THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 


This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Saturday 15th October 2011

One complaint you hear a lot about the media these days is that too much time is spent speculating about what is going to happen rather than reporting on what has. Especially with political matters there always seem to be stories about what tomorrow’s announcement/report will say. You’d think there wasn’t enough actually happening to fill the papers and programmes.

This makes it a little surprising when a story that could have been reported before suddenly breaks and you would think it was something new. This is what happened when the WHO’s survey of cocaine use and its effects was suppressed by the UN after pressure from the USA because the survey’s results showed that cocaine was not nearly as harmful a substance, for the majority of users of powder, as the ‘party line’ on the drug war stated.

Some years after the survey results were ‘buried’ someone got hold of them and made them available online but it was several months before anyone seemed to notice them and start to report on what this meant for prohibition.

Now, in the last 36 hours or so, there has been a lot of coverage of a letter that was written on 1st July but seems to have escaped nearly everyone’s notice. The letter is from Professor Les Iversen, the Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), and is to the Office of the Sentencing Council for England and Wales which, according to its website, ‘promotes greater consistency in sentencing, whilst maintaining the independence of the judiciary’.

I’m not sure why the ACMD didn’t release its letter before (it was published on its website on 12th October) and I’m not sure why no-one seems to have noticed that the motion passed by the Liberal Democrats at their conference in September gives a direct quote from the ACMD letter. It may just be that the ACMD was about to release its annual report, which it did on 13th October, and someone realised that its response to the Sentencing Council, referred to in that annual report, hadn’t been published on its website.

Three other documents were published by the ACMD on 12th October so this does look like an administrative catch-up ahead of the annual report. If that is the case then ACMD members may be unprepared for the coverage the issue is now beginning to attract.

The Sentencing Council had been looking at sentences for offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act and asked the ACMD to comment on its proposals. The Sentencing Council’s consultation sent to the ACMD (and, probably, other bodies) asked 15 questions and attached to Prof Iversen’s letter was the ACMD response to each of these.

The link, above, will take you to the answers to all fifteen but it is the last one that has caused all the interest. Question 15 asks ‘Are there any further comments that you wish to make?’ and the ACMD’s answer is much more than you would expect to a wrap-up question like that.

Here’s the heart of the answer; ‘The ACMD also believe that there is an opportunity to be more creative in dealing with those who have committed an offence by possession of drugs. For people found to be in possession of drugs (any) for personal use (and involved in no other criminal offences), they should not be processed through the criminal justice system but instead be diverted into drug education/awareness courses (as can happen now with speeding motor car offenders).’

Let’s paraphrase that to make sure we’ve read it right. The ACMD is saying that anyone whose only offence is to be in possession, for personal use, of a substance classified under the Misuse of Drugs Act should not be processed through the criminal justice system but should be offered the opportunity to undertake an education/awareness course intended to reduce the chance of them committing future offences. The ACMD is basing this position on the very successful ‘speed awareness’ courses offered to motorists as an alternative to fines and penalty points for speeding. The ACMD says it believes such an approach ‘may be more effective’ both in reducing re-offending and in reducing costs.

Or, to put it another way, the ACMD is saying that Portugal’s approach to dealing with users of drugs should be, more or less, adopted here.

What also seems to have passed most people by, at the time, is that the ACMD made the same recommendation to the Home Office in October 2010 as part of its contribution to the Home Office review of ‘drugs strategy’. Then, the Home Office rejected any notion of what it called ‘liberalising our drug laws’ though no-one has ever said that speed awareness courses, also a policy area covered by the Home Office, amounted to a liberalisation of the motoring laws on speeding.

It is no surprise, given the evidence from Portugal and other places, that the ACMD believes punishing people for simple possession is not reducing demand and it is certainly no surprise that papers like the Daily Mail have responded based on prejudice rather than reason. What may be more surprising is that a Telegraph blog, by Tom Chivers, assistant comment editor, calls the government chicken for its out of hand dismissal of the proposal. And even the main Telegraph online simply reports the Home Office rejection without the hysterical language used by the Mail.

