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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Sunday 18th March 2012

The good thing about writing a blog is that you are free to say ‘I told you so’ if something you’ve predicted turns out to be true.

The bad thing about writing a blog is that you are free to say ‘I told you so’ if something you’ve predicted turns out to be true.

The blogger is far more likely to come across as arrogant and egotistical than as the source of all wisdom. Knowing that, I try to avoid using that phrase or even implying it. But, today, I feel completely justified.

I told you so.

Specifically, on Friday, when I wrote about the Versus debate organised by Intelligence2, I said;

‘You might be led to wonder why [Peter] Hitchens participated in this event. The audience, clearly, had no respect for anything he said. My view is that Hitchens knew exactly what reaction he wanted to get so that, when he returns to his own constituency, he can tell it that those in favour of reform are scornful of common sense and uninterested in reason.’

And so it has been. In today’s Mail on Sunday column, Hitchens, albeit as his fourth topic, indulges in one of his trademark attacks on someone who disagrees with him; this time Russell Brand. But it is the last sentence that tells all; ‘I think it gives a pretty good idea of the difference between the pro and anti-drug causes.’

I said that the Versus debate was, to an extent, preaching to the choir and here is Hitchens doing the exact same thing. He has no need to explain that last sentence because his readership, being right-minded people, can be trusted to know what that means.

Because of his apparent need to pursue his vendetta against the Prime Minister, Hitchens didn’t have the space, in the printed paper, to give full flow to his views on the debate so that has to come in a blog entry online. I haven’t gone through all of the comments after the piece but I did spot one that pointed out that when Hitchens wrote that Russell Brand had responded with ‘a tirade of personal abuse’ he was omitting to mention that he had been abusive on a personal level first.

So, nothing useful is to be learnt from Hitchens’ recollections of the debate. Sadly, the same is true of the other item flowing from the Versus debate in the Guardian, a ‘conversation’ between Sir Richard Branson and Lord Blair, the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

I’ve met Richard Branson a number of times and I’m not surprised that he doesn’t have a full grasp of all the issues involved in drug policy reform. I think he’s the sort who makes a decision and then goes forward with it rather than getting buried in detail. And Ian Blair’s time as Met commissioner saw him criticised for not knowing enough about what was going on, especially over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. So it is only to be expected that this debate adds little of value to either side of the argument. In fact Blair’s contribution is so light on detail that the reporter has seen fit to add some;

‘IB: The Portugal statistics are disputed. It is not yet a proven case. [Overall drug use has increased, and the homicide rate went up – a fact, said a UN Office on Drugs and Crime report, that "might" be due to trafficking activity.]’

Sadly, that bracketed additional detail is wrong and reveals that the reporter hasn’t troubled to look into the substance of claims made about the situation in Portugal.

The bad thing about writing a blog is that you find yourself saying the same thing again and again.

The good thing about writing a blog is that you can say the same thing again and again.

If you want to get a clear picture of what the change in policy produced in Portugal then you should read the paper by Caitlin Hughes & Alex Stevens that I’ve mentioned a number of times but I’m repeating because it really gives a carefully researched, balanced view of what lies behind the claims made by both sides.

What’s new this time is that you can, if you prefer, watch Prof. Stevens present the results of that work, plus other examples of drug policy in Europe, at the recent Baker Institute conference.

One telling point that he makes is that prohibitionists are right to say that the reported number of deaths where people were found to have used drugs has risen but they ignore the fact that Portugal has increased the number of post mortem examinations undertaken and that if any trace of any drug is found in the toxicological screening it is counted as a drug-related death. Drug deaths measured the way the rest of the EU measures them have fallen considerably.

Any claim about the impact of drug policy changes has to be examined with great care because it is unlikely to be as straightforward as the person making the claim would want you to believe.