Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lords jump on the canna-panic bandwagon

Some cannabis, yesterday.

The government have scored another victory in its battle with the evil weed. Jacqui Smiths decision to reclassify cannabis from class C to B -despite the explicit advice of its own experts, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to keep it at C - was supported in the Lord's yesterday, the final potential hurdle before the reclassification takes effect in January.

In a last-ditch attempt to postpone the change, Molly Meacher called a debate in the Lords arguing that not only is the move ill-advised, as use has in fact fallen since the drug was downgraded in 2004 and therefore ironically the shift could lead to increased use, but also this change in the law will lead to more young people being criminalised unnecessarily.

Meacher’s arguments are supported by a group of scientists in a widely reported letter to the Guardian. They urged Peers to maintain the trend of evidence-based policy-making by supporting Meacher's amendment. She argues that cannabis should remain class C and that the evidence should be further reviewed by the ACMD in two years time.

Some highlights from the House of Lords Debate include:

Lord Ramsbotham: “One reason why I am strongly behind my noble friend Lady Meacher on this issue is that I hate the thought of large numbers of our young people being wrongly criminalised for being in possession of cannabis, with all that a police record means for their future.”

The Earl of Onslow: ‘Some 10 years ago I was invited on to the programme ‘Have I Got News For You.’ Not long before I had said in public that I was pro the legalisation of drugs. The man chairing the programme, Mr Deayton, who I think later had to resign when he was caught using cocaine, said in a perky way, “Of course, Lord Onslow, you are pro drugs, aren’t you? I answered by saying, “I am going to respond to the question seriously because the issue is too important for flippancy. Drugs are by far the greatest social problem in the country and they result in the greatest amount of crime.” The policy we have in place at the moment obviously does not work… If we go on with our present drug policies, the prisons will be full and we will produce markets for the ungodly to get rich, and thus continue to cause serious social damage. Incidentally, the whole audience clapped loudly and clearly at my answer. To think that the public take the view of the Prime Minister is not very well informed.”

In the end, the House of Lords voted by a majority of 52 against the amendment, which, whilst a disappointment for fans of evidence based policy (at least in the context of a hopelessly malfunctioning classification system ) does at least mean that the endlessly tedious cannabis classification debate wont drag on for another two years and we can get back to talking about more important things, not least the wider failings of the UK's drug enforcement strategy.

Hopefully for (almost) the last time, Jacqui Smith responded with her now familiar line on the subject:
“This is the next step towards toughening our enforcement response - to ensure that repeat offenders know that we are serious about tackling the danger that the drug poses to individuals and in turn communities. We need to act now to protect future generations.”
In stark contrast to the rather depressing tale of political posturing taking place in the UK, the Dutch continue to lead the way in rational thinking towards drugs. This week an article in The Independent reported that the Dutch are planning to set up a cannabis plantation to supply cannabis to coffee shops throughout The Netherlands. This is an attempt to solve the ’back door’ problem (it is legal to buy up to 5g of cannabis, but the cultivation and supply of cannabis to the coffee shop remains illegal), which has resulted in an illicit industry worth around 2billion Euros.
Rob de Gijzel the Mayor of Eindhoven commented: “It's time that we experimented with a system of regulated plantations so we can have strict guidelines and controls on the quality and price… Authorities must get a grip on the supply of drugs to coffee shops”
How this will work in practice regards international law remains to be seen, and the plantation plan will now go to the Dutch cabinet, and undoubtedly faces bureaucratic and political hurdles. Illustrating some of these tensions, elsewhere in the Netherlands the Amsterdam city council announced last weekend that 43 of 228 coffee shops must close by the end of 2011 because they are within 250m of a school. This tightening of the coffee shop system does not, however, threaten the general approach of tolerance and regulation of cannabis supply, which maintains a broad consensus of support from local and national politicians as well as the public, despite vocal dissent from some.

Switzerland is preparing to take a step further with a national referendum next week to move to a system of legally regulated production and supply of cannabis.

It all seems some way away from the UK where we are still obsessing over whether the sentence for cannabis users for should be 2 or 5 years.

for more on cannabis and classification see previous post


gitanodemurcia said...

Lord Onslow is top man

Anonymous said...

From Paul C

If Jacqui Smith so wants to live in an Amerika type of dystopia, can we not get her a
Green Card
and waive her goodbye?

