Posts Tagged ‘prohibition’
On Thursday, 16th February 2017, the Oxford Union held a debate on the motion ‘This House Would Say No To Drugs’.
I was honoured to be invited to speak against the motion in the august company of Paul Hayes and Stephen DeAngelo. Speaking for the motion were Andrew Ng, Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan and Shaun Attwood.
We successfully defeated the motion by approximately 120 votes to 90. A video of the debate will be released shortly. I reproduce my speech below.
“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
These are the words of Harry Anslinger, who in 1930 was appointed the first ever commissioner of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
And this is the exactly same standard of argument and evidence that we have in favour of drug prohibition today.
Anslinger went on to start the war on drugs 40 years before Richard Nixon invented the term. His anti-cannabis crusade was based on racism, the suggestion that it caused madness, violence and depravity – yes, the same scare stories, myths and deceit that we still see published every day in the pages of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. Indeed, exactly the same nonsense which every home secretary continues to trot out and on which our present prime minister bases UK drugs policy.
Don’t be in any doubt about it, the Home Office, under successive governments, has been engaged in the systematic deception of the British public. It misleads, misinforms and repeatedly publishes bare faced lies about drugs and drugs policy and subverts every effort towards reform advocated by more enlightened politicians.
In 2013, according to Norman Baker and Nick Clegg, Theresa May tried to falsify the international comparators report which showed that across the world harsh penalties make no difference to the level of drug use. The facts simply don’t fit with her ideology.
And this idiocy pervades our society. It is reflected in this motion which I oppose. The premise of ‘This House Would Say No to Drugs’ is false from the very start. It’s preposterous! We all say yes to drugs, every day, inevitably, in cocktails of medicines and recreational stimulants, in food, drink, in endogenous highs released through exercise and emotions, repeatedly, regularly, all of us, without exception, do drugs.
That our governments have seen fit to draw arbitrary lines as to which drugs are acceptable and which are not, which drugs that we can celebrate and which we will be locked up for, has nothing to do with evidence, science and, least of all, absolutely nothing to do with how harmful or dangerous they are. They are based on prejudice and thinking in 2017 that has advanced no further than Harry Anslinger in 1930.
Sometimes these prejudices have strange echoes in the past. Coffee was banned in Mecca in 1511, as it was believed to stimulate radical thinking – the governor thought it might unite his opposition. What does that remind you of?
Often these lines are not arbitrary, they are based on vested interests. In 1777, Frederick the Great of Prussia also tried to ban coffee. He argued it interfered with the country’s beer consumption. Before the first International Opium Convention in 1925 Egyptian cotton farmers successfully lobbied for cannabis to be banned as they feared the superior fibre crop of hemp. Back to Harry Anslinger and he was in league with the timber barons who greatly feared the far better option of using hemp to make paper and the fledging oil industry which had just invented nylon, a synthetic alternative to the job that hemp fibre had done for thousands of years. When Henry Ford invented the Model T he designed it to run on ethanol produced from hemp. He planted hemp on his own land for the purpose. It’s no conspiracy theory to argue that the entire oil industry in predicated on the prohibition of cannabis, it’s just good, solid evidence.
Today, in the UK, prohibition of much safer substances like cannabis and MDMA is enforced to preserve the monopoly of legal recreational drugs that belongs to the alcohol industry – a drug that is at least a dangerous as heroin and causes far more misery and death in our society. It’s no surprise when the UK alcohol industry spends £800 million every year on advertising that the media which enjoys that income supports the alcohol monopoly.
As if we didn’t have the clearest possible lesson from the prohibition of alcohol which gave birth to organised crime and demonstrated beyond any doubt that prohibition never works, it just makes the problem worse.
The UK is more backwards, more disgraced, more shamed by a drugs policy that causes far more harm than it prevents, than almost any other first world country.
