Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by Positive Prevention Plus

  As Senior Consultant with the above Drug Prevention consultancy I have nearly twenty years experience working both with drug users and their families and in the field of drug prevention. It is my belief that many submissions to the Committee will cover health and safety issues and whilst I would be happy to provide scientific evidence of the harms from cannabis in particular (as a much misunderstood substance) I would like to draw attention to the drug culture. This paper is a much abbreviated version to comply with the 1,000-word stipulation—the full paper with references to substantiate every assertion can be supplied on request.

1.  Does existing drugs policy work?

  1.1  Indeed it does. All surveys in recent years, large scale and small, in UK and in Europe show that whilst approximately 30 per cent of youth try illegal drugs once or twice, only 17 per cent go on to use more often—and of these only about 10 per cent use regularly. Though this is too many it does mean that 80 per cent of our young people do not use drugs—despite media hype. Surveys also show that amongst the reasons given by young people who do not use, "illegality" and "risks to health" are prominent. It is therefore totally unnecessary to dismantle current drug laws for such a small proportion of the population—despite vocal demands from that minority and their apologists.

2.  Effect of decriminalisation on (a) availability of and demand for drugs?

  2.1  Both availability and use would certainly increase as experience showed in Sweden in the 1970s and Alaska in the 1990s; both countries rescinded their experiment and law relaxation because of the resulting problems. Australia is currently experiencing severe problems because of law relaxation—according to figures from the Federal Government every second person arrested in Australia is under the influence of marijuana. Between 1973 and 1978 marijuana was decriminalised by 12 states in the USA—all regression specifications confirm that the decriminalised cities experienced a statistically significant increase in marijuana mentions in hospital emergency room drug episodes.

  2.2  The best example is of course the Netherlands. As the "coffee shops" boomed between 1984 and 1996 use by Dutch youth between 18-25 increased by over 200 per cent and there was a concurrent 25 per cent increase in registered cannabis addicts registering for treatment. A recent study by Pieter Cohen of the University of Amsterdam claimed use throughout Holland had decreased—unfortunately the survey also discovered increased use amongst the young in densely populated areas such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam. In the last few years in these same areas there has been a huge growth in juvenile crime and acts of violence. Amsterdam Police Commissioner Jelle Kuiper declared "As long as our political class tries to pretend that soft drugs do not create dependence, we are going to go on being confronted daily with problems that officially do not exist". His counterpart in The Hague said, "65 per cent of the persistent rise we are seeing in criminality is due to juvenile drug users". The Dutch Minister of Justice was quoted in the Wall Street Journal in 1990 describing Holland as "the most crime prone nation in Europe".

  2.3  In 1995 Erasmus University in Rotterdam conducted a poll and found that 82 per cent thought the use of drugs was wrong, 61 per cent said all drugs should be prohibited. Another survey by the University of Amsterdam found 75 per cent wanted tougher penalties for users and dealers and 73 per cent thought the Netherlands was too tolerant towards drug abusers.

3.  Effect on (b) drug-related deaths?

  3.1  Increased use will inevitably lead to more deaths. Some will be related to driving—and will involve pedestrians and passengers as well as stoned drivers. There is already much evidence of the increasing number of fatalities which feature cannabis with and without alcohol—in the UK and the rest of the world. Since cannabis is fat soluble and remains in the body with a half-life of seven days, it would be impossible to prevent the use of this psychoactive drug by train drivers, pilots, surgeons etc.—and if use was legal random drug tests would not be carried out. Long-term use of cannabis is implicated in more cancer deaths—particularly head and neck cancers and a large scale Swedish study did a follow-up with conscripts with a history of cannabis use. The excess mortality from suicides was particularly high and increased in proportion to the magnitude of cannabis use. Heavy users of Ecstasy are already experiencing severe depressive illness and scientists believe this may be long-term and irreversible.

4.  Effect on (c) crime?

  4.1  Dealers, from disaffected youth selling to friends to narco-terrorists, are not going to give up their lucrative businesses because drug laws are relaxed. They will undercut legal supplies, sell stronger substances or supply to minors. Burglary rates in Holland are three times higher than in Switzerland or the USA, four times than France and 50 per cent higher than in Germany. In Moscow drug-related crime increased 6.7 times between 1995-2000. In the USA 65 per cent of those charged with a drug offence during 1999 had been arrested previously—28 per cent had five or more prior arrests. An Italian study by Confcommercio claimed that one in three coffee bars in Northern Italy is under the control of organised crime. "Coffee shops"—in Holland are supplied by the Mafia.

5.  Is decriminalisation desirable and, if not, what are the practical alternatives?

  5.1  The first question to ask is "Why does there appear to be pressure to relax drug laws, and from whom?" The legalisation movement is a sophisticated, well-financed and orchestrated campaign which began in the USA in the early 1970s and was quickly taken up by groups in the UK, Europe and Australia followed by Canada. These groups network and the same few names will be seen at all the Harm Reduction Conferences, writing editorials in the press and conducting so called "public debates". A recent survey in the Independent had headlines that proclaimed "Cannabis: poll reveals demand for legalisation"—yet in the information further down the page it showed that just three per cent of those polled used cannabis frequently and 81 per cent had never used at all. Another article in the Mail asked 19 people—"from all walks of life"—"should not be legalised?" All 10 who voted yes were writers, broadcasters or filmmakers—and five of these were admitted users. Over 80 per cent of British youth do not use drugs and the majority of the public do not want drugs decriminalised. Whenever a pseudo debate is broadcast the pro-drug speakers outnumber the others—and if the results of any polls, any government enquiry or scientific study decides legalisation is not a sensible idea there is silence for a few weeks before the demands start again. Quite often those members of the public who do agree that drugs should be decriminalised have been misled by surveys which suggest that, for example, terminally ill cancer patients need to smoke cannabis without getting a criminal record. Dick Cowan of NORML is on record as saying:

    "...the key to it is medical access ..once you have hundreds of thousands of people using marijuana medically the whole scam is going to be bought.. we'll get medical use then we'll get full legalisation. Medical marijuana is our strongest suit. It is our point of leverage which will move us towards full legalisation of marijuana for personal use."

  There is no need for "a practical alternative"—the drugs laws should not be relaxed for a small vocal minority—many of whom are users.

6.  Effectiveness of ten-year strategy?

  6.1  On paper the strategy is excellent. In practice it will never succeed whilst it is being undermined on all fronts. The organisation Drugscope is handsomely funded by government and has an Education and Prevention department—yet its Chief Executive Roger Howard wants drug laws "changed"—and I challenge anyone to find even the word "prevention" in any of the member's briefings that come out from this organisation. Harm Reduction has become the dominant strategy throughout schools, colleges and youth clubs—Drug Prevention is simply dismissed. Yet in the USA between 1979 and 1992 drug use was reduced by 60 per cent. Since then the billionaire George Soros has put many millions of dollars into weakening the drugs laws—not only in the USA since his Lindesmith Institute has funded, amongst others, Release, The Police Foundation report and The United Kingdom Harm Reduction Alliance. His CD promoting cannabis was sent to all schools in Hungary. In the UK we have drug education packs that suggest that children should be allowed to make their own (informed?) choices about whether or not to use drugs—despite this being an illegal act. We have DATs that no longer have education against drugs but promote "Substance Education about Drugs".

September 2001

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Prepared 20 December 2001