Examination of Witnesses (Questions 740
TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2001
740. You say we have been unable to do anything
about demand. In your submission you say personal choice is the
credo. Do you think that is the reason why we can do nothing about
(Sir Keith Morris) Yes, I think so.
741. Does that mean we throw in the towel on
(Sir Keith Morris) No, we do not throw in the towel.
We adopt a completely different approach.
742. What would that approach be?
(Sir Keith Morris) The approach would be legalisation,
controlling and harm reduction. Instead of creating this enormous
criminal organisation across the world with its $400 million or
whatever it is, $1 billion business, we would use the international
influence we have to control it in legal forms and establish different
regimes for different drugs. We would bring people in from the
cold so that people were not outlaws when they took drugs, so
that those who became addictedand they are a very small
percentage of those who actually take drugswere much better
looked after, did not go to gaol, were not pushed into crime.
It seems to me that the result of our efforts, the prohibition
which has been led by the US since the beginning of last century,
has basically been to create and to grow a threat to our own security,
because it has funded terrorism, and to create a threat to the
majority of our own population through the crime which prohibition
has induced. This really does not seem to be the kind of objective
we should be aiming at.
743. You would decriminalise all drugs, everything
from cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, ecstasy and cannabis.
(Sir Keith Morris) Yes, and control them. One would
have different regimes for different drugs and a great deal of
effort would be put into it. Resources which would be freed and
also resources from taxation would be put into much greater research,
much greater treatment and much better education and people would
listen. If drugs were legal people would listen, young people
would listen to what the Government said much more seriously than
they do now.
744. Do you think they listen to what we say
(Sir Keith Morris) Yes, they do. Consumption has gone
down 40 per cent over the last 20 years, something like that.
I know that a lot of young people start smoking but overall in
Britain the smoking of cigarettes is vastly less than it was when
I was a young man.
745. It has taken quite some time for that consumption
to drop and it is rising amongst young women.
(Sir Keith Morris) Yes.
746. Again lifestyles may have an effect.
(Sir Keith Morris) Yes.
747. Is your reason for saying decriminalise
everything as well as the harm reduction in order also to stop
the money laundering, the terrorist markets and so on, which are
clearly part of what drug trafficking is about?
(Sir Keith Morris) Yes, that is very much a part of
it. It is a tremendous problem. It is the most profitable industry
in the world, it is a huge industry, it is very, very easy for
terrorists to draw on that, take advantage of that industry. It
also fuels these internal conflicts. It has fuelled the Afghan
internal conflict, it fuels the Colombian internal conflict which
gets worse and worse year by year, killing tens of thousands of
people. It also undermines the law enforcement organisations and
destabilises Caribbean countries which suffer very much from money
and drug trafficking being transit points and money laundering
points. It obviously affects the law enforcement. Not only does
it create crime it drives people into crime in this country, but
it obviously puts great strain on the judicial system, not only
because of the numbers passing through but the money passing through.
The country which has got itself into by far the worst state is
the United States where they have two million people in prison
doing immense harm to themselves.
748. If we were to go down the road you are
suggesting of total decriminalisation of all drugs, albeit with
support mechanisms for those who take them, we would be the only
country in the world to do that. How would you sell that to the
(Sir Keith Morris) We could not do it alone. We are
tied by international treaty and the Vienna Convention so we are
not in a position to do that alone. We have to persuade the international
community to give with us. I believe that in the European Union
opinion is moving in that direction and eventually we may have
an opportunity to persuade the United States because opinion in
the United States with the generation change will move too. There
may be a particular opportunity now. The war on terrorism might
seem to go against that, but this presents an opportunity because
so much of the funding does come from the drug trade. Also, because
the intelligence and military and other agencies, particularly
in the United States but also to a degree in this country, moved
into the drugs war in 1989 when the Cold War finished and started
competing ferociously in Washington for funds and budgets to fight
the war on drugs, those agencies now have something rather more
drastic to do to deal with the war on terrorism. They should be
acute enough to see that one of the best ways they could carry
on the war on terrorism would be to take out this extraordinary
funding that the terrorists have through the illegal drugs trade.
