Thursday, 13 May 2010

Will The UK Lead the World on Drug Law Reform?

The recent change of government in Britain is certainly entertaining to say the least. A new conservative government after 13 years of what many would describe as another conservative government. Labour leader, Gordon Brown taking one for the party and resigning. A coalition of the left and right … the first coalition in 75 years.  A third party shaking up the old establishment. What a hoot.

With all the talk of election and banking reform, a new type of politics and a brighter future for Britain, there’s one major issue that is being overlooked - drug policy. With Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg strongly supporting drug law reform and the public backlash from the sacking of professor David Nutt, the UK might actually be the first major nation to introduce significant changes to their drug laws. If the UK takes up even part of what Clegg wants, it should kick start the drug reform avalanche started by The Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Mexico, The Czech Republic, Poland etc.

The best way to reduce the harm drugs cause to society is to base policy on facts

The burning question though is whether Tory’s leader, David Cameron and a coalition government will give in to demands from Nick Clegg to reform drug policy … and will Clegg follow through with his demands? Cameron says he is prepared to work with Nick Clegg and said they "want to put aside party differences and work hard for the common good and for the national interest". Luckily for Nick Clegg, David Cameron is one of the few Conservatives who may be open to drug law reform. Cameron is not the typical Tory but is open to gay rights, climate change and other so called lefty views. He has also admitted to taking drugs in his youth. 

Prescription Heroin
The UK is the only country to have never stopped prescription heroin and cocaine for addicts although it rarely happens these days. Unlike most countries that outlawed heroin under pressure from the UN/US, the UK kept prescribing heroin to addicts up until the 1960s. There was virtually no black market for heroin and drug crime was almost unheard of. In 1960, there were less than 100 heroin addicts and fewer than 500 abusers of all drugs, a stark difference to the US that had thousands of heroin addicts and ten times as many drug abusers. The UK drug problem was non existent in politics as addiction was a medical issue treated by doctors.

Between 1979 and 1984, seizures of illegal drugs went up tenfold, incarcerated drug offenders went up fourfold, and the consumption of heroin increased by 350 percent—but heroin prices decreased by 20 percent.

The growing drug culture of the 1960s and several rouge doctors who prescribed massive amounts of heroin, cocaine and other drugs started to get the attention of the government and police. This led to changes in the prescribing of maintenance drugs and methadone became the preferred treatment. Doctors now had to have special licences to prescribe heroin for addicts.

The UK has just finished a scientific trial to analyse the benefits of prescribing heroin and cocaine to long term addicts. The final results reflected the success of other trials overseas and gave legitimacy to the “British System” that has been operating since 1920. It is becoming clearer why giving long term addicts their drug of addiction, kept their drug problem in the 1960s at a fraction of what it was overseas and what it is today.

Prescription heroin for addicts has proved highly successful in every trial to date, is much more accepted than what it once was and doesn’t require the UK parliament to pass any special new laws. With pressure from Nick Clegg, it will most probably become part of the UK’s drug policy.

Future Drug Policies
The Liberal Democrats also favour the Dutch system of cannabis coffee shops. With the growing evidence that today’s extra strong, hydroponic “Skunk” is lacking the balance of cannabinoids and THC, a regulated system would bring back the less dangerous strains of cannabis. Anti-cannabis pundits keep overlooking the fact that prohibition is responsible for drug dealers producing stronger and more profitable dope.

Nick Clegg might also push for decriminalisation or legalisation of all drugs for personal use. Radical changes like this might prove a tad too much for conservatives but it is a growing trend worldwide. Germany, Italy, Spain, The Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Mexico and Portugal have all decriminalised or altered drug policies to let those caught with small amounts of all drugs to avoid jail or even arrest. There are many more countries on the verge of implementing similar policies including Poland, Brazil, Argentina etc.

The Government should either listen to its experts or save money by appointing a committee of tabloid newspaper editors instead.

The most important reform supported by Nick Clegg is the revamping of the drug scheduling system. The sacking of Prof. David Nutt from the The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) for simply telling the truth and suggesting a change to drug scheduling has attracted much public and academic debate about the role of science in government policy decisions. An overhaul of the scheduling system would see drugs analysed by evidence rather than the media and public drug hysteria. This will have a profound impact on the world as it brings into question the existing schedules for other countries which are not based on science or evidence but political posturing, the media and moral crusaders.

Base drugs policy on scientific evidence. 
The Liberal Democrats will always base drugs policy on the independent scientific advice of experts. This will involve making the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) completely independent of Government. We will also spend less police and court time on the unnecessary prosecution of users and addicts, with a focus instead on getting addicts the treatment they need. Police attention should focus on drug pushers, who will be made easier to prosecute by the introduction a new offence of “drug dealing”.

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Jason said...

Hi Terry,

You've probably seen this already, but crooks and liars have been doing few posts on drug decriminalisation lately:


Nigel B said...

Really liked this article good overview of the situation