What really surprises me, however, is that the ACMD has made this recommendation even though it knows the Home Office rejected any consideration of such a plan last year. When Prof David Nutt was forced out of the ACMD by the previous government and when the new ACMD chairman, shortly after his appointment, announced that the committee was recommended that mephedrone be classified as Class ‘B’ while the meeting to discuss this was still in progress, it seemed as though the ACMD was set to become a tool for giving apparent scientific credibility to whatever drug policy the government had decided to pursue.

I don’t for one moment believe that we are about to see a change in policy but I am encouraged that the ACMD appears to be willing to stick to its views even when told by its master that those views are unwelcome. If this means the government has to base its drug policy on 'because I say so' rather than 'because the science (according to the ACMD) says so' it becomes that little bit harder to sustain policies that harm everyone, not just drug users.


Full Entries


Tuesday 25th October 2016
Saturday 20th August 2016
Sunday 6th March 2016
Wednesday 3rd February 2016


Saturday 28th November 2015
Friday 27th November 2015
Monday 17th August 2015
Wednesday 15th July 2015
Friday 26th June 2015
Thursday 25th June 2015
Thursday 30th April 2015
Wednesday 29th April 2015
Wednesday 11th March 2015
Tuesday 3rd March 2015
Saturday 28th February 2015
Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014

Monday 24th November 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014
Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014
Saturday 16th August 2014
Tuesday 5th August 2014
Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014
Wednesday 23rd July 2014
Sunday 13th July 2014
Sunday 6th July 2014
Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014
Tuesday 24th June 2014
Sunday 22nd June 2014
Monday 9th June 2014
Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014
Sunday 18th May 2014
Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014
Saturday 5th April 2014
Thursday 3rd April 2014
Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014
Tuesday 25th March 2014
Friday 21st March 2014
Monday 17th March 2014
Sunday 16th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Thursday 6th March 2014
Wednesday 5th March 2014
Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014
Monday 24th February 2014
Wednesday 19th February 2014
Monday 17th February 2014
Thursday 13th February 2014
Monday 4th February 2014
Monday 3rd February 2014
Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014
Thursday 23rd January 2014
Friday 17th January 2014
Wednesday 15th January 2014
Monday 13th January 2014
Thursday 9th January 2014
Tuesday 7th January 2014
Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013
Friday 20th December 2013
Tuesday 17th December 2013
Friday 14th December 2013
Thursday 12th December 2013
Sunday 8th December 2013
Wednesday 4th December 2013
Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013
Wednesday 27th November 2013
Tuesday 26th November 2013
Friday 22nd November 2013
Monday 18th November 2013
Friday 15th November 2013
Thursday 14th November 2013
Sunday 10th November 2013
Thursday 7th November 2013
Wednesday 6th November 2013
Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013
Sunday 27th October 2013
Wednesday 23rd October 2013
Monday 21st October 2013
Friday 18th October 2013
Friday 11th October 2013
Wednesday 9th October 2013
Tuesday 8th October 2013
Monday 7th October 2013
Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013
Saturday 28th September 2013
Friday 27th September 2013
Monday 23rd September 2013
Sunday 15th September 2013
Monday 9th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Sunday 8th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013
Sunday 25th August 2013
Monday 19th August 2013
Friday 16th August 2013
Tuesday 13th August 2013
Friday 9th August 2013
Friday 2nd August 2013
Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013
Sunday 21st July 2013
Wednesday 17th July 2013
Monday 15th July 2013
Saturday 13th July 2013
Friday 12th July 2013
Thursday 11th July 2013
Wednesday 10th July 2013
Tuesday 9th July 2013
Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013
Tuesday 25th June 2013
Friday 21st June 2013
Thursday 20th June 2013
Wednesday 19th June 2013
Saturday 15th June 2013
Sunday 9th June 2013
Saturday 8th June 2013
Saturday 1st June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012 blog

June 2012 blog

May 2012 blog

April 2012 blog

March 2012 blog

February 2012 blog

January 2012 blog

December 2011 blog

November 2011 blog

October 2011 blog

September 2011 blog

August 2011 blog

July 2011 blog

June 2011 blog


The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.