Peter Reynolds

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Posts Tagged ‘harm reduction

New Drug Strategy Promises More Death, Misery And Ill Health For UK.

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The long overdue update to the UK Drug Strategy is published today by the Home Office.   A copy may be downloaded here.

Sadly, as expected, it is nothing except more of the same.  It offers no new ideas worthy of any note and reinforces the failure of existing policy by further embedding an approach which has already been conclusively proven not to work.

The UK has become increasingly isolated in its approach to drugs policy and now that both Ireland and France are moving towards decriminalisation we are unique amongst modern democracies in maintaining an approach based on nothing but prohibition.  We now stand closer to countries such as Russia, China, Indonesia and Singapore.  In fact, the only thing that separates us from countries with such medieval policies is that we do not have the death penalty for drug offences.  Otherwise our policy is just as repressive, anti-evidence, anti-human rights and based on prejudice rather than what is proven to work.

From Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s introduction, through sections based on repetition of the original strategy, ‘Reducing Demand, Restricting Supply and Building Recovery’, the document is more of the same old platitudes, bureaucratic doublespeak and meaningless civil service and social worker jargon.  It offers nothing but despair to those wracked by addiction, desperate for the proven medical benefits of cannabis or suffering from the tremendous social problems caused by prohibition.  In every respect it mirrors the government’s approach to housing which has led to mass homelessness, depravation and the Grenfell Tower disaster.  It is yet another inadequate response imposed by a government which is out of touch and wedded to policies based on ideology rather than evidence.

UK Government Policy

Current UK drug policy has already led to the highest ever rate of deaths from overdose. Deaths from heroin more than doubled from 2012 to 2015, yet there is absolutely nothing offered in this document that might change this – as if existing policy is quite OK.  Similarly, in what would be farcical humour were it not so tragic, the government seeks to portray the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 as a success.  It trumpets the closure of hundreds of retailers and websites and end to open sales but it doesn’t even mention the burgeoning new criminal market which has led to a massive increase in harm and products which are more potent but also more inconsistent and unpredictable.  All the experts (except those appointed by the government) agree that this new law has been a disaster.  Just like Grenfell Tower, this is government enforcing policies which significantly increase danger and harm without any regard at all to evidence or public opinion.

As before, this strategy doesn’t even consider harm reduction, it offers only a puritanical, moralistic approach based on abstinence.  It fails entirely to recognise that 95% of all drug use is non-problematic, without causing harm to anybody.  It is entirely focused on mis-use and blind to the great benefits, often therapeutic but also simply of pleasure, enjoyment and recreation that many people gain from safe drug use, just as most people do with that most dangerous drug of all, alcohol.  These people, the vast majority, are completely ignored by their government.

By its own title this is a drug strategy, not a drugs strategy. It treats all drugs and all drug users the same, whether they are a prisoner serving a long sentence without access to education or rehabilitation, a ruthless gangster engaged in human trafficking, an affluent clubber, humble festival goer or a multiple sclerosis patient who grows a few cannabis plants for pain relief.  It is a travesty of government, failing entirely to meet the needs of the population.

It also contains some of the most extraordinary factual errors and contradictions.  “Most cannabis in the UK is imported”, it states in defiance of the evidence that the UK has been virtually self-sufficient in homegrown cannabis since the 1990s, even to the extent where we are ‘exporting’ to other European countries.

Unsurprisingly, the report states “We have no intention of decriminalising drugs” but then makes the dubious assertion that “Drugs are illegal because scientific and medical analysis has shown they are harmful to human health.”  This is simply unsustainable in face of the facts about harms caused by legal substances such as alcohol, peanuts and energy drinks.  It is also inconsistent with the stated purpose of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 which is about misuse “having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem.”, nothing to do with individual health harms.

The report fails at all to consider the negative effects of current policy and how prohibition rather than drugs themselves is actually the cause of most harms connected with drugs. It doesn’t even mention the worldwide revolution in the medical use of cannabis or that one million UK citizens are criminalised and placed in danger of criminal sanctions or contaminated product simply for trying to improve their health.  Neither does it mention drug testing, a proven method of reducing the harms of club drugs, now being supported by many police forces at festivals.

