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I am coming on to that point. I want to knock on the head a few myths about cannabis that have been mentioned again this afternoon. Someoneit might have been the hon. Member for Ribble Valley said that cannabis is 10 times stronger today than it used to be. Skunk, to which I think that they were referring, contains a tremendously high level of tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the main psychoactive component of all cannabis plants. However, there are 23 different varieties of cannabis plant. I have never taken an illegal drug in my life and have therefore never smoked cannabis, but I take an interest in the subject and have been to an Amsterdam coffee shop. Many people who walk into Amsterdam coffee shops partake of not only coffee but cannabisall the varieties are laid to choose from.
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When I went to Amsterdam with the police service parliamentary scheme and visited one of the more reputable coffee shops, the gentleman on the counter, who incidentally had been a leading athlete for Holland in the Olympic games, asked me directly whether I had ever smoked cannabis before, and if so what kind. People do not get asked questions like that in Britainthey pick up whatever is on the street and do not have a clue what they are smoking. In Holland, they will be told the tetrahydrocannabinol content. If someone who has never smoked cannabis before goes into a Dutch coffee shop, they will not be sold skunk immediatelythey will start on one of the 23 varieties of cannabis with the lowest amount of THC. Some people work their way up the spectrum, increasing the amount of THC content as they become veteran smokers, although I am not applauding that.
When I go to schools and talk about drugs, I never encourage any children even to try a drug, but we have to tell children the truth. We cannot simply say that the cannabis that is available today is 10 times stronger than it used to be, because that is meaningless and untrueonly one variety out of 23 is stronger. One of the mistakes that we are making is that we are not giving information to children straight. Indeed, in my admittedly limited experience, many teachers do not know the facts themselves, and children often know more than they do about drug misuse.
One of the best things that the Government have done is to start the "Frank" scheme. I applaud them for that. The "Frank" website gets an amazing number of hitswell into the multi-millions. Young people are hitting the website to find out what they cannot find out from their teachers. One hon. Member quoted the website on the question of cannabis, but that was taken out of context, because one has to read all the information that it provides about cannabis before one gets the full picture.
Mr. Pound: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his brief guided tour of the cannabis shops of Amsterdam. It is a subject that I do not know a great deal aboutor if I did, I have forgotten. Is he seriously suggesting that if I entered one of these cannabis shops, suitably disguised in a wig and kaftan, and ordered a few grams of primo skunk, the owner would say, "I don't think that is entirely suitable for you, sir," and try to steer me towards cannabis indica or cannabis sativa? Surely if one walks into the shop with the guilders, one gets the gear.
Dr. Iddon: I was careful to say that I went into a reputable coffee shop. The police are closing down the disreputable coffee shops in Amsterdam, and there are now half as many as there were 10 years ago.
Mr. Connarty: My hon. Friend will recall that we visited that coffee shop together and that the athlete whom he mentioned generally advised his clients not to smoke cannabis because he had made it up in other forms that could be chewed.
The Road Traffic Laboratory has carried out research on the effect of cannabis on drivers. I believe that its report said that one spliff can calm some nervous drivers down enough to make them better drivers, although of course it did not recommend taking cannabis and driving. I am concerned about testing for drugs at the roadside. Cannabis stays in the fatty tissues of the body for up to 30 daysa whole monthbut it is not psychoactive and will not affect a person's driving for more than a few hours. Where are the civil liberties in testing somebody six days after they have smoked a spliff, assuming that they have not smoked in between? Surely their ability to drive must be tested at the same time as testing them for cannabis, and what matters is whether they are incapable of driving. We must be aware of that point.
I do not support total decriminalisation of drugs as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley intimated. However, I recommend that the Government move the debate along and try different methods, as other countries throughout Europe are doing. The problem has only just become stabilised and is not reducing greatly. Indeed, it may increase againI hope that it does not.
I supported moving cannabis from category B to category C on the basis of the recommendations of Dame Ruth Runciman's committee, which produced the Police Foundation report on the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It strongly recommended the categorisation of drugs according to the harm that they cause. I agree with that. People knew that I had an interest in the subject and many, not only from my community, came to whisper in my ear. Some were professional peoplenot all were from poorer backgrounds. When cannabis was in category B, distinguished peopleI shall not mention names for obvious reasonsapproached me to ask me to keep pushing on the door. They knew that some of their children or their friends' children were using cannabis. If they were caught, the family would be stigmatised.
One of my reasons for supporting the recategorisation of cannabis was my belief that criminalising hundreds of thousands of young people, many of whom did not know what they were doing, was wrong. Criminalisation had all sorts of consequences, for example, for getting visas to visit America and answering the question on job application forms about whether they had ever been convicted of a criminal activity. It is wrong to give so many young people such a bad start in life. It was right to concentrate on category A drugs rather than cannabis, on which the police focused at the time.
