Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
140. You say you have 50,000 readers. How many
copies do you sell? Do you sell the magazine?
(Mr McNicholas) Yes. We sell around 50,000 copies.
141. Your evidence is just addressed to what
we might call "club" drugs, is it?
(Mr McNicholas) Yes. I am a member of an organisation
called "Dance/Drugs Alliance", which I understand made
a submission to the Committee. It is very much recreational drug
use amongst young people, which tends to be ecstasy, cannabis,
amphetamines and, increasingly, cocaine; but certainly not drugs
like heroin or crack.
(Mr Buffry) I am from the Legalise Cannabis Alliance.
I am the National Co-ordinator and nominating officer. We were
formed as a political party in 1999 and put up candidates at by-elections,
general elections, county council and local county elections.
Our aim is specifically to bring about the full legalisation of
cannabis and the utilisation of cannabis, which we see as beneficial
for many people. Far more people claim to have benefited from
it than claim to have been harmed by it.
142. Your concern is only with cannabis?
(Mr Buffry) I obviously have my personal opinions
on other substances; but, as the representative from the Legalise
Cannabis Alliance, I am specifically concerned with cannabis.
143. Does your Alliance have members or supporters?
(Mr Buffry) Yes, we have endorsees because we wanted
to attract support from other political parties, and somebody
cannot join two political parties. At the moment we have about
144. How are you funded?
(Mr Buffry) Through donations and sales of literature
and so on.
(Mr Evans) I feel completely inadequate here because
I do not really represent anyone. I explained in my letter that
I have been the moderator and drafter of The Angel Declaration,
and there is simply an anonymous coagulation of 15 individuals
who came together some four months ago to start casting our minds
forward. They are anonymous because several of them are from the
active drug users communities, and they are woefully threatened
by publicity. They are woefully threatened in their daily lives
and in their ability to earn a living; so I must ask for that
confidence and do retain that confidence. I came into this because
of the Human Rights Act. I started to take a keen interest in
the Human Rights Act and I pursue that particular interest. I
was by origin a human rights lawyer in the 1960s.
145. Are you still a practising barrister?
(Mr Evans) No. I am a danger to shipping as a barrister.
I gave up and went into business some 35 years ago.
146. The Angel Declaration is a group of individuals
who came into being in a pub called The Angel?
(Mr Evans) Yes, more or less. We just got fed up with
the present preoccupation with whether there should be legalisation
or not. We said, "Plainly, there's going to be legalisation,
so let's sit down and explain how it would work". We came
to the conclusion that it would work very easily and straightforwardly
with institutions and ideas that are already available within
the English constitution.
147. Do you work together in some sort of loose
(Mr Davies) I have met only Danny.
(Mr Evans) We have only just met. I know Alun, of
course, because Alun is very prominent.
148. There is no campaign?
(Mr Evans) No.
149. Is there any reason why not?
(Mr Davies) I am too busy to be involved in campaigns.
(Mr Kushlik) There have been some links.
(Mr Evans) We think of Transform as a campaign group.
To a certain extent Transform comes nearest to that idea.
(Mr Kushlik) On certain issues we have worked together
and around the anti-declaration.
150. My opening two or three questions are to
Mr Davies. You have said that "Prohibition has not merely
failed to cut the supply of illicit drugs: it has actively spread
drug use". The evidence indicates that 90 per cent of young
people do not regularly take drugs. What is the area of increase?
(Mr Davies) Statistically speaking the highest estimate
I have ever heard of the number of heroin users at the point of
the 1971 Act is 1,000. The lowest estimate I have ever heard of
the number of heroin users now is 200,000. Does that accord with
your statistics. A 200-fold increase. The reason I say that is
this: you will have heard that drug abuse is linked with property
crime. If you have been into the best research, you will have
been told that property crime is actually committed only by a
hard core of users; that most drug users do not commit property
crimealthough the effect of that hard core is dramatic.