This report really is as empty, ineffectual and useless as anything produced by this already tired and discredited government.  The parallels between Grenfell Tower and a government which actively maximise the harms of drugs through its policies are extraordinary.  Thousands are dying every year because Mrs May and Mrs Rudd won’t listen to evidence.  They pick and choose whether to accept the advice of their own Advisory Council based on political convenience rather than facts and while the Council includes eminent scientists it also includes specialists in ‘chocolate addiction’ and evangelical Christian ‘re-education’ of gay people.

Whether it’s determining the inflammability of building materials or the relative potential for harm of different substances, what is clear is that this government is more concerned with dogma, vested interests and old-fashioned prejudices than the safety, health and wellbeing of the population. This Drug Strategy is a recipe for failure, for continuing exactly as before.

Guidelines On Cannabis For Medical Professionals.

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In a new initiative, CLEAR’s scientific and medical advisor, Professor Mike Barnes, has written to the presidents of several Royal Colleges proposing the development of guidelines around the use of cannabis as medicine.

Professor Mike Barnes

Professor Mike Barnes

This is a tricky situation for doctors.  Surveys and individual reports from CLEAR members indicate that many doctors tacitly endorse their patients’ use of cannabis but clearly cannot recommend the illegal use of cannabis, however safe and effective it may be.

Professor Barnes’ letter refers to the recent APPG report, his own paper ‘Cannabis: The Evidence for Medical Use’ and says:

“…cannabis now has a reasonable evidence base for the management of chronic pain, including neuropathic pain, and the management of spasticity as well as in the management of anxiety and a use in nausea and vomiting in the context of chemotherapy.”

In conjunction with CLEAR, Professor Barnes has written to:

Royal College of Anaesthetists
Royal College of General Practitioners
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Royal College of Physicians
Royal College of Psychiatrists

His letter goes on to explain that about one million people are using cannabis as medicine:

“I do feel that doctors need guidelines to assist them when patients request advice on the use of cannabis…doctors should be properly informed about harm reduction advice and should be aware of the clinical evidence that is now guiding medicinal use in several other countries around the world.”

Our proposal is for an initial meeting to discuss the idea.  If one or more of the Royal Colleges is prepared to back this initiative, CLEAR will set up and fund a working group of clinicians and medical education specialists to develop a set of guidelines.

 

A CLEAR Response To the Liberal Democrats’ Proposals For Cannabis Regulation.

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libdem Framework_for_cannabis thumbnail

CLEAR welcomes the Liberal Democrats’ proposals which can be seen here. We set out below a few comments which we intend to be constructive.

We represent more than 600,000 people who support cannabis law reform. Our own publication, ‘How to Regulate Cannabis in Britain’ is now in its second edition.

It is based on independent, expert research which we commissioned from the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit, published as ‘Taxing the UK Cannabis Market’.

Comments on ‘A framework for a regulated market for cannabis in the UK’

1. We support a cautious approach and agree that it is better to start with stricter regulation that could, based on experience, be relaxed at a later date if appropriate.

Spectrum of Cannabis Policy

Spectrum of Cannabis Policy

We reject the diagram ‘Exploring a spectrum of options for regulating cannabis’ which paints an inaccurate picture of the effects of a legal market. Evidence from all jurisdictions that have implemented reform does not support the equivalence of ‘social and health harms’ with ‘ultra prohibition’ and ‘commercial production’. It is absolutely clear that legally regulated commercial production is far less harmful than prohibition.

Essentially, instead of a ‘U’ shaped curve, we consider an ‘L’ shaped curve is more accurate.

2. The diagram indicates a fundamental objection to the commercial model implemented in Colorado, Washington and Oregon and the report explicitly rejects the Colorado model in favour of the Uruguay model.

We disagree with this. The Colorado model is a proven success with virtually no downsides. The Uruguay model is still a theory which is yet to be proven in practice. This conclusion in the report is therefore not evidence-based. This suggests that wider political or philosophical considerations have been allowed to trump existing evidence.

