Thursday, January 03, 2008

Brunstrom on drugs (again). Transform comment in Indie and Mirror

Richard Brunstrom, the Chief Constable of North Wales has again hit the news over his views in support of drug law reform. The media don't seem to know quite what to make of him, torn between an intelligent engagement in the debates he highlights, or tearing into him with personal attacks. The most recent spasm of media coverage followed an appearance on BBC's Today programme

It provoked a flurry of media coverage, the Mail predictably leading the charge with its personal attack cover story and a total failure to engage with the actual policy debate being raised.

Whilst the Mail only quoted bereaved parents, and staunch anti-reform campaigners Mary Brett, and Peter Stoker (Transforms request for a response slot going unanswered) the Independent at least welcomed some alternative views inviting Transform to submit a discussion piece for the Indpendent blog, reproduced below:

In calling for the legalisation and regulation of drugs again, chief constable Richard Brunstrom has suggested that aspirin is more dangerous than ecstasy. Whether or not this is the case isn’t clear (apparently the Department of Health could not supply the number of those who die as a result taking aspirin each year). However, as Mary Brett (Europe Against Drugs) tells us in the Mail, “This was an extremely stupid and irresponsible comment. Aspirin is taken as medication to help people get better. Ecstasy is taken to upset the chemical balance of the brain deliberately”. Thanks Mary (she’s a teacher you know).

Commenting on the substance of Brunstrom’s remarks, the Mirror leader said: “Clearly, 40 years of prohibition has been a disaster. Our country is awash with drugs. Criminals are raking in billions… and billions are being wasted on the largely futile “war” on drugs.”

These vastly different views encapsulate precisely the fault lines in the debate on the future of drug policy: one, knocking Brunstrom for having the temerity to question the absolute success of UK (and global) drug prohibition; the other going right to the heart of the matter – prohibition doesn’t work. Indeed, the Mail followed the news piece with a relentless ad hominem attack on Brunstrom, with no analysis of his views on drug policy.

Happily, at least the debate is being kept alive in the media, with some excellent pieces being penned over the last few years. Sadly, the media is the only place where this issue is receiving an airing. For most politicians and Whitehall officials, questioning the status quo on drug policy is taboo (with some surprising exceptions) and the vast majority of NGOs, professional bodies and Government Quangos remain totally silent on the issue. To me it beggars belief that organisations and individuals that work with those most negatively affected by prohibition fail to speak out. That includes: development organisations that work in the drug producer countries, those in prison reform, drug treatment organisations, drug policy think tanks, criminology academics, and the legal field.

Brunstrom suggests that legalisation and regulation will take ten years. Transform is in agreement that this is probably a bare minimum. But in that time, the UK drugs trade will have made £70 billion for gangsters (globally that figure will be over £3 trillion). At the same time, UK families will have paid close to £200 billion of crime costs, either as tax payers or as victims. The illegal trade will have ruined, for another decade, Afghanistan, Colombia, the Caribbean and blighted every major urban environment in industrialised countries.

However, politicians will continue to trot out the “tough on drugs” propaganda for a combination of easy votes and the maintenance of our special relationship with the US. The UK public meanwhile, will continue to be swindled out of billions to support a failed regime. The challenge from the media will not be enough to force politicians to expose prohibition to significant scrutiny and explore alternatives. Those who know the score have a choice - stay silent about the massive social costs of a counterproductive policy that benefits only organised crime and cynical politicians or to speak the truth. Brunstrom’s courage should inspire others to follow his example.

Danny Kushlick is Director of Transform Drug Policy Foundation. Visit for more information

The Independent today ran a reasonably balanced news piece considering the issues around ecstasy risks and its legal status, which also featured a quote from Transform. The Mirror also engaged more usefully by inviting views from Transform (Danny Kushlick) and the NDPA (Peter Stoker), so that unlike the Mail coverage, different views could be aired. A so-called 'debate'.


Yes, says Danny Kushlick, Transform Drug Policy Foundation
Drugs will be made legal through licensed outlets or doctors within 10 years because that is the rational and most effective, just and humane way of dealing with the production, supply and demand for drugs.

All drugs are potentially dangerous but no substance is made safer in the hands of criminals and unregulated dealers.

Prohibition is counter-productive. And when it is ineffective it corrupts everything it touches.

It has corrupted Afghanistan, Colombia, South-East Asia, the Caribbean and most cities of industrialised nations in the West.

If that's success, I would hate to see what happens if we fail.

