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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Wednesday 27th November 2013

Many of my recent pieces have been written to encourage readers to view a video. The difference, today, is that it is not one of my own videos that I am urging you to view.

The Home Affairs Select Committee held another evidence session, yesterday, and it included the first appearance of Norman Baker the LibDem MP recently appointed to take on the drugs responsibility within the Home Office.

His appearance comes at 1h:45m:40s (at 16:49 real time) into the session and the reason I urge you to view it yourself is because I don’t want to put forward what I think it tells us about drug policy in the Home Office given that my conclusions are based on trying to interpret what Mr Baker doesn’t say as much as evaluating what he does.

The session lasts just over forty minutes but it is well worth investing that time if you are interested in how policy is made given that we know it is not made on the basis of evidence.

I seem to be writing a lot about Catha edulis, khat, but that is partly because very few other people are. The main media takeaway from Mr Baker’s appearance, for example, was about his views on cannabis and not what he said, and didn’t say, about khat.

The last time I wrote about khat and a HASC session I noted that the drug warriors on the committee had been noticeable by their silence on the issue of the intended classification. Yesterday, one at least did speak on the subject and made himself look very foolish as a result.

Michael Ellis, Conservative MP for Northampton North, began his questioning of Mr Baker by asking about the Guardian’s reporting of the Edward Snowden affair and then at 1h:54m:34s (that's 16:56 and 20 seconds real time) said;

‘…as far as khat is concerned would you agree with me that it is irrefutable that is has a damaging and negative effect on people who take it’.

This provoked some amusement and inaudible comments because, of course, the committee chair, Keith Vaz has made no secret of his use of khat. When this settled down, Mr Ellis went on;

‘…because it is irrefutable that they would accept that it has a narcotic type effect so the reality of the matter is that it is a substance that has an effect and therefore it would be appropriate to judge it accordingly’.

Since Mr Ellis seems to view all substances that have a narcotic effect as bad I searched his website for his views on alcohol, or even caffeine, but could find nothing. Mr Ellis would seem to be typical of the right-wing Conservatives that Theresa May is so keen to woo.

The HASC is to publish a report on its latest deliberations, shortly, and I feel confident that it will say that a majority of the committee believe it to be a mistake to ignore the ACMD and schedule khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. I wouldn’t expect this to have any effect on the Home Secretary but hope it might be of relevance to the High Court’s consideration of the application for judicial review of the decision.

The video is available on the UK Parliament website or you can click below to watch it. (By one of those oddities of digital communications, the parliament website uses elapsed time whereas the embedded version uses real time. Mr Baker's appearance starts at 1h:45m:40s on the parliament website or at 16:49 below.)

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