The most common way for a user to fund their own use or habit
is to sell it. For this reason it is like pyramid selling. If
you are using and you need to fund your habit, you turn on your
three or four closest friends and inject the profit. Each of those
three or four are then in the same position. "How am I going
to pay for my habit? I've got to find other people to sell to".
I said in the stories, you get one kid in the classroom who starts
using and it spreads geometricallyevery kid will start.
One man in the street is down the pub and selling to his friends,
so there is a force pushing it out.
151. You say "every kid", but, despite
the increase, it is still very much a minority activity.
(Mr Davies) Yes, despite everything that has gone
on in the black market.
152. You will agree that 90 per cent of our
young people are not taking drugs, so it is a minority activity?
(Mr Davies) The heroin use is even smaller than that,
which is the thing I have really looked at. Can you see how the
difference between 1,000 heroin users and, at the least, 200,000
is a dramatic increase. How do we explain that? With all the deterrents
of the law, and all the information campaigns and health education
campaigns, why did it blow out suddenly at that rate?pyramid
153. This minority activityis that a
success of a state policy on drugs and a mandate for continuation
along the same lines?
(Mr Davies) It cannot be. If you go back to 1971,
if you had told the people who had drafted that legislation, "The
best you guys are going to be able to do is a 200-fold increase
in the next 30 years", they would have fainted with horror.
They were talking about extinguishing the supply. I think you
can have some sympathy with these people. They had been misinformed
about the effects of drugs; but the vision was, "We can kill
the supply. People won't take it because it won't be there to
be taken". This is a failure on an unimaginable scale, even
on the lowest end of estimate. I have talked to Home Office officials
who put the figure of heroin users up to 500,000. I am giving
you the most conservative estimate of 200,000. That is an unimaginable
failure for those people who drafted it.
154. Are you making an argument for a Royal
Commission on Drugs?
(Mr Davies) No, I would consider that a complete waste
of time. I think we should get on with what we know.
155. What principles like behind such a drugs
(Mr Davies) The principle is this: we have got the
wrong answer because we have been asking the wrong question. What
we have done is, we drew up the league table of drugs with what
we perceived to be the most dangerous at the top. Okay, there
are errors of fact in our understanding of what the most dangerous
are, but set that to one side. What we did was we drew a line
across the middle and said, "All those above this line are
so dangerous that they have to be prohibited". It is the
wrong question; it is the wrong approach. What you need to do
is to ask yourself this: what drug becomes safer, in terms of
health or social damage, if you make it illegal? What does it
do to the drugs? If you remove what I would describe as the "fantasy
option", which is that you can extinguish supply by prohibition
(and we can all see we have not done that), then you have to acknowledge
that, even though you have prohibited it, the drug continues to
be supplied, but not through government channels, not through
regulated channels. I said in these stories, when all this is
over the people who have run the drugs war should be made to chip
it out on the side of a mountain, "No drug becomes safer
when you hand its production and distribution to criminals",
and that is what we are suffering.
156. Which is more important: to minimise the
prevalence of drug use or to minimise harm?
(Mr Davies) The second, overwhelmingly. If you accept
the evidence (which interestingly enough I think the Home Office
are now accepting, and let us concentrate on that example because
it is the most difficult) that heroin is a benign drugjust
supposing the Home Office memo put in last week is right (and
I think they are wrong), that legalisation would increase the
use of heroin; if you believe that heroin damages your mind, body,
morals, social behaviour and will kill you that matters enormously;
but all of the evidence points in the other direction. If only
we would allow our users to get their heroin in clean form, with
clean needles through doctors who can tell them how much is safe
to take, it will not have any of those effects. I am saying it
will not spread anyway; but even if it did spread why are we interested
in drugs? It is to stop them hurting people.
(Mr Kushlik) I want to say something about the issues
of methods of distribution and the principles which lie behind
drugs policy. The first point is: the principles that lie behind
the drugs policy then drive resources. To the extent you are trying
to push down prevalence, and it may be true that prohibition does
reduce prevalence, the resources are going to be pushed into enforcement.