I re-emphasise that we have to get the message about drugs across to young peoplefor example, through the "Frank" website. We must train teachers who teach children about the moral and ethical aspects of life to give proper advice so that when a child approaches them with a difficult question on a one-to-one basis, they can answer it. The Government are increasingly providing such training.
One important provision, which is in schedule 2, has not been mentioned in the debate so far. Paragraph 6 repeals the extension of section 8 of the 1971 Act, which was introduced as a result of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. That Act extended section 8 of the 1971 Act to include not only heroin and opiates in
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general but all illegal drugs. Hon. Members will remember that John Brock and Ruth Wyner, who ran the Winter Comfort home in Cambridge, were caught badly by that. Those two good, honest people ran a home where homeless people could drop inI have already mentioned the possible connection between some homeless people and drugsand some drugs changed hands on the premises. I understand that they had been warned but the police invaded and arrested the two managers, who were in prison for quite a long time, despite an appeal and much public sympathy. That case raised fears among many people who worked in housing associations, for example, or who ran community centrespeople who were looking after the most vulnerable members of our society. They were all afraid of being trapped by this extension of section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
To be fair to the Government, the provision in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 has never been implemented. However, I am not sure whether hon. Members realise that if this Bill is enacted, it will repeal what I regard as that vicious measure, which will give confidence back to the people who help the most vulnerable members of society to try to give up drugs, get themselves organised, and get themselves a home and the benefits that many of those who live on the streets have never had.
The Bill is about treatment, and I have some concerns in that regard. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw is absolutely right. When we are discussing drugs, we should discuss each one separately as their profiles are all so different. It is pretty obvious that cannabis is very different from heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine, but they are all different. We must also remember that many members of society are poly-drug users, and I include alcohol and tobacco in the list of the drugs involved. Each drug interacts with the others in a symbiotic way. Taking one drug will not have the same physiological effect as taking a cocktail of drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.
Sometimes it is difficult to treat a person, especially if they are a poly-drug user. In this country, however, we have gone mad on methadone, methadone, methadone. Methadone is not always the right drug to use as a substitute when treating a heroin user. Since 1997, I have argued in this place that we should offer heroin addicts a choice of treatment, rather than simply sending them down to the pharmacy for the green liquid known as methadone. Of those addicts who take their methadone in the pharmacy, some are of very long standing, and those who prescribe the methadone are so cautious that they prescribe a dose so low that it will not give the addict the buzz that they have been experiencing on the street. We all know what they do: they go down the road, they sell as much of the methadone as they can, and they stick to the heroin that gives them the buzz. Where is the sense in that? We have to titrate methadone according to the tolerance level that the heroin addict has built up, but not many of the people in the community drug teams are able to do that. I have always argued that long-term heroin addicts should be treated by proper professional people, which is what my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw was saying earlier. I entirely agree with him. I know people who have been addicts for up to 35 years.
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I want to raise a point that I feel very angry about. It concerns the General Medical Council, which has been striking off doctors who have been dealing with the most chaotic heroin addicts, particularly here in London, for a long time. The first such case involved someone whom I shall call a friend of mine, Dr. Adrian Garfoot. His brother is a Methodist minister. They were very concerned about drug addicts, and Adrian treated more than 1,000. He said that one of them came at him with an axe one night, but he managed to calm him down. Those are the kind of people that he was dealing withtruly chaotic heroin addicts of long standing who were using cocktails of drugs. We cannot send those people down to the pharmacy and give them a low dose of methadoneit will not work.
So what has the GMC been doing? I do not believe that it understands these problems. I went along to the GMC to represent Adrian Garfoot at his hearing. He had already been cleared under the Home Office's special procedure; this was his second, unofficial, trial. I looked around the table at all the middle-aged and fairly elderly ladies and gentlemen who were members of the special committee set up by the GMC to tryI use the word advisedlyDr. Garfoot. They began to ask me questions, we had a conversation, and I concluded that not many of those who were trying this fellow who had been treating the most chaotic drug addicts in London had a clue what his business had been about. Anyway, he has gone; he can no longer practise as a doctor.
Nearly 30 people have been through the same procedure. All had treated the most chaotic of drug addicts. I do not suggest that they were all angelsthere were one or two bad apples among them, and I do not deny that some may not have been doing the right thingbut Adrian Garfoot is certainly an honest, straight man. There are seven more people before the GMC now, and I feel very angry about what it is doing to the Stapleford seven.
Until he retired last year, Colin Brewer, whom I know, was head of the Stapleford clinic here in London. He is one of the few specialists in the country who can implant naltraxone patches, of which the NHS does not approve because the implantation is intrusive. Naltraxone is a heroin antagonist: try taking heroin when you have a naltraxone patch in your breast. It will make you sick. The patch lasts for up to a month, protecting the patient against heroin during that time. It is not an approved treatment in this country, but I think more research should be done on it, because it is a very good heroin antagonist.