Twenty years on and the debate between a former Prime Minister and his Cabinet Secretary remains as relevant as ever:

Jim Hacker: "Humphrey, who is it who has the last word about the government of Britain? The British Cabinet or the American President?"
Sir Humphrey: "You know that is a fascinating question. We often discuss it."
Jim Hacker: "And what conclusion have you arrived at?"
Sir Humphrey: "Well, I must admit to be a bit of a heretic. I think it is the British Cabinet. But I know I am in the minority."

Listen again on Real Player - (22 sec.)

Anonymous said...

In todays news BAT gets a £1.2 Billion tax refund, which goes some way to demonstrate how regulating recreational drugs within a legal framework could help save the economy.

Alias Smith & Brown are so worried about the Daily Mail readership they would have the country bankrupt before they consider sensible policy.


It beggars belief!

Anonymous said...

There is too much B and C grade and not enough A grade!

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I don't look to unelected politicians for good sense about drugs (or anything else). I have no interest in their views at all. As for their elected colleagues, well, it is no great shock that they choose (yet again) to play politics in the most crass way with cannabis. It was ever thus, sadly. We need a revolution!

Anonymous said...

Jacqui Smith is incompetence personified.

First this stupid and unworkable prostitution law and now the Cannabis reclassification.

I say open licensed brothels and smart shops where you can buy ALL drugs,after an initial consultation on health dangers and benefits. The treasury would make billions and the mob can go retire or something.

What is it with our government and this fear of sense and sensuality?Anyone enjoying themselves or having a good time seems to brush our leaders up the wrong way...

I await with abated breath the day New Labour comes up with a sensible policy...

Anonymous said...

A typical rant Steve. I know a lot of people who opposed downgrading and supported reclassification to B. I never heard one of them discuss possible penalties. Your last line is just plain wrong. The classification of cannabis is a fine judgment as is implied by the ACMD comments on the harms of it. The government believes Blunkett's Blunder was wrong. It has corrected that mistake. Of course some people will disagree with policy, democracy is often like that. Get over it. Legalisation is further away than ever.

Steve Rolles said...

I didnt write this blog David, but anyway. I think Blunkett's move was probably as politically motivated as this latest one - but for different reasons, attempting to please different audiences. Reclassification is never something Transform asked for or campaigned for - we have consistently said that its a distraction from the debate around prohibition, and also from the wider failings of the drug strategy. In that respect the whole debacle has been very effective for the government regardless of the outcome - which as you say has been fairly irrelevant on the ground. The fact remains though that the harm rankings are tied to a hierarchy of penalties - that is the point. it is supposed to be a hierarchy of deterrence, but there is no more evidence that it is any more effective in that respect than it is at educating young people about risk. Its clearly hopeless on both fronts.

This was all about politics - start to finish. Any decent science the ACMD have produced was lost in the populist froth.

M. Simon said...

A little evidence for those so inclined:

PTSD and the Endocannabinoid System

This is a report from an American Government Agency:
Addiction Is A Genetic Disease

And how about the social scene?

Class War

And while I'm at it - drugs on the brain:

Round Pegs In Round Holes

Drugs fill receptors in the brain. If your body makes "drugs" to fill the receptors - jolly good. If you have a deficiency and self medicate? Evil. If a doctor provides you with receptor fillers - no problem.

Anonymous said...

Steve, Raynes is a propapgandist, not a free thinker.
Dunno why you always argue with him and pretty much ignore other commentators.
There are far ore importsnt arguments than the tired old anti-drug folk.

Steve Rolles said...

Anon - I'm generally only moved to argue with people who say things I don't agree with.

Anonymous said...

Class A, Class B, Class C, the death penalty, none of which is really gonna make a single bit of difference.

If people want to smoke weed they will do no mater what the penalties.
I smoked when it was class b and class a. The only thing making me stop is my work and even then ill still toke when the holidays come.

I just think Ms Smith needs to be shot in to the centre of the sun and stop messing with peoples life's.

Anonymous said...

cant edit but meant to say class b and class C

john-boi said...

As the ACMD said the classification is irrelevant to users it made no differance to Jacqi Smith back in the 80's when it was B why should it now.
Fortunatley we are seeing more science being produced especially octobers Journal of British Psychiatry putting the final nail in the coffin of any direct causitive link between cannabis and psychosis/schizophrenia.
But will this evidence change Jacqi Smiths mind of course not, this move was only ever Political and has nothing to do with minimising harm