Friday, January 25, 2008

Richard and Judy back drug legalisation

Following the publicity around Chief Constable Brunstrom's recent report critiquing the failings of prohibition and calling for legally regulated drug markets (much of which is *blows trumpet* informed by Transform's literature), support has now come from an unlikely but welcome quarter: none other than Richard Madeley writing in the Express under the Richard and Judy Byline. Yes, that Richard and Judy, 'the nation's favorite TV couple'. Madely makes his point 'defending' Brunstom's 'call for the legalising of drugs' , and negotiates his way around the sensitive issue of drug deaths (from a parents perspective) with real sophistication.

Somehow this one slipped past me a week or so back ( probably because I only dip into the Express when I want to read made up stories about Madeleine McCann or Diana-Death conspiracy theories, i.e. never) . Still, in many ways this is even more remarkable than Transform bagging a double page cover story feature in Take a Break magazine. If the nation's favorite TV couple can pull in the Prime Minister to play 'you say, we pay', and push a book onto the best sellers list just by featuring it on their Book Club (Tools for the Debate, Richard?) who knows what they an do for pragmatic drug law reform?

What with the nation's number one TV presenter, Jonathan Ross, already a Transform Patron, Take a Break, and now Richard and Judy, we are getting so mainstream we are in danger of getting washed away. Mustn't grumble of course, but I rather miss that aura of radical chic from the old days...

There's little to add other than to say, Richard, I could have written that myself. Over to you*:

"How awkward it is to have to begin the new year defending the apparently indefensible... in the form of eccentric police chief Richard Brunstrom’s latest headline-grabbing “gaffe”. I refer, of course, to his call this week on Radio 4’s Today programme for the legalising of drugs.

Brunstrom reckons all currently banned substances – everything from Ecstasy to heroin – will have been decriminalised inside 10 years. He added that Ecstasy is “safer than aspirin”, for good measure.

“Idiotic”, “Mad”, and “Captain Calamity” were just some descriptions of the head of the North Wales force the following morning. Parents of young people who died after taking Ecstasy queued up to castigate him – quite understandably. If my child had perished because of drug abuse, I would be first in line calling for Brunstrom’s head.

Which doesn’t mean I would be right. It is pointless here to get into a statistical debate about the dangers of aspirin versus Ecstasy.  Both preparations can kill: Ecstasy by fits following dehydration and other factors, aspirin usually from internal bleeding.

Ecstasy kills around 50 people every year – although many more have a close encounter with the Grim Reaper in their local intensive care unit.

But considering the colossal number of (mostly) young people who swallow Ecstasy tablets in nightclubs up and down Britain every night of the year, the toll is comparatively small when set against those killed or maimed in drink-driving crashes.

Don’t get me wrong, I think taking Ecstasy is stupid.

Prolonged use may well cause memory loss. But being against the law hasn’t stopped it from becoming endemic – which means the criminal supply of Ecstasy and other drugs is endemic too.

This is at the root of the gang culture that grips virtually every city in Britain and is largely responsible for the proliferation of guns on our streets. The analogy with Thirties prohibition era Chicago is inescapable.

Personally, I’d feel safer taking a palmful of aspirin than even one Ecstasy. But as a social policy, the criminalisation of drugs must surely be recognised for what it is:  an abject failure. Cocaine, heroin, speed and, yes, Ecstasy, have never been more widely available or cheaper to buy.

Their illegal sale on an industrial scale nourishes a huge, sprawling and hydra-headed criminal underclass.

All Richard Brunstrom – with,  by the way, the broad support of his police authority – is really asking is for a sensible debate on how we move on from the failed drug policies of the past.

He may be a ridiculous honorary druid with an irritating penchant for speed cameras and absurdly sensitive to weak jokes about the Welsh, but he’s doing something rarely seen in our chief constables.

He is thinking out of the box. That is brave and bold and deserves thoughtful consideration, not calumny."

I hope the Express will forgive me for reproducing more than a usual sized snippet/quote here ( I haven't used Judy's section).


Jock Coats said...

Can anyone point me to documented evidence of the number of people "killed by Ecstasy" each year. That's actually killed by the biological effects of MDMA, rather than adulterated pills or ignorance of what to do when you take it - such as those who die of electrolytic imbalances because they believe they're supposed to wash pills down with four gallons of water every ten minutes or whatever?

Steve Rolles said...

drug deaths are a tricky thing to nail given the amount of variables at play, and how deaths are recorded and causes described. None the less they remain hugely important in the political debate - and unfortunately are often misrepresented and/or exploited. There is some discussion of the problems with drug death stats in Transform's fact research guide in the media section at

regards ecstasy specifically - the environment in which the drug is used, the predisposition of the user, whether it is mixed with other drugs, and behaviours whilst using it all come into play. Illegality certainly doesn't help for a number of reasons.

Some recent research on ecstasy deaths showed 60% were already known to drug services (i.e probably heroin users).

Jock Coats said...

I guess what I'm getting at is that's the first time I've seen a number put on ecstasy deaths - 50 per year. And whilst I appreciate that it is a tiny amount compared with other causes of young deaths, is it safe to say that it is really a number plucked more or less out of the air of deaths in which the taking of ecstasy was recorded somewhere in the history and could or could not have been a contributory factor. I guess most people think of Leah Betts, but it is my understanding that the cause of death was dilution of her brain salts as a result of too much water from bad "street wisdom" about how to deal with different possible effects, which I would say was death because of the law not death because of the ecstasy!

Steve Rolles said...

40-60 is the usual figure quoted, but like you say its very problematic data.

anyway - I think Richard tackles it quite sensitively and intelligently - and the fact he is talking about drug law reform at all, despite the emotive context of high profile deaths, from a rational perspective is really what the blog is about.

Jock Coats said...

Oh yeah - it is certainly good that he's speaking out, especially after the hysteria surrounding Brunstrom's comments. And in the Express too!

Anonymous said...

I just followed your link to look at the original article on the Daily Express website and I got this message:


The article you are looking for does not exist. It may have been deleted."

Thought it was too good to be true...


Steve Rolles said...

Derek - seems to be working when i try I suspect it was a hiccup rather than an attempt to erase history.