When I came here in 1997, I argued in favour of buprenorphine, or Subutex, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) referred earlier. France prefers not to use methadone, and large parts of Australia have gone off it; they use buprenorphine. To be fair to the national health service and the Department of Health, they have introduced it now, but it is still not widely used in Britain. I think that that is a scandal, because in my opinion buprenorphine is far less addictive than methadone, which is an opiate substitute. Buprenorphine has a safer window of operation. It is possible to overdose on it, but not to the extent that it is possible to overdose on methadone.
A friend who was a synthetic organic chemist I worked with him at Salford universitycame to me with a wonderful proposal, which I put to the
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Department of Health, but it has gone nowhere. Methadone is a mixture of two molecules, related to each other as the left hand is related to the right. We call them L and D methadone. Only one of those molecules is physiologically active as a heroin substitute. The other stuff is useless and, of course, toxic. My friend developed a process of synthesising L-methadone, in the total absence of the other stereoisomer. That brings down the toxicity level of the same dose, with the same physiological effect, by nearly 50 per cent. in patients prescribed methadone.
I asked the Department of Health to ask this gentleman to prepare some batches and give the substance a trial to establish whether it was superior to the mixture of molecules that we currently sell people. The Americans are using laevo-alpha-acetylmethadol, or LAAM. Again I tried to interest the Department. It has sent me written replies explaining why it will not give LAAM a trial. What I am trying to get through to the Minister is this: we are unbelievably set on methadone in this country. There are alternative heroin substitute drugs, and we could be a bit more imaginative and at least conduct clinical trials on some of them.
We must not forget abstinence. Some people prefer 12-step programmes to taking a chemical to get rid of the chemical that is in their body to detoxify the chemical that they have already been on for agesheroin. We should pay a little more attention to those who want to go straight on to abstinence programmes; indeed, some treatment clinics tell me that we should offer such a choice. It is a question not just of treatment, but of choices of treatment.
Let me deal briefly with cocaine. Unlike heroin, for which methadone is the substitute drug, there is no substitute for cocaine. One cannot send people down to the pharmacist saying, "This will give you the same buzz as cocaine, even though it isn't cocaine." Such a drug does not exist. Indeed, the police and the Home Office are extremely worried about cocaine. Whereas heroin depresses people and puts them into a state of euphoriait is a downer, rather than an uppercocaine, particularly crack cocaine, is an upper, a stimulant. Those who are on cocaine are extremely aggressive, although their lives are admittedly short as they have to keep snorting it or smoking it, according to their preference. Such aggression is why the police are very concerned about people moving from heroin to cocainefrom downers to uppers. We should be very worried about the increase in cocaine sales, the price of which has come down tremendously.
I want to give the House some hope. Some 18 months ago, I attended a symposium on this subject at my old university, and more recently I heard the scientists speak again. Not many people are aware of the fact that a vaccine is being developed for drug addiction, although I hope that the Home Office and the Department of Health are. Would it not be amazing if, instead of substituting one chemical for another, we could get addicts off all drugs by using a vaccine? I hope that the Department of Health is propelling clinical trials of this vaccine, because it is one of the most hopeful developments in the drug treatment world for a long time.
I am all in favour of getting as many addicts as possible into treatment, but I am slightly concerned about coercing them into it. They tell me that they will
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give up a drug only when they are ready to do so. They have usually gone through a pretty horrific process that involved wrecking their family life and committing crime; even so, they cannotso they tell mesuddenly decide that they will give up the drug tomorrow. Yet that is what this Bill asks them to do. It asks addicts I am talking about real addicts, not casual usersto sign up for treatment at a time when they are not ready for it. The Home Office cannot simply coerce them into treatment programmes.
I have a second hesitation. I know quite a few drug addicts who are desperate to get treatment; indeed, my community drug team has a 12-week waiting list. That is far too long to wait. Such teams should open their doors to anybody who wants treatment, as some already do. About three years ago, I spoke to a community drug team leader who operated an open-door policy. Of course, things were chaotic and there were queues for most of the day. Back then, that team had to deal with a lot of drug addicts; indeed, it probably still does, given the location of the practice. My community drug team, however, expects people to make appointments and to turn up for them. If they do not turn up for treatment on the dot, they are put to the back of the queue as punishment. That must be wrong.
Any addict who has not yet committed a crime, but who might do so because we are not treating them properly, should be able to walk into a treatment centre and say, "I'm ready now: I want to give up my addiction." However, it is not always possible for non-criminalised drug addicts to do so, and that is my second reservation about the Bill. If we are to coerce more people into treatment, what will happen to those who are not yet involved in the criminal justice systembut who might become soand who want give up drug addiction without going round that magic wheel? I ask the Minister to think about this issue seriously.
