholders' about saying you are going to listen to their views, and then decreeing entire arenas of debate are closed down forever and announcing policy decisions, before even listening to their answers.

From a pragmatic perspective the decriminalisation announcement also seems a peculiar one for Brown to have singled out in his maiden speech, and has the unmistakable whiff of political positioning (not wanting to be out-DailyMailed by tough-on drugs Tories) , combined with ill-informed moral grandstanding. The rest of the speech is about things he is going to do - not stuff he wont even engage with. All very strange. Consider some of the other things he said in the speech:

"I stand for a Britain that defends its citizens and both punishes crime and prevents it by dealing with the root causes"
As Transform have argued in detail for years: prohibition directly fuels vast amounts of crime at all levels, something not even the Home Office or the previous prime minister's own advisers dispute.

"I stand for a Britain that supports as first class citizens not just some children and some families but supports all children and all families"

We all remember that biblical saying: "suffer the little children to come unto me." No Bible I have ever read says: "bring just some of the children."

Odd then that he makes such play of supporting a law that criminalises around half of all young people and a third of the adult population, including those who elected his party to power. Now that’s gratitude. Not casual criminality either, a cheeky fine or warning for example. No, if Gordon's apparent re-re-classification plan comes to fruition, cannabis possession will return to its status of incurring a prosecution, a criminal record, and a potential 7 year jail term - for about 6.2 million people in the UK if the Lancet is to be believed (including half the cabinet).

A criminal record: just what the socially excluded and marginalised young people of Britain need to help them get on in life.

I must say, I despise the hypocrisy of those who cite the bible for self-righteous political brownie points, and in the same breath are happy to indiscriminately condemn millions to the stigma of criminality and punishment for a consenting personal choice, that happens to offend their personal morality (especially given that only some drugs, for no logical reason, are deemed illegal, whilst others, equally or more harmful, remain legal…see below).

Mass criminalisation of young people, how very Christian.

"To punish the evil of drug pushers who poison our children: I want the tough new powers that have already closed over one thousand crack houses in some areas of the country to be used in all areas of the country"

Ridiculous and shameless drug war posturing. Crack use has risen consistently and dramatically throughout his Government's tenure, as well he knows, and crack is cheaper and more available than ever before. No mention of the fact that cocaine use has doubled amongst young people under Labour, or that we now top the European consumption leagues. This is classic drug war spin and misdirection (something that has characterised the entire 10 year strategy and positively infests the consultation document)

And to encourage local police to use new powers to confiscate drug profits, more of the confiscated funds will go direct to the police and local communities.
Laughable rubbish. It is the policy of prohibition which gifts the lucrative drug market to gangsters in the first place. The Government have hosed literally billions every year enforcing it and billions more each year attempting to deal with the chaos it creates. Meanwhile they pull in a couple of million a year in recovered assets. It’s a total joke to proclaim asset recovery as a central pillar of current or future policy.
To prevent addiction: we will extend drug education and expand drug treatment and we will send out a clear message that drugs are never going to be decriminalised.
Your own appointed expert advisers say drug education/prevention has been almost completely ineffectual, and recent announcements have been clear that drug treatment budgets are going to be scaled back. As for the decriminalisation announcement – well this appears to be a classic case of misappropriating the criminal justice system to send out public health messages – something it is not designed for doing and when it has been tried has been a counterproductive failure, as 40 years of a growing drug problem under prohibition demonstrate rather clearly to those with eyes/minds open.
So yes we will strengthen the police. Yes we will strengthen our laws. But preventing crime for me also means all of us as a community setting boundaries between what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour - with clear penalties for stepping over the line.
OK. That seems sensible enough, in theory.
Boundaries that reflect the words I was taught when I was young - words upon which we all know strong communities are founded: discipline, respect, responsibility
A bit school-teachery but fair enough, you are the Prime Minister I suppose

Binge drinking and underage drinking that disrupt neighbourhoods are unacceptable.

