Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420
TUESDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2001
420. The arguments you adduce in relation to
heroin, they obviously apply in relation to cannabis, would you
(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
(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
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
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
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?
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
(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 addictsours
is terribly negative, we ignore 90 per cent of themdo 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.
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
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.
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.