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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Friday 2nd December 2011 

The UK Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) has announced that it intends, in 2012, to ‘examine the effectiveness of the Government’s 2010 drugs strategy and the UK Government’s contribution to global efforts to reduce the supply and demand of illicit drugs’.

The HASC is the committee that undertook an investigation into the cocaine trade and produced a report, early in 2010, that many felt had been written in the knowledge that there would be an election in the first half of 2010 and, as a result, contained nothing too contentious for fear of inviting the ire of the right wing media.

That report, therefore, does not raise hopes that the report to be produced by this new investigation will be worthwhile. But, simply conducting the examination is seen as a welcome especially given the terms the HASC has set itself.

The committee has identified thirteen specific areas of interest and the full list is on its webpage. The first and last are particularly interesting.

The committee wants to see if the new government’s strategy on drugs is a ‘fiscally responsible policy with strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights’. It also wants to ask ‘Whether detailed consideration ought to be given to alternative ways of tackling the drugs dilemma’. A number of the other points are potentially interesting such as looking at drugs and alcohol abuse together but there is one that seems redundant.

The HASC wants to consider ‘The criteria used by the Government to measure the efficacy of its drug policies’. Given that the government has never measured the efficacy of its drug policies, the committee will considerable difficulty locating any criteria for measurement of efficacy.

The announcement has been made at this time in order to request written submissions from interested parties that will be used as part of the committee’s considerations and also, in part, to help the committee select witnesses to question when hearings take place.

Given that those who believe in the current regime repeatedly demonstrate their lack of faith in it by showing how terrified they are of anyone undertake a proper investigation of prohibition, it should be no surprise that simply announcing that it intends to investigate the matter has brought criticism of the HASC.

At the forefront of those seeking to discredit the committee’s report before it even begins to collect evidence on which to prepare it is, of course, the ever hilarious Kathy Gyngell. Under a headline that says the HASC ‘risks undermining democracy’ Ms Gyngell says that the HASC is ‘fast becoming our new public moral arbiter’. Clearly, that is outrageous because being the ‘moral arbiter’ for the nation is Ms Gyngell’s self-appointed role.

She then paints a picture of the HASC acting as a puppet for the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP). I’ve mentioned Gyngell’s view of the GCDP before* so it should be no surprise that she hopes to discredit the HASC by associating it with the GCDP.

In fact, the GCDP is mentioned only in the first of the thirteen ‘areas of interest’ and then only because the HASC has lifted the phrase ‘fiscally responsible policy with strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights’ direct from the GCDP report. Ms Gyngell would have you believe the HASC is a tool of the GCDP whereas the committee is just trying to make the point that the questions it wants to ask are the same as governments around the world are being prompted to ask.

For Gyngell, the other twelve areas of interest are ‘fudged’ presumably to cover for the subservient position to the GCDP that she believes exists. She calls for the request for written submissions to be changed so that people are only able to give answers to specific questions. People like Gyngell are particularly fond of the ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ type of question because that keeps the debate within the strict prohibitionist boundaries.

And, she mutters darkly about referring someone (though I’m not sure who) to the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee if the HASC dares to go ahead with what just might be a comprehensive analysis of current drug policy.

So, rather than full and public examination of drug policy looking at whether it is working and, if not what can be done about it, Gyngell wants the committee to be hamstrung so that the only conclusion it can reach is that we should all do what she tells us.

Democracy maybe being undermined but it is not the HASC that is doing it.

* I looked, again, at the UNODC World Drug Report for 2011. Rather than get into a knot over how to interpret prevalence estimates taking account of population figures, I looked at production. Oven-dry opium production was estimated at 4,346 tonnes in 1998 peaking at 8,641 in 2008 before dropping to 7,853 in 2009. The 2010 figure of 4,860 tonnes is accepted to be a result of the disease that affected Afghanistan’s poppies. The report itself says ‘opium production in 2008 stood at 1.8 times the 1997 level’. Only a fool, or Kathy Gyngell, would suggest that a near doubling in production doesn’t indicate an increase in use.


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