Prohibition is a fundamentally immoral policy. If you remember one thing that I say today, please make it this. It sets law enforcement against the communities it is supposed to protect. Being a police office is a noble and honourable calling. Every society needs policing but drugs policy has perverted this profession. The demand for what are deemed illicit drugs comes from society but instead of protecting us from danger, police action increases the dangers we are subject to. The harder the police clamp down, the more the price of drugs rises, the more unscrupulous and violent the unregulated criminal trade becomes and the more contaminated, more concentrated and more dangerous are the drugs themselves.
In Amsterdam, there is no problem with Spice, the synthetic cannabinoid that is ravaging our streets and British prisons at present. In sane, civilised society like California, Colorado or Washington, where adults can access safe, properly regulated cannabis, there is no Spice problem like we have in the UK. This disgusting, horrible product is the direct responsibility of the politicians who continue to pursue our ignorant anti-cannabis policy. It is just one example of the great, immoral evil that prohibition causes. And I ask you, if this crazy policy of prohibition cannot be enforced in prisons, then how do we expect to enforce it in wider society?
It is prohibition and drugs policy based on prejudice that destroys police and community relations. It is current policy that means 70% of all acquisitive crime is caused by drug addiction – for which we send sick and poorly people to jail where they find easy access to more and nastier drugs. This is the real madness that drugs cause. It is the madness of deranged government ministers and their refusal to consider evidence or to resist pressure from their masters in Fleet Street.
What we need to do is say yes to a drugs policy that is designed to reduce harm and protect our communities. Alcohol is promoted and so easily available as to be ridiculous, in every other shop on the high street, yet we control the access of children to alcohol and tobacco quite effectively. But we abandon them to the street weed dealer who sells them muck grown by other children who have been trafficked from overseas and locked in hidden farms which are dangerous fire risks. This is the shameful reality that our policies have produced.
Doctors freely prescribe anti-depressants, tranquilisers, highly toxic opioids such as tramadol, weird drugs for pain and epilepsy like gabapentin, which we don’t really understand at all. Yet it is a criminal offence for a doctor to prescribe cannabis, a remedy that mankind has used safely and effectively for at least 10,000 years.
We mislead and misinform. We encourage young people to go out and drink, yet we make ecstasy, MDMA, a drug far safer than even paracetamol, a class A substance , and we threaten people with years in jail just for handing a single dose to a friend. It’s estimated that between two and ten million doses of MDMA are taken every weekend in the UK and we get about 50 deaths a year. 200 people die every year from paracetamol. How much safer would MDMA be if the product was regulated with known strength and purity? It would probably be virtually harmless.
Now everyone is a victim of this drug war propaganda and the terrible effects of prohibition. Politicians, police officers, social workers, mothers and fathers have all been drenched in this propaganda from birth. Many sincerely believe the rubbish they have been fed and they do all they can to pass on misguided ideas to the next generation.
We need to grow up, get a grip and drag Britain out of the dark ages. Drugs can cause harm but British drugs policy is a scourge on our society. It damages the lives of millions and costs us billions. Please oppose the motion, saying no to drugs is a nonsense. Let’s say yes to a rational drugs policy.
In a letter dated 15th August 2016, Amber Rudd, the new Home Secretary, has invited CLEAR to raise “any queries and concerns” about present UK policy on cannabis. This is the first time since 2006, with Charles Clarke, that the UK cannabis campaign has had any direct contact with a serving Home Secretary. It reflects the reality, now recognised in government, that changes in cannabis policy are imminent.
In recent months, there has been a manifest and significant change in attitudes within the Home Office. We have seen this through the process of obtaining a low THC cultivation licence for our partnership with GroGlo Research and Development. The response from the drugs licensing department has been enthusiastic. There has been no difficulty with our declared purpose of producing CBD oil for sale as a food supplement and we are now in detailed discussions on our application for a high THC licence, looking towards clinical trials for a medical product for chronic pain.
