Thursday, 8 March 2012

Conversations on Drugs with a Politician.

I had a conversation recently on Twitter with a Councillor from Ipswich about drugs. This is one of the two subjects about which I'm like a dog with a bone (the other is cycling). I cannot think of a more expensive, destructive, counterproductive and stupid policy than the "war on drugs". And like cycling, the dam is breaking, but it's important to keep educating, because prohibition's supporters are many and ill informed, however well supported they are by bad science and "studies" to support their case. She wrote a blog post to introduce her views, so I thought I would respond in kind, answering her points, in detail, one at a time.

I suspect we would ALL like to see killer drugs eradicated (apart from the dealers) so it will just be a question of how we can achieve that.
Let's start with two fallacies in almost the first sentence. Killer drugs? Pot, almost as widespread as alcohol kills almost no-one. And before you say "Don't be silly, she's talking about horse, not weed", she is talking about pot too. Prohibition benefits dealers. It's a cash business, with social hours requiring little in the way of start-up capital, with better prospects than McDonald's. It's un-taxed, not subject to quality controls and with no statutory rights (other than caveat emptor) for customers. Drugs don't kill, or at least they would kill much less if a PhD chemist working for GlaxoSmithKline was making them, rather than a dutch stoner in a backstreet lab. The fact is millions of people take "killer" drugs like Exctacy or cocaine every weekend with few ill effects. A dealer who gets known for a bad batch will quickly lose business.

When the hue and cry is over, most drug deaths, such as Rachel Whitear who's blood heroin turned out to be below the lethal dose; or Leah Betts, who succumbed because she drank 7 litres of water, turn out to be something else. With heroin particularly, Drug deaths often occur from respitratory failure because a batch of purer than normal heroin hits the streets, resulting in a wave of overdoses. This would be avoided in a legal supply chain, because users would know in advance the strenght of the drug they were taking.

It's therefore reasonable to argue that drugs are killers because they are illegal, not illegal because they're killers.
I came into politics because of my concern over increasing drug use and therefore I'm not writing this on a position of proving I am right about anything I have already written. If the research and ensuing policy proved me wrong, I would be just as delighted. All I want is for us to at least be winning the war on drugs, whatever that takes.
Economists call this "selection bias". People who go into politics because of a concern about increasing drug use are talking about a small, but visible band of Crack, Heroin and Alcohol abusers. This population increased coincided with "care in the community" a massive downsizing of the Army in "options for change" and the breakdown of traditional working class communities in the 80's, and of social norms surrounding illegitimacy in the '60s. Basically there were more ill-educated bastards, and people with mental health problems, and fewer places to hide 'em away or employ them. It's easy to blame "DRUGS!" for wider social problems. The same moral Panic, over the same people, doing much the same, but with Gin can be seen at the Tate's recent exhibition of Hogarth's work.


I remember vividly the horror of the Ipswich street worker murders and the fact that we were told it was impossible to get prostitution off our streets. Well we proved them wrong with our 5 year strategy and although this long established industry has obviously not gone away, we have at least helped many girls get their life back and helped the residents of London road to have their roads free of street workers and pimps.This was done using partnership working to help them abstain from drugs, get away from the men who were pressurising them and find suitable alternative environments in which to start a new life.
Prostitution is very similar to Drugs. Tolerate the trade (which is not in itself illegal) and keep it where it doesn't upset good, honest Tory mothers like our good councillor. A delivery business, on the Internet, and in "massage parlours". The street whores are often the ones with chaotic lifestyles with a relationship to the drug trade. The problem is that a really heavy drug habit is expensive to fund. Drugs that could be provided for pennies by the medical supply chain cost hundreds of pounds. Most of this profit goes to the illegal supply chain. There are two ways to fund a habit. If you're a woman of little education, and few skills, become a prostitute. If you're a man in control of your faculties, become a dealer. Recruit vulnerable women, and become their pimp/dealer using the supply of Heroin to control them. Also recruit sub-dealers (who are probably also users) to bulk-up your income. Take your own heroin at source. It's the illegality of drugs creating this highly effective pyramid marketing scheme, with its attendant cycle of abuse, not the drug itself.

