Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Julian Pursell and Cannabis for Autism UK (DP175)

1. Summary

The current policy is neither fiscally responsible nor is it grounded in science, health, security or human rights. Current criteria for measuring the effectiveness of policy are inadequate. The government has shown serious lack of judgement in its treatment of Prof. Nutt, losing the respect of our teenagers and future scientists. Police expenditure cannot continue to cope with the cost of prohibition. The war against people who use drugs has been lost, it’s time to make reparations. Reductions in problematic drug use must come from better education, better social support services, ending criminal sanctions and enriching the lives and environments of those who use, or are at risk of using.

2. Is present policy fiscally responsible?

No. The current approach is hugely costly and actually leads to increases in problematic drug use.

3. Is policy grounded in science, health, security and human rights?

No. Current policy fails on all four grounds. This government ignores scientific advice (Prof David Nutt). Prohibition of drugs leads to worse health outcomes than regulated drug use would. Take Portugal and the Netherlands as fine examples. Take the UK and Sweden as very poor examples. Look at the data, it’s very clear that prohibition is the worst possible approach. Putting the supply of illegal drugs into the hands of illegal networks undermines security for everyone because it creates mistrust between otherwise law-abiding drug using citizens and the law enforcement services. I am a medical cannabis user. My human rights are utterly violated by the prohibition of my medicine. Banning someone’s medicine is on a par with banning food. A very unpopular move. I have spoken to numerous focus groups; teenagers and homeless drug users. I wish to credit these people for their valuable and frank input. There are now literally hundreds of peer reviewed, scientific studies that prove the efficacy of cannabis in the treatment of MS, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, spinal injury and a wide range of other conditions. I would suggest that you refer to the excellent National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) summary of research “Emerging Clinical Applications For Cannabis & Cannabinoids. A Review of the Recent Scientific Literature, 2000–2011.”

4. The criteria used by the Government to measure the efficacy of its drug policies

Having spent seven years as a test engineer, I am acutely aware that the only way to really know what you have got is to test (ie measure). Spending must be tracked in full. Every little cost of prohibition adds up to a considerable annual sum per tax payer. “The number of people who do or do not use this or that amount of substance x, y or z” is a meaningless measure. If someone uses drugs but is healthier and wealthier than the average non-drug user then that person is more valuable to society than the average non-drug user. Only a doctor should interfere with someone’s drug intake. The only meaningful metrics here are standard health and quality of life tests. The question “is the person on or off the drug” is an oversimplification of the complex reality of life amongst 60 million wonderful, unique and varied individuals. Some of us are supposed to be taking those “illicit” drugs and in our cases the law is clearly wrong.

5. The independence and quality of expert advice which is being given to the government

This government is a laughing stock after the Prof Nutt fiasco. Do not sack scientists for reporting data. If you want to lose the respect of all teenagers and drug users by all means carry on but otherwise please respect the scientists. The current Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) does not inspire me with confidence. There should be scientists and current substance users on the ACMD.

6. Whether drug-related policing and expenditure is likely to decrease in line with police budgets and what impact this may have

Please stop using the police to protect the huge sums of money to be made from supplying drugs. Instead, use the tax man. Use criminal sanctions only if someone commits a crime under the influence or if someone produces or supplies a substance for consumption that turns out to be impure or toxic beyond reasonable tolerances. Purity testing should be readily available.

7. The cost effectiveness of different policies to reduce drug usage

The most cost effective thing to reduce problem drug use (recall that we do not want to prevent people from using drugs if they are happy and healthy and wealthy) is to improve drug health education (focus on healthier use, not scare stories to prevent abuse, they doesn’t work). Pay the more problematic users to attend ashtanga yoga classes five days per week (from focus groups: The user needs £10 expenses in order to attend each session). Everyone agrees that it is 10 times easier to quit a problem drug habit when the user is able to afford as much of the drug as he or she wants to consume in addition to having basic living costs met. Imposing financial sanctions on addicts makes it harder for them to quit, not easier.

8. The extent to which public health considerations should play a leading role in developing drugs policy

Let us make this absolutely clear, Prohibition is a public health hazard. Once criminal sanctions have ended against drug users we will be able to work on individual’s health considerations as a priority. Police will be freed up to deal with the problem of alcohol induced violence including domestic and child abuse.

9. The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse

Please don’t think me being facetious, but I must ask, the relationship between “drug and alcohol abuse” and “what”? Then I realised you meant “drug abuse” and “alcohol abuse” as two different things. I feel that it is abusive to drug users, alcohol users, and to society as a whole to treat drugs and alcohol differently from each other. Alcohol use causes a staggering 5% of all global health spending. Only tobacco is worse (don’t you dare ban that—it’s an important medicine for people with schizophrenia and if someone is sick they should not have to pay the tax on 80 cigarettes per day!). If a drug is bad for health, all the more reason NOT to prohibit its use. Doing so only drives it underground and makes it more harmful.

10. The comparative harm and cost of legal and illegal drugs

Drugs are not “legal” or “illegal”. It is people’s actions with drugs that are made legal or illegal under law. That aside, clearly there is some problem with the model if the two most harmful drugs (alcohol and tobacco) are legal when beneficial yet wrongly maligned substances such as cannabis and MDMA are prohibited. This sends the message to young people that the people who write the laws for the UK are delusional, sadistic, or very drunk.

11. The impact of the transfer of functions of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse to Public Health England and how this will affect the provision of treatment

Good riddance to bad language. The terms “misuse”, “abuser” and “abuse” should not be used when referring to “substance users” or “substance users with health concerns”.

12. The availability of “legal highs” and the challenges associated with adapting the legal framework to deal with new substances

New legal highs make a mockery of drugs policy. Knee-jerk reactions are made on the basis of Daily Mail stories, not science or medicine. Synthetic cannabinoids, manufactured to avoid the laws against cannabis may be more harmful than cannabis itself.

13. The links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism

Prohibition of drugs has been a gift to organised crime and groups seeking to fund and expand their operations. The government’s reluctance to remove this cash cow makes teenagers and drug users suspect that people in government are actually controlling the illicit drug dealing anyway. Even the Romans knew that a ban under law was the best way to push up the price of a valued commodity. When a commodity is highly valuable to an addicted or medically dependant minority, then it is easy to turn the remainder of people against these users of that commodity. Force up the price but don’t upset the majority: ban under law.

Have you read “The Prince”?

Please allow for a safe and legal, well regulated sex industry as well as the same for the recreational drug industry.

14. Whether the UK is supporting its global partners effectively and what changes may occur with the introduction of the national crime agency

No. You’ve let your global partners down, you’ve let your electorate down, you’ve let me down. Most of all, you’ve let yourselves down. The rest of the world still looks to the UK to take the lead. Mr Cameron needs to be very strong. He must take a stand against the UN single convention on narcotic drugs. Let’s hope that the NCA will be able to focus its resources on real crimes. Without the waste caused by failed prohibition of drugs, law enforcement will benefit from the savings. No police officers need lose their jobs if the drug war ends.

15. Whether detailed consideration ought to be given to alternative ways of tackling the drugs dilemma, as recommended by the Select Committee in 2002 (The Government’s Drugs Policy: Is It Working?, HC 318, 2001–02) and the Justice Committee’s 2010 Report on justice reinvestment (Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment, HC 94, 2009–10)

Clearly I am in favour of the UK proposing a global ban on laws against individual substance possession or use. Production of drugs should be regulated to ensure quality and safety. Money saved on criminal responses can be put into education, rehabilitation, housing for problematic users and unbiased scientific research.

February 2012

Prepared 8th December 2012