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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Sunday 8th April 2012

I thought I’d have another look at the first batch of written submissions to the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) for its inquiry into government drugs policy. On 28th March, I picked out a few submissions from people or organisations I’ve written about before and, two days later, I looked at the number of references to Professor David Nutt.

I haven’t read all of every submission but I have gone through the whole document to get a sense of who has taken the trouble to provide written evidence and what their overall position is.

I mentioned before that there are a number of submissions my individuals. Having gone through the entire document, I can revise that to say there are a high number of individual submissions. It’s not really possible to say exactly how many because there are some submissions that appear to be made by organisations but, on reading, turn out to be one person’s view.

For individuals, cannabis seems to be the item of interest with most of the submissions dealing with that substance only. I noticed that most of them refer to membership of Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR),  ‘a political party registered with the Electoral Commission under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000’. I assumed that CLEAR had encouraged its members to make submissions, which is perfectly fine.

Then I noticed, and confirmed by using a large block of text as a search field, that quite a number of the submissions were identical. CLEAR, I assume, provided a pro forma submission and a number of people made no attempt to personalise it. I can’t see the HASC’s conclusions being based on the total weight in kgs of the written submissions it received so I doubt if this will have any impact.

There were plenty of people who referenced CLEAR but had written their own evidence and some of those were quite poignant stories of how cannabis had helped them medicinally or how the criminal status of cannabis had destroyed their life prospects by giving them a career-damaging criminal record.

Incidentally, CLEAR is a very troubled organisation at the moment. I won’t go into the details but it is a pity that there are those in that group who are anxious to show that Release’s 2010 campaign slogan ‘Nice People Take Drugs’ cannot be taken to mean that all drug users are nice.

Of all the individual submissions only one sees cannabis as a cause for concern. I won’t point out which, because I don’t wish to make a personal attack but the points made in that submission are bizarre in the extreme. The witness seems to still adhere to the long discredited notion of ‘Reefer Madness’.

Turning to the submissions from organisations, when commenting on the submission from Peter Hitchens, I wrote on 28th March;

‘It takes a very special sort of arrogance to believe that giving evidence to a parliamentary select committee is the perfect opportunity to promote a forthcoming commercial venture.’

From my scan of all the evidence, I see that (subject to removing the word ‘forthcoming’) Hitchens is not unique in using the opportunity to provide a commercial plug.

Reckitt Benckiser uses it submission to extol the benefits of its anti-opioid overdose drug, naloxone, and Alliance Boots seems to be putting itself forward when one of its ‘Overview’ points is ‘Community pharmacy has a central role to play in providing integrated, effective treatment and health services to drug users’.  Tjalling Erkelens is co-owner and CEO of Bedrocan Beheer BV a company growing cannabis for the Dutch government and points out that the Dutch government is supplying other governments with cannabis for medical use.

Of the non-commercial organisations some, like Transform Drug Policy Forum, UK Drug Policy Commission, International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition amongst others put forward the case for reform often in great detail with supporting evidence.

Others, like Europe against Drugs, National Drug Prevention Alliance, National Drug Prevention Alliance, The World Federation Against Drugs and The Maranatha Community call for efforts to focus on achieving a drug-free world, that Nirvana that has eluded the human race throughout its existence.

There is a growing tendency for prohibitionists, including UN agencies, to deny that complete eradication was ever the intention of international drug policy. The Maranatha Community isn't one of them as it submission includes as one of its conclusions;

'The evidence against a harm reduction approach and in favour of seeking to create a drug free society is compelling.'

Personally, I find it a little worrying that a Christian organisation clearly believes that the The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is doing a good job. The INCB has repeatedly refused to condemn the use of torture and the death penalty to deal with drug offenders.

There are a few submissions that claim everything is fine. According to Crime Reduction Initiatives (CRI), ‘On the whole, the 2010 drug strategy is well grounded in evidence’. CRI is ‘a health and social care charity working with individuals, families and communities across England and Wales that are affected by drugs, alcohol, crime, homelessness, domestic abuse, and antisocial behaviour’ and is wholly dependent on the government for its finances. There is no suggestion that those two sentences are related.

Also putting forward the view that everything is great and good work is being done are the submissions from the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) but I can’t help wondering if the effort spent in preparing those submissions (and the cost) is worthwhile. I’m sure they don’t tell the HASC anything it didn’t already know.

I mentioned that a number of the submissions by CLEAR members were identical but it is not only CLEAR who thinks that saying the same thing more than once is useful. I wrote before about the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) evidence being a copy and paste of Kathy Gyngell’s previous writing but Ms Gyngell has also made a personal submission featuring the usual mix of distorted evidence, assertion put forward as evidence and strawman arguments about what policy changes would produce.

A number of organisations put forward their proposals for vastly improving the situation in respect of drugs that, co-incidentally I’m sure, relate to what those organisations do. Thus RehabGrads argues for residential rehab centres and Mentor argues for spending on education.

The Association of Chief Police Officers says in its submission;

‘The feedback from police forces is that legal highs are readily available across the country and there is considerable uncertainty, some would say confusion, as to the nature and status of such substances and the risks associated with their use.’

But it does not include the words quoted in the press stories about ACPO’s concerns about the impossible task of controlling ‘legal highs’. It seems likely that ACPO has made a further submission that was not included in the first publication in order to express its concerns.

"From an early stage, the chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers' (ACPO) drugs committee was of the opinion that the solution to the particular challenge of legal highs did not lie in adding inexorably to the list of illicit substances.”

Submissions by both the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the British Veterinary Association (BVA) are concerned about the changes to the ACMD rules that mean it may, in the future, not have a qualified veterinarian to call off. Given the problems ketamine is causing, that concern seems justified.

I’ll finish by mentioning two other individual responses that resonated with me.

The first is Sir Keith Morris, a former British Ambassador to Colombia, who describes himself as a onetime ‘keen supporter’ of the ‘war on drugs’ who realised during his time in Colombia that prohibition has failed.

The second is Tom Lloyd, former Chief Constable Cambridgeshire Constabulary, who begins his submission with a quote; “I joined the police service to help people and catch criminals; arresting drug users does neither.”


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