Is there evidence that it's the illegality of heroin prescription which causes the effects? Why yes there is. Opiates were widely abused from the 1800's onwards. Laudanum, Opium, Morphine (addiction to which was known as "the soldiers' disease, because it was often a habit acquired in field hospitals) were widely available. There was little moral panic, because most of the focus at the time was on the demon drink. Opium was seen as a vice of the moneyed classes.

The misuse of Drugs act 1971 changed all that. And when was there a heroin epidemic? That's right, the late 70's and early 80's. It's not compelling evidence, post hoc ergo propter hoc and all that, but it certainly supports the view that opiate abuse only became a moral panic when the working class started doing it, instead of well-tailored rakes.
And so the negative statement 'we will never get rid of drugs' just doesn't wash with me. Yes we can win the battles, but it will be a slow, arduous multi-faceted, multi-partnered approach and lessons must be learnt and adopted from best practice around the world.
People like to get high, pissed, stoned or stimulated. Get over it. Illegal drugs is the most profitable business known to man, one the United Kingdom went to war over. The battle over its profits has destabilised South America and Central Asia for decades. So no, Councillor. We will never get rid of drugs, not without measures which would be frankly intolerable in anything like a free society. "Best practice"? Well Mao's threat to shoot heroin users worked. But if that's all you're selling, I ain't buying.
I intend to be open, honest and look for evidence that does not support my approach as well as those that do so that I give a balanced view. I invite comments from professionals in the know and people that have lived with a drug problem.
The people whose opinions our good councillor are NOT canvassing are the Hundreds of thousands of people who take party drugs occasionally. I know these people, I'm a stockbroker, for Christ's sake, but who knuckle down with the week. Because their drug of choice is illegal, does that mean they have a "problem"? What about the enormous population, probably numbering in the millions who take Cannabis regularly without coming into contact with John Q Law. Do they have a problem. Because if they're busted, you can bet it pays in terms of less gaol time if they say they do... I have a degree. I know these people, because I've been to university.
I have never taken illegal drugs but I know how hard it was to give up smoking a few years ago (apparently very comparable with heroin) so I do understand the torture involved in an addiction. I therefore come from the premise that help is needed as well as punishment for those who commit illegal acts.
It's amazing how many people campaigning against drugs start their arguments "I have never taken illegal drugs". To which I say "if you've a degree, you must have been a remarkably po-faced and boring individual at University". You know that argument was once deployed against homosexuality. Or Heretics in Spain. Condemning something BECAUSE IT'S ILLEGAL, when people think it shouldn't be (like sodomy or judaizing) is a silly position.
I will start with a statistic that was confirmed to me at our working group meeting this week. That children whose parents take drugs are 8 times more likely to embark on this journey themselves. This alone suggests that we owe it to them to try and work on abstinence of drugs (not merely harm reduction, which was the strategy under Labour). Many of the last govts policies were based on the premise that 'oh well, we'll never stop it so let's just educate them and tell them about the harm in the hope that we can reduce it, while they do it'.
The observation that people become like their parents is hardly shattering. I know people who've smoked pot with their parents. Sorry "started down the road to becoming a street prostitute" by seeing their parents take "illegal drugs".
This is clearly wrong because at best, it sends out mixed messages and, at worst, appears to condone it.
Just as with alcohol, the continental approach - learn to respect dangerous drugs, like alcohol at an early age leads to mature attitudes. The approach of "yes there's a time for experimenting with drugs, and that's university" works with drugs.
Yes, we should educate but our policies must now be with abstinence in mind or the next generation will bring us even more victims, addicts, destroyed families and huge costs.
I simply disagree. The addicts, many of them are a product of a pyramid-selling supply chain, not the inherent evil of the drugs themselves.
All those that now find it so difficult to get off the nastier drugs must surely wish they never started...
... and wouldn't have in the majority of cases, were they not illegal..
it so lets make sure that going forward this regret is not felt by even more of our young people.
by legalising, regulating and controlling a trade in substances that 50 years of "war" by the most powerful nations the world has ever seen, which costs the US alone the same as the entire UK defense budget, has absolutely failed to stop.
Would I have started smoking had I been told the dangers way back in the 70's? Of course not.
Absolute twaddle! Everyone knew it was bad for you back then. My Grandparents called cigarettes "coffin nails"!
So my first point is We must stop sending out messages that taking drugs is acceptable. Some are comparing taking drugs, like cannabis, with drinking. I am not accepting this argument here for various reasons;
a) 2 wrongs don't make a right
Find me the victim when someone grows pot and sells it to someone. WHY is the state stopping mutual, un-coerced trade in something that kills fewer people than "accidents involving trousers"?
b) Alcohol is legal and making it illegal will never happen.
No. We've tried that, and the result is chaos and carnage. The result of drug prohibition is ... um... chaos and carnage, on two continents. Your prescription: More of the same?
c) Wine is a natural substance that is good for you in small measures. One spliff is not good for you, even if you believe it's not bad for you (to be debated later date)
Cannabis is a naturally occurring herb across most of the old world. It appears to have a great many medicinal, pain-relief, and appetite enhancing effects which would benefit from being researched. No-one is arguing smoking a spliff is good for you, but eating a "space-cake" may not be bad for you, and for many, may be medicinal.
d) Alcohol dependency is an illness but other than making drinking illegal also, it has no relevance to the war on drugs which is a stand alone issue and requires a different strategy.
That's simply an assertion, supplied without logical argument and frankly idiotic.
The conclusion in 'The Phoney War On Drugs by Kathy Gyngell, an author and researcher suggests that we must;