749. You make the point in the final paragraph
of your paper, "We would have to convince our American friends
who were the architects of the present system". That is in
the context of any change. Would you see any analogy at all between
prohibition in the United States in the 1930s which everyone would
agree, perhaps even American fundamentalists, on that score was
a total failure and the policy internationally on drugs?
(Sir Keith Morris) Prohibition, the international
policy on drugs, comes basically from the United States; it has
been brought about by NADSED's leadership from the beginning and
it has been brought to us by the same people who supported prohibition
against alcohol in the United States in the 1920-1930s. There
is a very strong analogy.
750. I take entirely what you said to my colleague
that we could not simply decriminalise or legalise as the case
may be because of international treaties. One of the arguments
which has been advanced about relaxing the law significantly is
that it would certainly harm the drug barons who if they were
asked their opinion, which certainly they are not going to be,
would be very much against any change in the law. Do you feel
that is a strong argument as well?
(Sir Keith Morris) Yes, the drug barons have an enormous
interest in prohibition and would be horrified; they are horrified
by the idea of legalisation.
751. From your experience as Ambassador at the
time to the country which is the most notorious for drugs, the
arch criminals there would certainly be opposed to western society
changing its ways and laws in this respect.
(Sir Keith Morris) Deeply opposed. I cannot speak
personally, because I did not have the opportunity to talk with
them face to face.
752. I would not suggest that you were in daily
dialogue with those murderous characters. Do I take it from your
paper that as far as demand is concernedand we have had
earlier evidence today that we are in fact the highest amongst
all the European countries in the use of drugsyou have
given up the ghost? Are you saying in effect that there is no
way we are going to reduce demand, we should accept realities
like other matters which have changed in the last 30 years and
that is a fact of life?
(Sir Keith Morris) Basically, yes. I am of an older
generation, therefore not nearly as close to these things as many
of your other witnesses have been. I am not an expert. I listened
with fascination to Mike Trace this morning. He obviously is.
It is extremely difficult for government action to change these
kinds of attitudes; these things happen. Fashion may change but
I do not think Government or legislation will bring that about.
753. May I be devil's advocate in a sort of
way? We are in Portcullis House and the House of Commons but if
you were faced with parents whose children had died from drug
use or parents who are terrified that now their children have
started on drugs it could lead to their death, what would you
say to them in view of your change of mind?
(Sir Keith Morris) Minors would be better protected
in a legalised and controlled regime than they are now. Now the
drugs are out on the street, the young people, teenagers are moving
into this low level drug market and young people are exposed to
these pressures from the illegal pushers, from their friends and
so on. If you had a properly enforced legal market, with the hardest
drugsI am assuming that the regime for heroin, for instance,
would be prescription onlybeing controlled, but other drugs
being sold through chemists or through cannabis off-licences with
extremely strict legislation to ensure that anybody who sold to
a minor would be faced with very severe penalties, that way the
young people would be better protected than they are now.
754. Everyone will respect your knowledge and
also respecteven those who disagree with youthe
fact that you have been frank that you have changed your mind.
Would I be right in saying that in so changing your mind, you
do not want to minimise the dangers of drugs? You are not saying
in effect that it does not really cause all the difficulties and
that the problems have been exaggerated, are you?
(Sir Keith Morris) No. I am coming at it from the
point of harm reduction, as I think you are from your side of
the table and most people. Clearly these things are dangerous,
just as alcohol and tobacco are dangerous, and it is very important
they should be controlled and it is much better they should be
in the hands of the state, properly supervised, and the international
community than in the hands of a huge international criminal conspiracy.
755. How would you respond to the point made
by Mike Trace a moment ago that actually the effect of what you
are proposing in the short and medium term certainly would be
a big increase in drug usage?
