Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420 - 439)



  420. The arguments you adduce in relation to heroin, they obviously apply in relation to cannabis, would you agree?
  (Mr Wilkinson) No, they do not, because cannabis is not connected to the commission of crime. People do not go out and steal in order to buy cannabis, it is quite a different issue.

  421. So do you favour legalising/decriminalising cannabis?
  (Mr Wilkinson) For different reasons. Cannabis is almost decriminalised. The trouble is there are lots of people who are by no means as soft as the drug is who are making a great deal of money out of importing and dealing in the drug. There is a lot of violence around the cannabis supplying business, just as there is around the heroin supplying business. There is still a lot of money to be made and a lot of competition. That needs to be removed, and I believe the only sensible way of removing it is by bringing all of that within the law. Cannabis is much less harmful than either alcohol or tobacco and ought to be properly regulated within the law.

  422. Supplied like cigarettes, for example?
  (Mr Wilkinson) Yes. Through off-licences is what I would suggest.

  423. Okay. And ecstasy?
  (Mr Wilkinson) I do not know very much about ecstasy so I do not think I ought to comment on it.

  424. And crack?
  (Mr Wilkinson) Crack cocaine and heroin are the two problematic drugs, they are the ones that are closely related to volume property crime and, indeed, to robberies. There needs to be a proper investigation into crack cocaine. The problem with it is, unlike heroin, where there is a great deal of published material and other countries we can go to to learn from, there is very little published on crack cocaine. I believe some serious research needs to be sponsored if we are going to be able to tackle it effectively.

  425. One of the points that has been put to us is whereas most drugs, including heroin, dumbs you down and makes you less aggressive, crack cocaine makes you more aggressive.
  (Mr Wilkinson) Like alcohol.

  426. And, therefore, should be treated differently.
  (Mr Wilkinson) I am sure that is right but I do not believe there is enough published research in- formation to say how best we ought to do that and I think there is a real need for it.

  427. So you would legalise cannabis and you would make heroin available on prescription?
  (Mr Wilkinson) Yes, I would, but of course in legalising cannabis there you come to the most difficult problem that faces this Committee because we are signatories to UN Conventions which require us to have criminal laws that make the possession and supply of cannabis illegal, and so does every other country in the UN, which is every other country in the world. You can do what the Dutch do, you can decriminalise it on the streets, or whatever word you choose to use about that, but the people who supply it are still making vast untaxed millions until you decriminalise the supply process and bring it within the same sort of scheme that we do with alcohol and tobacco and you cannot do that until you change the UN Conventions. That, to me, is a priority.

  Chairman: Thank you, that is very helpful. Mr Cameron, did you want to come in?

Mr Cameron

  428. Just very quickly. I thought your pamphlet was extremely persuasive.
  (Mr Wilkinson) Thank you.

  429. It seems to me there are three questions here. One is what would happen if you prescribe heroin, what would happen to crime, what would happen to harm and what would happen to use? I think you have been very persuasive on crime, very persuasive on harm because you would have a clean supply for people and would not have people dying from impurities. It is the use question that I want to have one more go at. If you have prescribed heroin, you are still going to have the black market, you are still going to have people trying to sell heroin to children. Would you not have a problem of increased use because you have got the black market and once people get out of the black market there is still the legal market where they can get the heroin? Are you not going to create a situation where you have got more users, more addicts, more problems, even though it is a clean supply?
  (Mr Wilkinson) If you are asking me to provide a solution that is going to solve all of the problems—

  430. No.
  (Mr Wilkinson) I do not believe there is one available. I think there are two pieces of evidence that suggest supply of heroin through prescription, and I suggest more specifically, as you have read the leaflet you will know, through clinics which have other forms of support as well, will reduce the illegal use of heroin and, indeed, reduce the use of heroin altogether. One piece of evidence is from those places that have tried it. The Swiss experience is extremely well documented, books have now been written and published on it. Although there are people who say it might not work elsewhere or they have fiddled the figures or something, really there is very good evidence that their approach of prescribing heroin reduces crime, increases health and reduces the number of users. These are the European figures, the EMCDDA. They publish comparative European figures. The countries that have got the most positive approaches to dealing with heroin addicts—ours is terribly negative, we ignore 90 per cent of them—do reduce the number of heroin users. The other point is really Nick Davies' point. You have already heard that the heroin user wants desperately to get the drugs. If they can sell on a proportion of their supply at a profit it is one way, and a way in very wide use by heroin users, of getting more money to buy more drugs. You have a very highly motivated pyramid selling organisation. We are talking about what I would call recidivist heroin users, people who have been on it for years and who will continue to be on it until one day they decide to come off. If those people are supplied with their drug on the NHS, which for many of them is going to mean free because they are on benefit, then they no longer have any drug to sell and they no longer have any incentive in stealing to get it or in selling on a part of the illegal supply, they have got what they need. I think that will cut out very largely, not entirely, that pyramid selling.