Reduce the supply of Drugs
Tried. Failed. It's simply impossible to interdict supply in any meaningful way in a free society.
Reduce recruitment to drug abuse
I agree, but this is best approached in a legal, regulated supply, without a criminal supply chain which creates a highly effective pyramid marketing scheme, which is without compunction marketing to children.
Encourage people with drug abuse to give it up
Which appears to work with smoking...
The Netherlands and Sweden have both adopted the approach of enforcement of their drug laws, prevention of illicit drugs and provision of addiction care with successful results. Interestingly it is the UK that has gone into the realms of normalising drug use, not the Netherlands, according to research, and I think that would surprise many.
Ultimately the problem, even liberal regimes like the Netherlands have is that the supply chain is in criminal hands. Decriminalisation and toleration is hypocritical. What we need is legalisation. Much is made by the Drug warriors about the Netherland's apparent volte-face. There's more to it than "it failed". "It" didn't.
So I will firstly use some of the information contained within her research and book before moving onto those from the side of 'legalising drugs', something I am deeply opposed to but will nevertheless give opportunity to it's believers here.
Imagine a legal, regulated supply chain. Addicts getting medical grade diamorphine, which has few of the health destroying effects of street heroin, which are supplied along with help and clean needles. Recreational drugs supplied at medical grade, with users able to be confident they're taking something of known strength uncut with something nasty. Ecstasy deaths are caused by poor quality backstreet lab, not a drug which given the millions who took it in the 90s, seems far, far safer than alcohol. Cannabis users don't punch each other in the face in the taxi-rank on a Friday night. Why the hell are we making illegal a simple plant? Coca has been used without harm by the Inca for millenia. British people use cocaine because it's easier to transport than leaves!

The war on drugs has been an expensive disaster for everyone involved. The UK spends around £3bn on it every year. We could stop spending that, and instead tax the trade heavily. Everyone would be better off.

There are simply no arguments in favour of the continued "war on drugs". It's lost. "More of the same" is simply not going to work. Not now, not ever, except by destroying the Freedoms that make us happy and prosperous. Some people react to freedom in a way you don't like. Get over it.



12 comments:

Devil's Kitchen said...

Just in case it doesn't get through moderation, here is a comment I left at her place...

+++

Nadia,

" I invite comments from professionals in the know and people that have lived with a drug problem."

Ah, I see. You have no interest in receiving comments from people who have—and continue—to take drugs every now and again, whilst holding down a fairly high-powered job and enjoying a marriage?

In essence, you have no interest in hearing from people who take drugs but do not have a drug problem?