3. We are concerned about the undue weight given to restricting commercial enterprise. The UK is not a socialist economy and there is a danger of a ‘nanny-state’ attitude which we cannot support. We repeat the point that it seems wider political or philosophical considerations have been allowed to prevail over actual evidence. There needs to be a balance between a ‘cautious approach’ as in 1. above and over-regulation which will only result in a continuing criminal market. The UK is a market economy and if the legal market is too strict and rigid, the illegal market will flourish.

4. We have very grave concerns about the cannabis social club (CSC) model which provides significant opportunity for the corruption of those involved into major criminal enterprises with exploitation of both workers and customers. The establishment of such ‘clubs’ is entirely unnecessary given the other more controllable methods of supply and will only lead to diversion and perhaps active marketing of excessive production through criminal networks. In other words, CSCs are a golden opportunity for the emergence of ‘drug pushers’ and they undermine the whole purpose of cautious regulation.

5. We regard the recommendation not to permit the production and marketing of ‘edibles’ as an error. If the other recommendations making raw herbal cannabis legally available are implemented then this will inevitably lead to the production and marketing of unregulated ‘edibles’, undermining the whole purpose of regulation. Far better to learn from the mistakes already made in excessively potent ‘edible’ products and introduce appropriate regulations with reduced dosages.

If anything, ‘edibles’ need regulation far more urgently than the raw product because of the potential for very unpleasant overdosing. To abrogate responsibility for this is an extremely unwise proposal and inconsistent with the whole basis for a regulated market.

6. We would encourage a more positive and supportive approach to enable producer countries such as Morocco, the Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan to supply varieties of cannabis resin and hashish. Encouraging such trade under strict regulation will further undermine criminal activity and offers great potential for better relations and positive ‘soft power’ influence on these countries. We recognise the difficulties involved in this with regard to the UN conventions but consider it is a prize worth working towards.

7. For the same reasons set out above we consider that a refusal to regulate concentrates and vapouriser products undermines the whole purpose of a regulated market. Vapouriser products are almost certainly going to be an important component of the medical cannabis market. These nettles must be grasped. To avoid them is irresponsible.

8. We would argue for far more emphasis on harm reduction information, particularly about smoking and avoiding mixing cannabis with tobacco. As in 7. above, we would actively promote the choice of vapouriser products.

9. In principle we agree with the proposal for three levels of THC content and for minimum CBD content. However, there is no evidence to support the necessity for CBD content as high as 4%. The evidence suggests that levels of 1% or 2% adequately meet the desirable ‘entourage’ effects of CBD. Furthermore, at these levels, existing strains are available. Little consideration has been given to the practicalities of developing three new strains to meet the THC:CBD ratios proposed. To develop such strains and ensure they are stable and consistent is the work of several years, requiring significant investment and so undermines the ability to implement these proposals in timely fashion.

10. We consider that the ‘plain packaging’ proposal is unnecessarily restrictive in the UK’s market economy. We agree with child proof containers but would recommend that far more emphasis is given to content and harm reduction labelling. There is nothing to be gained from restricting the marketing and commercial enterprise of companies wishing to develop brands and packaging styles within strict regulations.

11. For reasons already set out we consider that the restrictions on exterior and interior retailer environments are oppressive and will be self-defeating. The UK is not accustomed to such overbearing and anti-business regulation. Existing pharmacies do not operate under such heavy restrictions and they make significant use of point-of-sale and merchandising techniques.

Overall, we welcome this document and the proposals it contains. One final point that is of significance is that clearly there was no ‘consumer’ representation on the panel and this is obvious in some of the tone and detail of the report. We recommend that account should be taken of consumer opinion in any future development of the proposals.

PM MP

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Originally Published In Homegrown Outlaw's Blog

By Jason Reed

To all that support change in current policy, I invite you to take part in: PM MP.

What is PM MP?  Well, I am hosting a letter that I am encouraging as many people as possible to post one copy to the Prime Minister, and one copy to your MP.  It is through weight and numbers that points are grasped and policy changed.