(Sir Keith Morris) Clearly it is a possibility. Clearly
it is a risk. It is far from certain. In the United States, when
prohibition was ended, consumption went up quite sharply and then
dropped again. You could have that effect. Also there was a lot
of discussion with Mike Trace about whether the illegality of
drugs attracts people. I think there is an element of that. Some
people are put off by the illegality and some people are attracted
by it. That would cut both ways too in this situation. The most
important thing is not use but mis-use; the harm comes from mis-use.
In this situation you would be able to deal with mis-use much
more effectively than you would in the present situation, not
least because without any criminal considerations people are much
more ready to turn for help than they are now. I do not think
anybody advocating this thinks that it is going to be easy or
that there are no costs. My feeling is that the costs of the present
situation are so immense, so horrific, that the increased cost
through legalisation would be bound to be very significantly lower.
756. Dr Dorn, could you tell us whether you
agree with Sir Keith's views?
(Dr Dorn) I believe that DrugScope's position in relation
to users is a practical one, that in effect in practice drug use
per se should not be criminalised. It is not in the international
conventions. It should not be via possession in this country.
We may keep the law, but in practice we seem to be moving to criminalising
less and less in practice and that seems to be a useful trend.
At the level of supply, I think we must keep, indeed enhance,
controls on supply, particularly in the area of funding of organised
crime in the interchange between the funds, between different
forms of organised crime. We must remember that there are a lot
of harms in that area, the area of supply, the area of organised
crime: there is corruption, violence, financial corruption of
organisations, etcetera which we need to bear in mind. When we
say harm reduction we need to think of those harms as well as
the users. We should keep and enhance our efforts on that side.
Having said that, there is a middle ground between the user/possessor
and supply, which is difficult to deal with. That is particularly
the case when one thinks of what is proposed in relation to cannabis.
Some mention has already been made of the difficulties of what
we are going to do about supply of cannabis and that needs careful
consideration. What are we going to do about the user who grows
a little in their cupboard or in their garden, which is possible?
Are we going to say that is supply or are we going to say that
effectively is absorbed into some notion of possession for personal
use. There are many issues around that and how to differentiate
that sort of thing from the escalation of criminality which occurred
when the perspective on supply greenhouses in the Netherlands
was too tolerant about ten years ago, when you had a huge expansion
of criminality because you had a non-regulated but very large
sector which was on the supply side. Keep the supply side stuff,
look at fine tuning. In relation to states other than our own
which are supplying states, source states, thinking particularly
of Afghanistan for example, we need to look very carefully at
the moves which need to be made there. I am not sure I agree with
everything which has been said about the analysis of Afghanistan
so far. As to the future, the farmers were mentioned and essentially
it is the poorest farmers who tend to turn the highest proportion
of their land over to poppy but for several reasons, which are
easily elucidated, which are actually quite similar in many other
developing countries or under-developed countries. It is their
position at the bottom of the pile. They really are subsistence
farmers, starved one year in two and it has been two years in
two for the last couple of years because of the drought in Afghanistan.
The only people who can give them credit at the moment are money
lenders who are also opium traders. We need to put in an alternative
form of credit, then they will not get in hock to the traders
against future deliveries of poppy and they will grow foodstuffs.
The position of women hitherto in Afghanistan, not being able
to go out to labour markets, has meant there has been cheap labour
to work on the family plot and that means labour-intensive things
on the family plot rather than partaking in the broader economy,
another factor which leads to subsistence farmers focusing on
opium poppy which is a labour-intensive crop. In Afghanistan we
also need to ensure that public reconstruction work is labour
intensive generally for the population rather than flying in western
firms and diggers and actually victimising labour in that country.
An awful lot of bog standard development stuff needs to be done
at that level. I apologise for going on so long but this gets
out all I wanted to say in outline. Finally, we need better understanding
on the research side. I would pinpoint two areas: one is supply.