Supporters of prohibition have gifted a £320billion-a-year trade to the Mafia. In the UK, it takes £16billion a year to deal with the costs of crime alone.

The public can only be duped into believing it works for so long.

When people realise that it is a self-inflicted nightmare they will stop supporting the politicians who support prohibition.

No, says Peter Stoker, National Drug Prevention Alliance
All the evidence shows that every country that has tried relaxing drug laws regrets it and almost all have had to push the law back to where it was.

You can see with cannabis in Britain that the same thing is happening now. Every day we get some evidence about how harmful it is. If we are going to shift the classification it should be to where it is seen as more harmful.

How dangerous a drug is does not just relate to how many people die from it, but the wider impact it has in the form of crime and destroying people's lives.

It's not just the person who uses it that suffers, the impact of drug use ripples out across a much larger circle. As far as Ecstasy goes, if Richard Brunstrom thinks it's a safe substance he should talk to the parents who have lost children to it. We have enough trouble in Britain with two legal drugs - tobacco and alcohol.

The majority of the population are against current illegal drugs - they don't want them to be made more readily available.

The Mirror made its position very clear in a leader column, continuing its progressive line on the failure of prohibition and the need for reform.

Agonising on ecstasy

Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom is at it again.

He says ecstasy is safer than aspirin and predicts drugs will be legalised within 10 years.

Is this yet another unhinged outburst from a publicity-hungry police chief? Or could he actually be talking some unpalatable sense?

Clearly, 40 years of prohibition has been a disaster. Our country is awash with drugs. Criminals are raking in billions... and billions are being wasted in the largely futile "war" on drugs.

Brunstrom's comparison of ecstasy and aspirin is simplistic, not least because most of the medicine's fatalities are suicides.

But there's something in what he says - alcohol and tobacco are just as dangerous as ecstasy. And lumping the "dance" drug in with cocaine and heroin weakens warnings about "harder" narcotics.

But this is fiddling around the edges. We need a fundamental rethink of Britain's approach to drugs.

The current policy, as Brunstrom and many other experts argue, isn't working.

He may not be popular with certain tabloids or politicians, but Brusntrom's position is certainly challenging a lot of people to think about this issue, and if people are thinking, talking and engaging then it can only be positive in the long run.

see also:

North Wales Police Authority endorse call for the legalisation and regulation of drugs


Anonymous said...

I find it both interesting and promising to see the use of "drug reform" language in the mainstream press.
i.e. "Clearly, 40 years of prohibition has been a disaster"

Getting the wider public to think in terms of "prohibition" rather than illegality or naughtiness is something that can get things moving in the right direction.

DrHemp said...

Daily Mail gives birth to kittens

Anonymous said...

Great Chief Constable,stupid 'newspaper'!!

Anyway,i spoke to a local magistrate a couple of days ago,who had just been to a visit at Lewes prison(East Sussex).The warden told her:without our drug-problem,our prisons would be empty.unquote

of course,without drug-prohibition they would be indeed (well,almost anyway!).

glazz said...

as a worker in a treatment agency, i must do more to challenge the status quo - as you suggest. the worst part of the job is trying to fight a futile drug war (thanks tricky dicky) with two hands tied behind your back knowing that good taxpayer's money is being thrown after bad. when this approach is challenged with managers, funders, the healthcare commission etc you are singled out as irrelevant (at best) or a trouble maker.
the drugs minister, vernon coaker (you have to mention his name for irony), came to speak to us last year and suggested that politicians were not brave enough on this issue and that public opinion was ahead of them. i can only imagine his new (puritan) boss put paid to anything vaguely progressive.

Daniel Williams said...

I first did MDMA back in 1971 - well before it was named ecstasy. It was a 125 milligram tablet, pure and unadulterated and one of the best experiences of my life. Of course, all the problems began when the DEA banned it in 1984/85.

I believe if we gave captured terrorists MDMA, we'd not be able to shut them up - and get better information than waterboarding ever could. Just a thought...

DDAA said...

It has corrupted Afghanistan, Colombia, South-East Asia, the Caribbean and most cities of industrialised nations in the West

Prohibition was essential to finance wars and anti-communist guerrillas in the Cold War era, and it was used by the USA to increase the price of drugs like heroin and cocaine. The "tough on drugs" rethoric, used by all the american Presidents, form Nixon to Bush, has always been a fa├žade to mask this inconvenient truth. The War on Drugs never existed. Period.