It is also worth sending to the Home Secretary – Theresa May, and James Brokenshire – Minister for Crime Prevention at the Home Office.

If you would like to add your name and address so as to receive a reply, all the better.  If you wish to remain anonymous, then that’s also fine, but please do take the time to send just two letters to the Prime Minister and your MP at this address:

Prime Minister,
10 Downing Street,
London, SW1A 2AA

Your MP can be found here:

They Work For You

And your MP’s address will be:

MP’s NAME, or James Brokenshire, or The Home Secretary Theresa May
House of Commons,
London SW1A OAA

Below you can find the template letter that has been created to address the current law & policy that surrounds cannabis in Britain.  It is with a great deal of thanks to the Drug Equality Alliance for directing the wording to address this issue correctly.

Please do support this; please send the letters.  Fellow bloggers, please also host the letter and send forth.

Either copy & paste the below text into a letter, or I have provided downloadable links at the end of this blog post.  Thank you all. Jason.

Dear

I am writing to state my view that continuing prohibition of all private interests in cannabis is not in the best interest of society or the individual. Current policy is in many regards counter-productive and a drain on the country’s resources.  The administration of Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is mandated to be under constant review & evidence based; it’s concern is solely to reduce social harm caused by drug misuse.  I submit that there can be no justification in law for the blanket ban on accessing a substance that many persons use responsibly, and many use to experience the amelioration of symptoms caused by various medical disorders.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 seeks to regulate human action re any harmful drug, it does not provide a mandate for prohibition, indeed when one examines the obligations of the ACMD one can see that the law seeks to make arrangements for the supply of controlled drugs.  The legislative aim is to control responsible human action and property interests through the regulation of the production, distribution and possession of any harmful drug; this being proportionate and targeted to address the mischief of social harm occasioned by misuse.  I note that the law does not prohibit the use of cannabis at all, and this often ignored fact was Parliament’s way of opening the door to facilitate a suitable and rational regulatory structure.  I place it on record that I wish the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to be used properly, and neutrally; specifically; (under Section 1) – “(2) (a) for restricting the availability of such drugs or supervising the arrangements for their supply.

The prohibition of all private interests in cannabis & the denial of the possibility of responsible use has failed:

  • The estimated expenditure of £19 billion on the judicial ‘controls’ over UK drug policy is a large sum that cannot be justified in the current fiscal climate.  I do not believe it can be proven to be a valid policy even if the nation could easily afford it; it has a high price on liberty, and a paradoxical effect upon the health of all drug users – it has proved futile in almost every way, save for the government’s blind adherence to the international treaties it chooses to fetter it’s discretion to.
  • There is an estimated street value of £5 billion profit going directly to gangs and cartels, and this in turn funds organised crime, human trafficking, and all manner of hard-line criminality.
  • Children have easy & ready access to cannabis.  Children are dealing cannabis and using cannabis with relative ease.
  • There is an estimated 165 million responsible and non-problematic cannabis users worldwide.  There is anything from 2 – 10 million adult users in the UK.  There is no societal benefit to criminalising such a large portion of society, these are generally law-abiding persons who wish to use a substance that is comparatively safer than many drugs that government choose to exclude users of from the operation of the MoDA 1971 (despite the Act being neutral as to what drug misusers are controlled, the most harmful drugs such as alcohol and tobacco are excluded by policy, but this is not reflected in the Act itself).
  • Under prohibition, as in 1920’s America, quality control has suffered giving way to hastily harvested cannabis which acts as the modern day equivalent of the infamous Moonshine & Hooch. The UK media terms this bad product simply as “Skunk”. Cannabis is now being cut with harmful drugs, glass, metal fillings, and chemicals to give false potency, and to add weight for profit motivations.
  • To criminalise personal actions that do not harm others within the confines of privately owned property is at best draconian, and at worst futile & irresponsible.