OK fine – but how come you make a distinction between acceptable and unacceptable drug use regards alcohol, but resort to the blunderbuss of indiscriminate blanket criminalisation for other drugs, Hmm? Why the moral absolutism for some drugs , but not others? (Reminds me of this.)

To punish: let me tell the shops that repeatedly sell alcohol to those who are under age - we will take your licences away.

Hang on. Why not give these ‘the evil of drug pushers who poison our children’ a walloping great big criminal record as well? Not being very consistent with your message about 'discipline respect and responsibility' now are you?
To prevent: councils should use new powers to ban alcohol in trouble spots and I call on the industry to do more to advertise the dangers of teenage drinking.
I'm forced to point out that your Government's record on alcohol advertising is a total disgrace.

So nothing new, and perhaps nothing we shouldn’t have expected, but there was brief moment when I thought that, just maybe, a new drug strategy and a new PM might herald some genuine reflection and even a reasoned debate on policy options (especially following on from an old drug strategy/PM combo that was such a complete disaster). This was particularly the case given that Brown comes from the Treasury and might have been expected to look more pragmatically at how spending on drug enforcement relates to policy outcomes.

Apparently not. Move along now, nothing has changed: if Gordon gets his way the mafia will remain in charge of the multi billion pound trade in illegal drugs.



Anonymous said...

nice amount of reasearh

Anonymous said...

In an otherwose spot-on response to Brown(as usual!), just wanted to pick up on the 'drug education is ineffectual' response. I believe the ACMD report in question mistakenly used US research in coming to this conclusion, which was then reported in the press as being solely related to the UK. While a lack of concrete direction on drug education at governmental level means there is a lot of poor education going on, there are examples of good practice out there which are unlikely to spread under the current system. Along with the funding cuts mentioned (as well as other policies critiqued on this blog), the lack of direction on drug education from strategic levels can only result in a totally reactive system of dealing with drug use, as services will be forced to pander to treatment figures at the expense of education resources. Another example of policy reproducing negative outcomes. The fear will be a shift in education funds to raise the profile of FRANK, which despite well spun figures claiming success, is widely mis-trusted and ridiculed not only by young people but by the majority of workers I come accross. I'm sure there won't be a 'consultation' on our views on that....

Anonymous said...

This has surely set the cat amongst the pidgeons within the ACMD? Will they simply accept this without question? What's their role now that drug policy matters like this have become subject to the whim of a here today gone tomorrow prime minister?

Just what is the basis of UK drugs policy? It's certainly not evidence anymore, if it ever was.

Steve Rolles said...

dougie - fair point. im not saying all drug education is ineffectual but that the majority of it has not been shown to be great vlaue for money up to this point. At least, unlike enforcement spending, it is not actively counterproductive, and has the potential to be beneficial on various meaningful indicators if done properly.

Anonymous said...

Spot on article

So we are now having laws made according to the enforcement of morals rather than scientific based evidence.

Isn't this how we ended up burning witches in the middle ages.

Wouldn't it be interesting to find out that the public review had a substantial minority calling for Government regulation and control of drugs rather than gifting it to organised crime.But whatever the outcome Gordons Morals mean he knows best...outrageous

Anonymous said...

Now maybe I misunderstand the meaning of the words ‘consultation’ and ‘policy review’

Yep - in NuLabSpeak, "consultation" means "PR exercise".

Anonymous said...

Gordon Brown - a man of conviction.

It certainly does sound like he really, really likes convictions.

Steve Rolles said...

haha Paul. (I might have to use that)

Axiom said...

Gordon Brown is a very evil man.
He wants to support the burgeoning black market by keeping profits high.
Is he aware of studies showing prison building corporations like wackenhut have been involved in mass importing of drugs, increasing their profits when the young are imprisoned for using them!
What doesnt he understand about the 2 most lethal of drugs, the legal alcohol and tobacco?
I would strangle this evil man with my bare hands.

Anonymous said...

James Gordon Brown MP PM:
Repeating all previous crap said by all previous crap.