Until the last year or two the supply side research in this country
has been lamentable. We have not really put the resources in to
understanding it as we have in relation to treatment or education
or prevalence. The spend on it is still very low. The level of
conceptual development is very low. We need to do more on that
side and comparative policy research which was the main point
of my background paper. We need to do more on that because we
do not understand why it is that policies appear not to make any
difference and they should do.
757. Could you compare the impact on the prevalence
of drug use of the legal framework here in Britain compared with
(Dr Dorn) I agree with the evidence which has been
given hitherto. If we take "ever use an illegal drug"
as the criterion, prevalence as it is normally called, then we
find no relationship between policies at the formal level and
that criterion "ever use an illegal drug". In this country
if you take carrot juice you get the same result. There are five
reasons why that might be understandable. One might be as Mike
Trace suggested that drug use is only one of several criteria
you should be looking at, it might not be impacted very much by
law, by policies, whilst other aspects of the problem might, such
as infections, deaths, social exclusion, criminality, community
fear of crime and so forth. Also it might be that supply is more
important to understanding the level of drug problem in the country
than anything you do on a demand side. There is a debate about
whether this is demand led or supply led. All I am saying here
is that we need to ask what impact supply side measures have as
well as demand side measures. There is also an issue around implementation.
The enunciation of policy may have symbolic effects, but it does
not have practical effects; it may not always flow through the
system. It is the implementation on the ground over a period of
time that you might expect to have an impact rather than mere
enunciation. The studies so far have only looked at the enunciation
of policy at the formal level, they have not actually looked at
what happens in practice. To take an example, we have recently
done, with funding from the Monitoring Centre, a study of implementation
of drug laws in relation to the user. To take one country in our
study police discretion is not allowed, however in practice observers,
researchers from that country, police officers themselves say
they often have a similar discretion process, reaction, in practice.
So it illustrates that what they are doing in practice is not
the same as their policy. You cannot read off policies onto impacts.
I am afraid we need a more complicated model.
758. May I question what changes you would like
to see made? What might work better as a legal framework to control
drugs, judging from your experience of other countries?
(Dr Dorn) We seem to have at least six options if
we look at the comparative framework. There are our current disposals
which is criminal law plus taking action as a matter of police
discretion. There is still retaining criminal law but making warnings
absolutely 100 per cent the response, as is being trialed in part
of London at the moment. That is similar to the Dutch approach
in practice. There is introducing civil or administrative sanctions
alongside criminal sanctions and having the response migrate from
criminal to civil, retaining the criminal sanctions as a backup,
which solves certain problems in relation to the international
conventions. The step beyond that is to abandon criminal law in
relation to the user and introduce some kind of civil or administrative
disposal only. Beyond that of course is no controls at all, no
legal controls. As far as the study which we did in relation to
some European countries is concerned, if we take for example Spain,
what happens in Spain is that possession and use in private premises
is essentially not controlled, whereas possession and use in public
is subject to administrative measures not criminal measures. Trafficking
is subject to criminal measures but the user producing for their
own use is considered to be a matter of private use and is not
criminalised. If you like, that is the most, if you want to use
the word, liberal end of the spectrum, but it is a policy which
makes sense in their constitutional and their legal framework.
It is largely a matter of judges' decisions and interpretation
of the obligations under the international conventions. It is
quite different from many other countries. I think the first step
is to understand the options which are open to us.
759. You are saying that there is so much differential
between the different countries and lack of evidence that that
(Dr Dorn) It is very difficult to come to a judgement.
You cannot come to a research-based judgement on it. You have
to come either to a political judgement on it or you have to go
through an exercise to find a proportionate response and in what
circumstances. Proportionality is the legal concept shared amongst
European countries now and it is the right one to be using. You
could go through that exercise. You would have to look at the
impacts for the user, the impacts for the community and the impacts
on crime, high level crime and internationally, not just look
at the user impact.