I wish to encourage the adoption of a regulatory system that provides:

  • An age-check system to prevent the young and vulnerable from obtaining cannabis with the ease they currently have.
  • The partial saving from the £19 billion drug enforcement budget, alongside the estimated street worth of £5 billion potentially collected from cannabis.  This would be a considerable sum in aiding the country in fiscal crisis.
  • Quality control that can be accorded to cannabis production and sale, thus ensuring that there are no dangerous impurities and that the correct balance of cannabinoids are present (according to the needs of the user) to minimise potential harms.
  • Potency & harm reduction information can be provided to adults, ensuring education is the forefront of the regulatory model.
  • A restriction on marketing and the creation of designated discreet outlets. As seen in many countries, given a place of legitimacy, the cache of cannabis is lessened in favour of responsibility.
  • The freedoms and rights for non-problematic users to be respected.

I do hope that you will give this matter the urgent attention it warrants.

Yours


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Breakthrough In The Drugs Debate!

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Bob Ainsworth

Tomorrow, Bob Ainsworth MP, former Home Office drugs minister and Secretary of State for Defence, will call for the legalisation and regulation of drugs. He is to lead a Parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall, at 2.30pm on Thursday 16th December 2010.

Great credit for this must go to the inestimable Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which has led the fight against prohibition.  This is an extraordinary breakthrough.  The news literally brought tears to my eyes.  We have fought so long for such progress.

Mr Ainsworth said;

“I have just been reading the Coalition Government’s new Drugs Strategy.  It is described by the Home Secretary as fundamentally different to what has gone before; it is not.  To the extent that it is different, it is potentially harmful because it retreats from the principle of harm reduction, which has been one of the main reasons for the reduction in acquisitive crime in recent years.

However, prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit. We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children.  We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.

As drugs minister in the Home Office I saw how prohibition fails to reduce the harm that drugs cause in the UK, fuelling burglaries, gifting the trade to gangsters and increasing HIV infections. My experience as Defence Secretary, with specific responsibilities in Afghanistan, showed to me that the war on drugs creates the very conditions that perpetuate the illegal trade, while undermining international development and security.

My departure from the front benches gives me the freedom to express my long held view that, whilst it was put in place with the best of intentions, the war on drugs has been nothing short of a disaster.

Politicians and the media need to engage in a genuine and grown up debate about alternatives to prohibition, so that we can build a consensus based on delivering the best outcomes for our children and communities. I call on those on all sides of the debate to support an independent, evidence-based review, exploring all policy options, including: further resourcing the war on drugs, decriminalising the possession of drugs, and legally regulating their production and supply.

One way to do this would be an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act in line with the 2002 Home Affairs Select Committee finding – which included David Cameron – for the government to explore alternatives to prohibition, including legal regulation.

The re-legalisation of alcohol in the US after thirteen years of Prohibition was not surrender.  It was a pragmatic move based on the government’s need to retake control of the illegal trade from violent gangsters. After 50 years of global drug prohibition it is time for governments throughout the world to repeat this shift with currently illegal drugs.”

Peter Lilley MP, former Conservative Party Deputy Leader said;

“The current approach to drugs has been an expensive failure, and for the sake of everyone, and the young in particular, it is time for all politicians to stop using the issue as a political football. I have long advocated breaking the link between soft and hard drugs – by legalising cannabis while continuing to prohibit hard drugs.   But I support Bob Ainsworth’s sensible call for a proper, evidence based review, comparing the pros and cons of the current prohibitionist approach with all the alternatives, including wider decriminalisation, and legal regulation.”

Tom Brake MP, Co-Chair, Liberal Democrat Backbench Committee on Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities said;

“Liberal Democrats have long called for a science-based approach to our drugs problem. So it is without hesitation that I support Bob Ainsworth’s appeal to end party political point-scoring, and explore sensitively all the options, through an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act.”

Labour’s Paul Flynn MP, Founder Council Member of the British Medicinal Cannabis Register said;

“This could be a turning point in the failing UK ‘war on drugs.’ Bob Ainsworth is the persuasive, respected voice of the many whose views have been silenced by the demands of ministerial office. Every open rational debate concludes that the UK’s harsh drugs prohibition has delivered the worst outcomes in Europe – deaths, drug crime and billions of pounds wasted.”