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.


Anonymous said...

It's such a shame that an article like this sits behind the paywall.

I'm sure only a fraction of the population will ever see it.

daksya said...

From the Times column: 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.

Most reformers may not want laissez-faire commerce in drugs, but this attribution is bizarre. The majority of existing drug users aren't dependent, so the outcome of "addicts are treated rather than punished" doesn't cover the change in how the majority of existing users will be affected. Drugs will have to be sold somewhere, and any regime which doesn't provide for the majority of consumers will still leave room for a diverted grey market and its attendant problems.

Steve Rolles said...

if you read the whole piece she talks about regulation in more detail - mentioning heroin policy and also how cannabis regulaiton could adderss issues of potency. Its only an oped so cant cover all bases - and maybe a link to blueprint would have been useful - but overall its a good piece that works in the context of an oped. these things are never perfect.

David said...

The problem is democracy, democracy just doesn't work.

Democracy (as we have it in the western world) means that almost anyone can join a political party and stand for political office. This means that self seeking scum who just want to be able to tell other what to do join an rise to the top.

The problem with this is that just don't care. Politicians will do or say anything to get elected and really couldn't care about the harm they cause. And they calculate (quite rightly thanks to their previous scare stories and the gutter press) that the majority aren't in favour of changing the laws.

Politicians really aren't interested in the harm their policies cause or the lies and ignorance they have helped spread. If you doubt that then you would have to believe that prohibition was about protecting public health, but you know fine it isn't.

Most politicians are socio-paths.

What we need is principled individuals (who haven't asked for it) appointed to office and told to get on with the job of making life better for the rest off us.

Democracy doesn't work.

Dr Russell Newcombe said...

If you read the latest issue of Drink & Drug News (August 2011, pages 16-17), you will see that Professor Neil McKeganey - whose Centre for Drug Misuse at Glasgow University has just had its funding withdrawn and been closed - disagrees with the sentiments of Transform, The Times and many other major newspapers:

“I think the liberal intelligentsia seem to have driven themselves into one single position, which is some form of increasing liberalisation of our drug laws, and I think that is of great concern … I’ve also noticed that those who propose that position most vociferously are often in their own lives at greatest distance from the drug problem itself…”

As you can see, he also implies that he knows the home addresses of the major supporters of drug policy reform. I live on the edge of Toxteth in Liverpool - where do you live Professor McKeganey?

Carel Edwards said...

daksya makes a good point: the majority of drug users aren't dependent. Nor are they problem users and, yes, they'll have to buy it somewhere. The bottom line is that governments will have to get their hands dirty and actually channel drugs - through a regulated system - to users. This implies regulated production, distribution, and aftercare for abusers, just like with other currently legal drugs. It should free up no end of money to do something about real crime. Beware of the Dutch model, although useful for many years it has spawned violent home-grown organised crime because the supply side was never dealt with.