That's a pity—because the above is, in my (pretty extensive) experience, a good description of 90% of drug-takers.

I mean, don't get me wrong: given your statement about why you went into politics, I am not surprised that you don't wish to hear from people whose views are different from your own. It's just a pity.

+++

DK

Single acts of tyranny said...

I agree with your position on drugs, legalisation is the only logical position, but I can't share your optimism. If they are attacking cigarettes, booze, various foods etc, I don't see Mary Jane, let alone Charlie getting a free pass anytime soon. That said, it really is time we stopped funding the Talibanm
via the 'drug war'

Nadia Cenci said...

And I answered you Devil that I did ask for people who live with drugs, ie either take it themselves or watch someone else. it was quite clear but you took the hump in a defensive manner.
Now to the main post Jackart

You lost me a bit on your first paragraph because you called my blog a summary. it is in fact an introduction! VERY different. I wanted to invite comments so that I can let people make their own mind up and summarise in a series of posts. perhaps I will even change my mind. I mention alcohol in my post only to say, I dont want it included in the argument. not because its not important but because i am trying to see if people want drugs legalised. Alcohol is already there. I want to see if people think we should have zero tolerance if it remains illegal. Alcohol not relevant there. If we have made mistakes with alcohol then repeating it with drugs doesn't make it right. So just for once let's have a debate about drugs and a strategy, without comparing it to other things.
Really take offence at women of low ability having to become a prostitute. if we had more aspirational schools that showed young people where their genius was, and how to have self respect, no-one would do it as easily as you suggest. Plenty of disadvantaged women have not got into drugs and street working. No reason why anyone should. its a matter of self esteem and believing you can have better. We proved it in Ipswich.
I haven't got a degree, never went to university. Build my business up on being a damn good confidence coach. and a politician out of commitment and staying within the law! I smoked cigarettes. Which reminds me cigarettes are legal but that doesnt stop the criminals making fakes and mixing it with rubbish. very important in the normal arguments about legalising drugs.
You end by comparing with alcohol again. it seems drug users just have to do that. Defensive? most certainly. Accurate? we wont know until drugs are legalised but by then it will be too late to turn it back to illegal so we need to be pretty damn sure. And I need more than one persons say so to be convinced!

Jackart said...

Nadia, the bit about prostitution, read it again, was clearly in the context of FUNDING A HABIT, not career advice for poor women.

It's not just me, the last Government's Drugs Tzar, Professor Nutt (who's forgotten more about Drug use and effects than the laughable Kathy Gyngell will ever know) regards alcohol slightly below heroin but more harmful than cocaine and exctasy.

"If we have made mistakes with alcohol then repeating it with drugs doesn't make it right." That's clearly an argument in favour of legalisation. During prohibition, a hugely profitable industry was gifted to Organised crime. Thousands went blind because of bath-tub wood alcohol. This is EXACTLY what's happening with drugs. Legalise, regulate and tax the supply and most of the problems go away.

You simply haven't engaged with the post's central idea. "Zero Tolerance" has failed, absolutely. At 11.01 on a weekday night in every town in England, it's easier to get cocaine than alcohol. It simply isn't possible or even desirable to interdict supply in any meaningful way. Yet you still bleat on about "zero tolerance" because you managed briefly to squeeze some whores out of sight.

Skimmer said...

I don't agree with any of Nadia's positions, but that doesn't excuse playing the person rather than the arguement.

I would invite Nadia to watch this 14min video from the guys on the front line who have decades of very close experience with the subject

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LayaGk0TMDc

They have no shortage of first hand experience, and make a strong case.

In essence prohibition can never work in any democracy, it even failed in the police state of Soviet Russia with the full brutish might of a totalitarian regime behind it.

I would put it to you that the reduction of streetwalkers after centuries of effort owes a damn sight more to the internet, than any effort on your part – online is simply more effective.

Aside from the morality, a policy that is doomed to failure is a bad policy.

