Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gordon Brown responds to Transform's call for Impact Assessment

I received a letter from Downing Street this week, in response to my meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown to call for an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act. In July of last year I met with the PM to ask the Government to compare and contrast the impacts of the current prohibitionist legislation with alternatives, including legal regulation and control. Here is the briefing that I gave him.

His response is in full below. It includes the following:

"We do not intend to undertake an impact assessment comparing the costs and benefits of different legislative options for domestic drug policy. We see no merit in embarking upon such an undertaking in view of our longstanding position that we do not accept that legalisation and regulation are now, or will be in the future, an acceptable response to the presence of drugs."

So let me get this straight, the Government will not review the evidence of efficacy of the current policy or compare it with alternatives because it is committed to the current regime and, without exploring the outcomes of the Misuse of Drugs Act or prohibition, has decided that alternatives are "not acceptable". So far, so bad. Let's not let evidence get in the way of an effective drug policy (witness the sacking of David Nutt). Meanwhile our tax pounds will be spent on prohibition, without checking whether the policy is of any use, or heaven forfend, totally counterproductive...

I am also not overly reassured by:

"We are working to ensure that UN drugs activity is based on evidence and effectiveness..."

Do not forget that the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has identified the Drug Control System as the cause of much of the 'drug problem'.

But there's more - the absolutist position - that regulation will not be acceptable now "...or in the future..." Yes folks, that means for ever!

...and is a statement that is completely undermined by the fact that legal regulation is the Government's chosen option for alcohol, tobacco, caffeine etc etc

It also suggests:

"The methodological challenges involved in attempting to calculate the scale of the drugs market (supply and demand) and the costs of its harms are very significant."

Oh, so it's too hard is it? I can think of many experts from all round the world who would be delighted to assist in this task. At any rate, this "challenge" is created by gifting the market to unregulated dealers in the first place.

With David Cameron back pedalling on his previously held position (when he sat as a backbencher on the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2001/2), that the UK should initiate a debate at the UN on alternatives to prohibition, the outcome of the upcoming general election is unlikely to herald early reform in the right direction.

Should you wish to ask your MP or parliamentary candidate if they support an Impact Assessment, feel free to use our briefing or contact us for advice.

Transform will be bringing you more on drug policy election shenanigans over the next few months.

(Click on the images to enlarge the letter and view it full screen)


Pastorius said...

I will be sure to let my MP know that the government's continued refusal to even discuss alternatives to prohibition is a large proportion of why I will not vote Labour in this GE, and I encourage anyone who feels the same to do so.

The appointment of Les Iversen doesn't even get me that excited, as I'm sure Alan Johnson will have made sure that he will not rock the boat before appointing him. Then again, maybe Johnson knows they're on the way out and just wants to give the Tories something to deal with, maybe test old Bully Dave's resolve...

Unknown said...

i hope you are planning to publish this report in the papers- saying why the prime minister is so wrong in his views as you have done above. Anyone who reads this surely must question the current drug laws, and we need many many people to question prohibition before any action towards leglaisation can be taken. get it on television too - we need to open people's eyes!

Anonymous said...

Well you have succeeded in getting the British PM to use the term 'prohibition' to describe the current policy - is that a first?

Nik said...

I had a reply from the Home office stating that "Drugs would never be legalised". Makes you sick to think that the government would rather hand the complete market over to the criminal element other than control it themselves. Complete and utter nonsense. How can they live with themselves. My reply to them was...How do you know this to be true? You can't can you?

Anonymous said...

This is why we must ask if the government are actually fulfilling their obligations under the MDA and the Human Rights Act. Clearly if they are fettering their discretion there is no room for debate or flexibility. Such flexibility was certainly in mind when the 71 Act was enacted - this was the will of Parliament and this trumps the International Treaties and Conventions if these are at odds with the objects and purposes of the law.

Steve Rolles said...

the Home Office describe current policy as prohibition in the 2002 drug strategy and have used it eleswhere - in various briefings and letters. Good to hear it from the premier though.

Steve Rolles said...

There is something extraordinary about the way he states that we cant look at alternative approaches/legal frameworks because, re the UN, we are signed up to an exiting legal framework. Thats is quite bizarre when you think about it.

The UN specifically does not rule out decrim of persoanl use as adopted by the Portugal, whom are signatories to the same treaties as us.

But more to the point - if it is the Government's evidence based view that legal regulation of supply would be the best option then it is there moral duty to work towards reforming the conventions so as to allow that extra flexibility. Its a desperate and unprincipled cop out. This is explored in the appendix of Transform's recent Blueprint document that Brown references but clearly hasn't read.

Our briefing to Brown, incidentally, does not specify unilateral action and infact specifically calls for the Government to lead and impact assessment at internatiuonal level. the way forward is spelt out very clearly in blueprint. So his comment about an insular view is a ridiculous, if unintentional self parody.

Unknown said...

Stop spending OUR money on policies that we DON'T want and that DON'T work.
This unbelievably unproffesional response shows this government is turning more into a dicatatorship as each day passes.
Gordon Brown is more bothered about looking tough on crime than the people he is meant to be representing.
For god's sake, people are dying drug mafia wars in places like Mexico as a direct result of prohibition, yet he would rather this continue.
It's at times like these when you know who the real criminals are.

Derek Williams said...

To be honest, this is starting to sound more like a conspiracy than a policy. I can't think if any other policy area that isn't up for debate and isn't subjected to some kind of cost/benefit analysis.

Brown will be gone soon, but as you say Cameron's Tories are looking no better - and not just on this issue, it really is quite depressing to have a vote but no-one to vote for.

From a personal point of view, I never expected any different from the Tories, but I did have hopes for "New Labour" back in 1997. In this as in other areas though, they were more than a disappointment.

Anonymous said...

You could bring this request to a Parliamentary C'tee - as Drug Equality Alliance keep saying, NEITHER PARLIAMENT NOR THE COURTS ARE BOUND BY THESE TREATIES. Clearly Brown's statement is against the spirit of the Act in that the Ac was supposed to evolve and in that regard, you cannot say absolutely what future policy might be. Cameron and Grayling are extremely backward on this - we have to use the courts. Darryl Bickler

HR2 said...

The UN drug conventions excuse does not wash.

The 1961 drug convention was itself a consolidation of previous treaties because a messy framework had developed and it was thought that it needed improvement and strengthening. The 1971 convention was an attempt to fill a later recognised gap. The 1988 convention was designed to try and address another concern (though largely a result of the previous two) – trafficking.

And of course the 1972 protocol to the 1961 treaty amended that treaty for those states that ratified it.
There is nothing about these conventions that disallows discussion of their amendment except the political nuisance of it. That’s a big hurdle, but not a brick wall.