Friday, July 29, 2011

More reform debate in The Times: 'legalisation, market regulation...inevitable'

Following on from yesterday's leader editorial in The Times, comes a half-page opinion piece by Anushka Asthana titled 'A drugs revolution must start with cannabis', the subheading reading: 'The classification system is deeply flawed. But it's the whole punitive approach that needs a overhaul' (unfortunately as with yesterday's leader the full text is behind a paywall, so you will need to buy a subscription or hardcopy (p.37) to read it in full).

The piece opens with a broad critique of the classification system before making a more substantive call for reform, suggesting: 'We should reject the punitive approach and focus on reducing harm' . It then explores the legalisation debate with the sort of nuance so often absent from the traditionally polarised media debate:

'... authoritative voices are increasingly starting to argue what was once unthinkable: That prohibition isnt working.'
'Some dismiss legalisers as wanting a free-for-all, in which you can order coke or pills at your local pub alongside a glass of wine. But that isn't what most reformers have in mind. Sensibly, they want regulation that takes large parts of the drugs market away from organised crime and in which addicts are treated rather than punished'
It was particularly welcome to see Count the Costs initiative (launched by Transform) having an impact:
'Small reductions in drug use in Britain are overshadowed by the price being paid overseas as a result of of the global war on drugs. Count the Costs, a serious alliance of NGOs, charities and others, has produced a report outlining the costs of worldwide prohibition. It argues that drugs policy is fuelling conflict and violence by placing a hugely lucrative market (worth $320 billion a year) in the hands of criminals'
Asthana then goes on to cite the Global Commission on Drugs report, as well as calls for a debate on more far-reaching reform (including legalisation/regulation) from the president of Colombia, and similar comments from Cameron and Clegg (in their pre-government incarnations). The piece concludes:
'Some form of legalisation - in which users are not criminalised but the market is regulated - is inevitable for some substances. So we might as well start thinking about how to do it now.'
We have of course seen comment like this before in the many times before mainstream media (the Times was commenting on drug law reform back in the '60s) - but it is significant that it is now increasingly spreading from more likely arenas (in The Independent and Guardian, for example), into outlets more traditionally conservative on drug law reform, including The Times, Telegraph and even various tabloids. Alongside yesterday's leader it would appear The Times is making a clear editorial shift towards a pro-reform position - which, given its political clout, is a significant landmark for the reform movement.

Whilst the end of prohibition remains elusive in the short term, the taboo on talking about alternatives to prohibition has clearly been lifted, even if it is the media and NGO sector taking the lead in this debate, rather than our cowardly elected leaders.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

'Drug Policy Doesn’t Work' – Says Leader in The Times

In its leader today The Times calls for a ‘radical rethink’ of drug policy. Under the title ‘Drug Policy Doesn’t Work', the leader concludes:

“This is a complex issue. If there were an obvious answer it would have been found by now. One thing, though, is clear — a radical rethink is needed. Drug abuse ruins so many lives and a policy based on prohibition, although comprehensible in its own terms, is not succeeding in reducing either usage or harm. There are some examples, in Switzerland, for example, of heroin being offered in a controlled and prescribed way for addicts. There are a number of intermediate points between prohibition and legalisation, and it is time to start exploring them.”

The paper will include a follow up column on the issue tomorrow.

The Times is to be congratulated for making such a clear call. The leader shows now that the issue of the need to explore alternatives is very much in the political mainstream. The paper's economics editor, Anatole Kaletsky called for legalisation in his column, back in August 2007.

Unfortunately the online paper requires a subscription, but if you want to see the whole thing, it’s here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why it is sometimes better to broadcast than engage

In its recent submission (pdf) to the Sentencing Advisory Council (SAC) Consultation on Sentencing for Drug Offences, Transform endorsed Release’s submission (pdf) and made a call for the entire Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to be reviewed, using the Impact Assessment framework.

We are well aware that this call falls outside of the SAC’s remit, so you might wonder why we bothered submitting at all. There are two basic reasons for taking this approach:

1. We are keenly aware that organisations like Release have far greater expertise and experience in the law. And we are supportive of their submission.

2. Sometimes it is more important to repeat a campaign position such as, the need to evaluate the outcomes of the Act than to engage with the detail of a consultation.

We find it hard to understand how the Ministry of Justice can contemplate tinkering with the detail of an Act whose operation is so blatantly counterproductive and discriminatory. It is the same approach that we took with regard to an earlier consultation with the Sentencing Advisory Panel (which the SAC replaced).

Now that the European Commission has decided to conduct an Impact Assessment of so-called ‘legal highs’, we hope that our call will begin to have more…impact.