Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 740 - 759)



  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 demand?
  (Sir Keith Morris) Yes, I think so.

  741. Does that mean we throw in the towel on this?
  (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 addicted—and they are a very small percentage of those who actually take drugs—were 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 about cigarettes?
  (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 British people?
  (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.

David Winnick

  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 concerned—and we have had earlier evidence today that we are in fact the highest amongst all the European countries in the use of drugs—you 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 drugs—I am assuming that the regime for heroin, for instance, would be prescription only—being 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 respect—even those who disagree with you—the 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.

Mrs Dean

  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 other countries?
  (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 is difficult.
  (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.

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