On the subject of morality, what consenting adults choose to do with their bodies, is no business of anyone else. I am one of the many millions who enjoys taking some drugs and dancing the night away, with absolutely no ill effect (if anything I should do it more often these days for the exercise). Meanwhile I am in a very happy marriage, hold an extremely rewarding job, pay ridiculous amounts of tax, and enjoy offroad cycling once the weather warms up. All of this could have been snatched away from me if I’d fallen foul of the law while enjoying a harmless night out, and I’m not prepared to accept the damage done to tens of thousands of people arrested for non-violent drug offences – they have harmed no one, not even themselves.

Prohibition has been the most destructive social policy since slavery, and I genuinely wish you the very best in your exploration of the subject.

Chairman of Selectors said...

what if it is legalised. Then corporates take the trade over, introduce ever more powerful drugs, more addicts, more issues, more prostitution, more crime. Or its taxed so heavily that the blackmarket is bigger than the legal trade (like smoking), so still requries massive police resource. More gangs, more guns. Do you leglaise pot, or coke and heroin? What about hallucanagenic drugs? Do you legalise them? How powerful are they allowed to be? Who decides? Will it be legal to drive after taking some new fangled LSD pill (or whatever you kids call it these days). I dont think you've though it through. Sorry.

Peter S said...

Well said Jackart, though alas I'm inclined to agree with Single Acts.

Regards,
Peter S

Andrew said...

Chairman:

Who are you to tell me what I can or cannot put into my body?

Legalisation would lower costs reducing the associated crime.

Saying it could be taxed too highly is an argument against the political scum that rule us, and can be used against anything that's legally available.

I'd legalize everything, or rather, make no substance illegal.

The market can decide how powerful they're "allowed" to be.

I wouldn't make it illegal to take drugs and drive (but then I wouldn't make drink driving illegal either). If someone chooses to and causes an accident then they should be charged as if it were intentional (e.g. murder).

Still, at least you apologised for your drivel.

JohnofEnfield said...

I know I'm a bit late to this particular party & couldn't agree with you more.

Why is it we all know about prohibition, why it happened, what happened and why prohibition had to be stopped? And yet people don't see the modern war on drugs through the same lens?

JimmyGiro said...

Nadia wrote:

"All I want is for us to at least be winning the war on drugs, whatever that takes."

and

"I therefore come from the premise that help is needed as well as punishment for those who commit illegal acts."

and

"...helped many girls get their life back and helped the residents of London road to have their roads free of street workers and pimps.This was done using partnership working to help them abstain from drugs, get away from the men who were pressurising them..."

In the good old days, you'd be offered a fair trial before a fair hanging.

In the bad old days you were hung for the good of your eternal soul.

In the present Marxist-Feminist 'utopia', you'll be hung for being a man.

At least Anders Breivik committed his own outrage against humanity; whereas feminists demand the governing bureaucracy commit outrages on their behalf.

I would like to know what Nadia's view on the state education system using Ritalin, a drug that functions on the brain like cocaine, on over a million boys a day, in the UK alone?

Anonymous said...

evelt ersolooThe widespread use of drugs has brought misery and disaster to Western society. Seventy years ago there were probably less than five drug addicts in the UK registered with the home office, today drug addicts are numbered in their hundreds of thousands, and users in their millions. Where users differ from addicts is imperceptible. The pressure group for legalisation would suggest that most users are reluctant to recognise that they are in fact, addicts. Why would anyone risk the law and spend good money if not already well on the road to addiction. There are good grounds for believing that cannabis inflicts damage on the brain of anyone who smokes it regularly, the more so, and quicker on the young. Those who see many smokers recognise easily the laid back inertia, loss of interest, poor concentration and fall off in personal care. No two people are the same, but the trend is clear.The pretence that drugs of addiction can be safely handled by those with a degree is fairly typical of the faux-sophisticates with some learning but poor self control and personal honour.
Sadly government wishes only to loot the nation's wealth and keep the punters quiet, and so are more than willing to allow any form of soporific to the voters, and certainly not to enforce drug, or any other form of control. The prisons are full of drug addicts, not for drug offenses but for criminal offenses. The two go together like a horse and carriage. In last summer's riots it transpired that most looters had a criminal record and a high proportion were drug addicts. The incidents of cruelty and violence were there for the nation as a warning.

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