As soon as Theresa May announced that Amber Rudd would be heading up the Home Office, I contacted my MP, now Sir Oliver Letwin, thanks to Cameron’s resignation honours list. Although he will not openly support our campaign, in the past year or so he has been very helpful indeed, meeting with me on roughly a monthly basis and helping me navigate through the Conservative government. He has now put me in direct contact with Ms Rudd and I will be preparing a written submission as a preliminary to a face-to-face meeting.
In accordance with CLEAR policy, our first concern is how we can enable UK residents to gain access to medicinal cannabis on a doctor’s prescription. In practice that means Bedrocan products as there is presently no other source of prescribable, consistent, high-quality, herbal cannabis. I would expect that to change very soon though. Both Canada and Israel look like potential near-future sources. GW Pharmaceuticals is undoubtedly considering entering the market and our venture with GroGlo could shift gear depending on how quickly UK policy changes.
We will also be addressing the need for wider reform and a legally regulated market for adult consumers. Although medicinal access remains the top priority, there is no doubt that more overall harm is caused by prohibition of the recreational market. It is this that creates the £6 billon per annum criminal market which is the cause of all the social harms around cannabis. This will need to be handled much more carefully as, due to nearly a century of misinformation and media scaremongering, many people still retain great fear as to what legal cannabis will mean.
The one thing that has been very lacking in the cannabis campaign is pragmatism. Most campaigners for recreational use continue to be lost in a swirl of ‘free the weed’, teenage angst, outrage, revolution and delight in being a rebellious outlaw. That was until 2011 when CLEAR introduced a new approach which has led to more engagement with government than ever before. The emergence of the United Patients Alliance and now the End Our Pain campaign has helped this but these campaigns are focused only on medicinal use
The fact is that we need to work with Theresa May’s government and the anti-Tory tribalism that many still adopt is nothing but an obstacle to reform.
In addressing Ms Rudd, our overall strategy for wider reform will be:
1. A final separation from the ridiculous ‘free the weed’ movement and ‘stoner’ groups which are incapable of understanding how they are seen and despised by wider society.
2. Differentiation between medicinal use and the more controversial legalisation for adult, recreational use.
3. Shift public attention onto scientific and medical evidence rather than the very poor standard of media reporting.
4. End the fake policy that says ‘cannabis is dangerous therefore it must be regulated’. Educate that nearly all the harms around cannabis are caused by its prohibition, not by cannabis itself.
5. Emphasise the importance of harm reduction information, education about excessive use and essential investment in treatment for those who do suffer health harms.
6. Clarify that decriminalisation is no solution and is a dangerous option that would probably increase harm. The product needs to be sold within a properly regulated environment, careful that over-regulation would support a continuing criminal market.
It is truly pathetic to see. Farron clearly understands the huge harm caused by cannabis prohibition but doesn’t have the knowledge, the courage or the integrity to speak the truth. Instead he panders to to the scaremongers and says:
“Cannabis causes psychosis”
“Cannabis is dangerous”
“People who use cannabis have a health problem”
“Cannabis is a bad thing”
The Liberal Democrat’s report ‘A framework for a regulated market for cannabis in the UK: Recommendations from an expert panel’ is a re-hash of Transform’s ‘Blueprint’ and its work on a socialist model of cannabis regulation in Uruguay. It denigrates the highly successful commercial model introduced in Colorado and follows Transform’s evidence-free exaggeration of the harms of cannabis and its determination to impose anti-business controls on a legal cannabis market.
There is no evidence that cannabis causes psychosis. The most that can be said is that in a very small number of genetically-vulnerable people, it may be one of many ‘component causes’.
There is no evidence that cannabis is dangerous. The most that can be said is that it does have the potential for harm if used by children, to excess, irresponsibly or by a tiny group of people who may have an allergic reaction. If you describe cannabis as dangerous then you have to describe peanuts, aspirin and hay fever remedies as more dangerous. That’s without even considering comparison with the two most dangerous drugs of all: tobacco and alcohol.
Some people who use cannabis have a health problem and they use cannabis for its remarkable properties to relieve pain and other symptoms. For most people, in moderation, cannabis is actually beneficial, helping to protect against autoimmune conditions, cancer, dementia and other diseases of aging.