As has been said, we have to follow people all the way through the treatment processand beyond. All of us with an interest in drug addiction know that relapse with this diseasethat is what addiction is, a sickness or diseaseis much more common than for any other disease that I know of, including cancer or mental illness, though I have pointed out that some of these people have mental illness, too. They relapse. What addicts tell me is that, when they are having panic attacks or are tempted to go back on the drugs, they need somebody to talk to. It is a matter not of getting an appointment next week, but of getting one immediately.
I make a plea for 24-hour crisis centres. Having one in every town would be far too costly, but I would expect at least one somewhere in Greater Manchester. Fortunately, some of the leading charities are beginning to develop 24-hour crisis centres. We should think about how much suffering we can prevent and how much money we can save, not to mention how much criminal activity we can stop, by providing someone with the opportunity go to a crisis centre and be saved from going down the dangerous path that they have already trodden.
I have looked carefully into drug testing, as has the all-party group, of which I am chairman, and we are concerned about some of the firms that are getting on to the bandwagon. Let me say immediately that some of
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the firms involved in drug testing are credible and competent. However, as we expand drug testing, as recommended in the Bill, we will encounter cowboys jumping on the bandwagon and I know of no accreditation system for firms working in this sectornot even any form of self-regulation. In any case, there are various ways of testing. We can take pieces of hair, urine, blood and body fluids in general, but the most powerful non-invasive mechanism used today is taking mouth swabs, which one company is promoting and the Department of Health and the probation service have started to use. Will the Minister consider whether we should be accrediting such firms, particularly if they are being used by Government agencies?
I also want to flag up a point about "false positives". It is possible to carry out a drug test on someone and identify a positive. However, if a test is duplicated or another firm tests the same sample, it can appear that the first firm produced a false positivethe person is not, in fact, on the drug that the test seemed to demonstrate they were on. I am very concerned about that. We must have safeguards against false positives.
One of my constituents was in the Army. He had only just joined and had been in it no more than nine months when the Army carried out a random drug test on him. One day, he was picked out for a drug test and it came up positive. He did have a drug in his body and it was called amphetamine. The problem was that he had had a very serious cold and chest infection and had gone to the pharmacist, who had recommended a prescription that containedyes, you guessed itamphetamine. He was not an amphetamine user or addict, but had simply been taking a medicine containing the substance, which was legal and above board. As a result of being identified as positive for amphetamine, he lost his job in the Army. I made some protests to the Army about it, but I am afraid that they were unsuccessful in his case.
Finally, I want to deal with the inclusion in the Bill of provisions on mushrooms containing psilocin, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West referred in some detail. I shall not go over the same old ground. I understand why the Home Office wants to include provisions on this matter, but if I were sitting in Committee, I would be asking Home Office Ministers to provide a lot of evidence. The Bill must be evidence-based. The Government use that phrase a lot at the moment: all legislation should be evidence-based. I want to see the evidence that psilocybe mushrooms should be included among class A drugs. I have seen no such evidence, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say whether a report on those mushrooms has been produced by the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence. That huge body of experts should know more about the subject that anyone in the House.
I am not convinced that class A covers the right drugs. People talk about the relationship between LSD and hallucinations, but many people have hallucinations without drugs. The chemical psilocin produces a compound that causes hallucinations in somebut not allpeople, so does that merit its inclusion in the class A list, along with LSD? There is even an argument that LSD itself should not be put alongside heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine in class A. That should also be discussed in Standing Committee.
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Around the world, different culturesthe Aztecs, for instancehave long used natural drugs to get their kicks, instead of the alcohol and other drugs used in the west. They have done so safely, and for centuries. Mention has been made of khat this afternoon, but psilocybe mushrooms and khat are only two of the drugs that could be used. I have a list of the chemicals and plants that occur in nature, which people could use. For instance, ibogaine contains a hallucinogenic indole compound.
The Government want to include psilocybe mushrooms in the misuse of drugs legislation, possibly as a class A drugan approach that I question. They want to do the same for khat, even though the Somali community has a cultural relationship with the drug. What else do they want to bung in class A? The question of displacement is relevant in this case. The numbers of people using psilocin is very small compared to those using heroin, cocaine and cannabis. Of course I do not approve of the use of drugs such as psilocybin and khat, but is it worth including them in a major Act of Parliament?
My warning to the Government is that including such compounds in an Act of Parliament might persuade people who do not want to break the law to use other substances instead. A similar thing happens when the police act against prostitutes in one area of Bolton. The result is that they are merely diverted to another area. That is another problem for discussion in Committee. If I were to be a member of that Committee, I should like to see a lot more evidence about psilocybe mushrooms.
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