David Winnick

  431. I read your pamphlet, as I am sure Committee Members have done, Mr Wilkinson. I get the impression that, in fact, you take the view whether or not one takes heroin should be simply left to the individual and it should not be a matter for the state. Am I right?
  (Mr Wilkinson) As long as we are talking about responsible adults that would be my view.

  432. That is your view?
  (Mr Wilkinson) Yes.

  433. Not a view, I would have thought, am I correct, shared by a number of people who are listed as being on the Advisory Board, the Trustees or the Management Committee of the Centre for Reform.
  (Mr Wilkinson) As I have probably never met or spoken to most of those I would not know.

  434. Reference is made that "Authors are not necessarily members of the Liberal Democrats, and Centre for Reform pamphlets do not constitute Liberal Democrat policy". I did not quite get the connection between your organisation and a political party represented within the House of Commons.
  (Mr Wilkinson) When I wrote a pamphlet on cannabis last year the Liberal Democrats were the only party that had a policy on liberalisation, so I thought I would go to the Centre for Reform and they would be people perhaps interested in taking the policy forward. There was nothing more or less to it than that. Having done that, and having been very nicely treated by them, I went back to them with the heroin one.

  435. I am not suggesting there is anything sinister whatsoever. Can I put this question to you: when you argue in your pamphlet that it should be a matter of personal choice, surely the same could be said about cigarettes and alcohol which are not the subject of criminal action? If the emphasis as it is, and has been in recent years, is to try and reduce smoking, banning cigarette advertising, despite the controversy, warning of the consequences of what is going to happen if you smoke excessively, unless you are very fortunate, and trying to reduce alcohol excesses leading to crime, would you therefore say that should not be the role of the state and if someone wants to smoke 60/70 cigarettes a day so be it?
  (Mr Wilkinson) On the contrary. I think it is absurd that we have tobacco advertising. The cost to the NHS is hundreds of millions a year and yet we allow tobacco advertising, it does not seem to make any sense. I am not encouraging anybody to take drugs of any sort, legal or illegal. As I have said publicly before, anybody who starts taking heroin as an adult is an idiot, they should not do it. There is a fair chance it will ruin a good part of their lives, as it does to a lot of people.

  436. That is the point I am making about your pamphlet, that you do give the impression it should be a matter, if the law was changed, of choice.
  (Mr Wilkinson) Yes.

  437. Whereas surely the argument should be whether the law is changed or not everything should be done to persuade people not to take heroin in the first place?
  (Mr Wilkinson) I think both those things are entirely consistent.

  438. It is the role of the state to do precisely that, is it not?
  (Mr Wilkinson) It is the role of the state to educate, it is the role of the state to tax, it is the role of the state to put constraints, but it is not the role of the state to stop you consuming if the only person who is harmed as a result of that consumption is yourself. There is no other area, I suggest in the pamphlet, and I suggest to you now, where UK law interferes with the liberty of the individual where no other person is affected.

  Mr Winnick: Thank you very much.

Angela Watkinson

  439. Mr Wilkinson, if I could just take you up on one particular comment you made in reference to heroin prescription where you suggested that they would receive those prescriptions until they decided to come off. Does that presuppose that there is no attempt to give a reducing dose or to get them off the drug?
  (Mr Wilkinson) In clinics people would receive a whole variety of advice depending on the stage they were at with their addiction. If somebody said they wanted to come off, and they would have the chance to say that because they would be in the care in the clinic, they would be going there regularly, then they would be given every assistance to come off and would undoubtedly be regarded by the people working in the clinic, if they came off, as a success. It has to be accepted that most heroin addicts do not want to come off, they just want their supply, and that is what is creating the problem at the moment.

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