From proper education, from interdiction, the Customs & Excise,
the PAC Report 1998 which showed they were only getting10 per
cent of what came into the country, and they could not stem the
flow there either, we know from the price and the purity on the
street, that the price is dropping dramatically. The price of
a gram heroin down in Bristol is £25. When I was a drugs
worker six years ago it was about £80. You cannot control
price; you cannot control availability; you cannot control the
people producing; and you cannot stop people trafficking it. Clearly
enforcement is not the way forward. To the extent that we keep
throwing resources into that, all we do is create chaos and hand
it over to the Mafia. There are four other ways of distributing
drugs: over the counter; licensed premises; pharmacy sales; and
prescribing. With all those four methods you have opportunities
to influence price, quality, points of distribution and numerous
other things. If you use the principles of crime reduction, health
improvement, treatment and really begin to deal with the issues
of why people are growing drugs in the first place in an unregulated
way, you are going to have a policy that then supplies resources
into dealing with those issues and managing the problem, rather
than pretending we can actually eradicate it.
157. Mr Davies, you are saying you do not accept
that legalisation would increase usage?
(Mr Davies) No. I have two thoughts there: one is,
take away the black market, and take away that pyramid selling
which actively pushes out the black marketand I call as
evidence in support of that this enormous increase ; the second
is, have you looked at the results of the Swiss pilot? Since 1994
they have been doing what I am talking about doing, which is allowing
their doctors to prescribe heroin to recidivist veteran users.
For political reasons they have only done it in that portion of
the population. Just last week The Lancet published the
most up-to-date reports on that. They have got really impressive
abstinence rates. The way it works is: if you can stabilise the
heroin user so he is no longer spending all this time out on the
street and, therefore, unable to work; no longer spending all
his money on drugs and, therefore, able to eat; able to work,
have a home and stabilised life, heroin does not hurt him. It
is fascinatingheroin does not intoxicate you. I have a
friend who has been working in a professional career for 20 years,
who has been smoking heroin all that time. Nobody knows. He functions;
he is sharp. He is absolutely rational. What they find is that,
having stabilised them, they can then address whatever it was
that originally impelled them into the addiction. It may have
just been stupidity. That is a fairly easy thing to deal with.
At the other end of the spectrum you may have heard that there
is a high proportion of heroin users who have suffered various
forms of childhood abuse. It is the same with alcoholism, to get
somebody off like that they can stop taking the drug but it releases
all the anguish they were originally concealing, and unless you
deal with that they will go back. With the Swiss, 26 per cent
of users are coming off, so you have actually got a reduction
of the pool of users.
158. Most surveys show that one of the reasons
given by young people for not using drugs is the fact that it
is doing something illegal; and another reason they give is risks
to health. If you remove the risks to health and you remove the
illegality, surely there will be an increase?
(Mr Davies) It is odd, because the Police Foundation
found the opposite. They said the law is not deterring. It is
all highly speculative, is it not?
159. Yes, that is why we are a little nervous.
(Mr Davies) If you understand my pyramid argument,
about how it deliberately pushes out and has to push its frontier
out all the time, then you look at the only evidence which we
have got, which is the Swiss; which is of a contracted pool of
users as a result of putting them in a stable position where they
can start to come off. I would not recommend a world in which
you simply legalised and did not continue to say, "This is
a bad thing to take; it's a bad thing to take because it's addictive,
not because it is going to cause an abscess". Turn it round
the other way: you are a 16 year-old and you are going to school.
You have been told the truth: "Heroin is addictive. You start
using this stuff, you'll be using it for years. It'll tangle you
up and you'll have to deal with all the problems that are associated
with it, of being merely addicted". Down the road there is
a doctor who is allowed to prescribe, for free I would say, to
anybody who is an established user. Why would you go to that doctor
and say, "Please can I have some of that stuff?" Why
would you do it? Because at the moment your friend is saying,
"Can I flog you this stuff?" It is there on the doorstep,
in your street.