For at least 95% of people who use cannabis they do so safely, without any negative consequences and it is a very good thing for their health and wellbeing.
Today, Friday 9th October, in advance of Monday’s cannabis debate in Parliament, I met with Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office minister with responsibility for the implementation of government policy.
According to The Independent, Oliver Letwin is “probably the most powerful person in the government after the Prime Minister and Chancellor”. I first met with him back in July and he agreed to investigate the possibility of cannabis being available on prescription. When the cannabis debate was announced, I asked to see him again before the debate took place and he very generously arranged to see me just in time.
Monday’s debate will be the first time in nearly 50 years that MPs have had an opportunity to consider the subject. Throughout the world, more and more governments are waking up to the huge damage that cannabis prohibition causes. Nearly all the harms around cannabis are not caused by cannabis itself but the laws against it. Prohibition of anything for which there is huge demand inevitably creates a criminal market. More than three million people in the UK choose to use cannabis regularly. We consume more than three and a half tons every day and spend more than £6 billion every year, all of which goes into the black economy.
Since the early 20th century, acres of newsprint have been devoted to telling us how harmful cannabis can be. The alcohol industry fiercely guards its monopoly of legal recreational drug use. It has enormous influence in government and its £800 million annual advertising spend give it great power over the media.
But the truth is becoming clear. Scientific evidence and real world experience show that compared to alcohol and even common painkillers and over-the-counter medicines, cannabis is very, very safe. Concerns about mental health impacts are proven to be wildly overblown as cannabis use has escalated by many orders of magnitude but mental health diagnoses have remained stable. Increasingly, those responsible for drugs policy realise that abandoning this huge market to criminals only makes things worse. Criminals don’t care who they sell to or what they sell, so children and the vulnerable become their customers and their product becomes low quality, contaminated, often very high strength ‘moonshine’ varieties.
A Win Win Proposal To The UK Government On Cannabis.
Perhaps the most pernicious effect of cannabis prohibition is the denial of access to it a medicine. On this, Mr Letwin has been consulting with other ministers in the Department of Health and the Home Office. He says he is now convinced that there is a very positive future for cannabinoid medicines. As a result, I hope to be meeting again shortly with George Freeman MP, the Life Sciences Minister. I led a delegation of medicinal cannabis users to meet with him at the beginning of this year. Mr Letwin has indicated to me that it is Mr Freeman’s office that needs to deal with this, so I am hopeful of real progress in the near future.
Mr Letwin warned me that the debate itself will not produce any change in the law and I acknowledge this but it is part of the process that will eventually get us there. I suggested that there is a win win option that could be implemented very easily and quickly. There is huge pressure on the government to act but also great inertia and resistance to change from the old guard. I proposed that if cannabis could be moved out of schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations it would enable doctors to prescribe it and researchers more easily begin the task of developing and testing new products.
The great benefit this would offer to the government is that it would be seen to be responding to the evidence, being progressive and keeping up with the worldwide movement towards reform. However, for the more conservative thinkers, the ‘tough on drugs’ mantra would remain in place. Cannabis would still be a class B drug and all the same penalties would remain in force. Both sides of the debate could see this move as a success for their argument.
So we all look forward to the debate. As is normal practice, no government ministers will participate but I expect a Home office minister will give some sort of response. We are making progress. Revolution is not the British way but I do think we can continue with guarded optimism that our message is getting through and the direction of travel is certain.
The prohibition of cannabis has caused massive harm to our society. It has created a criminal market which has attacked our children, our communities, our health and our liberty. The time to end this failed experiment is now.
Cannabis in West Sussex, England, UK. With acknowledgement and thanks to Joni Mitchell and Eddie Mitchell of Aerial News. (No relation, as far as we know)
I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him where are you going
And this he told me
I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm *
I’m going to join in a rock ‘n’ roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it’s the time of man
I don’t know who I am
But you know life is for learning
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
back to the garden
© Siquomb Publishing Company