Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Max Cruickshank (DP189)

Letter from Tom Greatrex MP to the Chair, Home Affairs Committee, 26 February 2012

My constituent, Max Cruickshank, came to see me following media reports of the evidence given to your Committee on drugs policy by Richard Branson. While I understand that the date for submission of evidence to the Committee was in late January, Mr Cruickshank was keen to ensure the Committee were aware of views from people involved in youth work who have come to a very different conclusion to Mr Branson on the legislation that should be in place governing the availability of drugs.

Mr Cruickshank has over 30 years experience working with young people in Scotland, with a particular knowledge and expertise in relation to drugs and alcohol. He is shortly to publish a book on the subject. I hope that your Committee will still be able to consider the attached submission. I know that Mr Cruickshank would be keen to provide oral evidence to you if the Committee felt that would be of use.

Tom Greatrex MP


1. My submission as an individual is based on 50 years of work as a professional youth worker with a special interest in the health issues of young people. Most of my experience has been in Scotland, which the committee will be aware has major drug misuse problems and some success to share with the whole of the UK. Much can be learned from how Scotland has been affected by all drug misuse and what we have been able to do or failed to do about it.

Executive Summary

2. The general approach of the government to drugs policy has been the right one. With an emphasis on Enforcement, Reducing Demand, Recovery & Rehabilitation. However this approach was only applied to illicit drugs, when it should also have included tobacco and alcohol.

3. In my opinion the first mistake that has been made, in dealing with the drug problems of the UK in the last five decades, has been that governments until very recently have not accepted that tobacco and alcohol are drugs.

4. My submission highlights how children and young people are affected by all drug misuse, including tobacco, alcohol, prescribed medicines, over-the-counter drugs and illicit drugs. I will argue that there are links between how children progress from one drug to another. Addressing how we can reduce the harm from drugs to children will, in the long term, determine the sort of drug problems adults will have in generations to come.

5. The second important mistake has been to separate legal and illicit drugs into different government departments and committees, whose remits were health or criminal justice issues. I see drugs misuse as primarily a health and mental health issue which has an impact on criminal justice.

6. The third problem has been that drug policies have presumed that misuse would be about adult use. We now know that children too use and misuse drugs and that children are not adults. Now we are starting to understand how early drug use can cause harm to children. I consider children to be those under the age of 25 as is the norm in Europe.

7. The fourth mistake has been that the government has been far too closely involved with the tobacco and the alcohol industries and this has prevented the government from taking the necessary actions to protect public health interests, without being accused of undermining commercial interests and the potential for tax income to the government.

80% of the cost of cigarettes goes to our government.

My main concerns:

8. That enforcement has largely failed and did not include the legal drugs tobacco and alcohol.

9. Demand reduction has failed because we have not done enough to educate adults and this undermined the drugs education of their children.

10. Recovery and rehabilitation has made some progress but has failed to address the enormous mental health problems associated with drug misuse. We have failed to provide appropriate recovery options for children and young people.

11. The existing UK drug laws protect adults and businesses. They fail miserably to protect children and young people.

You can drink alcohol from five years of age; there is no age at which you cannot smoke tobacco. The Dangerous Drugs Acts do not mention at what age illicit drugs can be bought or consumed. Any new review of drug policies must urgently address this issue.

12. New and more effective drug policies must include what we can learn from the past. Who for instance would have predicted that legalizing tobacco and alcohol would have led to the enormous and costly problems we are facing today?

13. I will argue that the already legalized drugs of tobacco and alcohol are our biggest problem. This is evident from examining the facts from Scotland.

90% of men and 86% of women use alcohol, but only about 5% of adults use illicit drugs. It would seem that the alcohol industry is much more successful than the International Drug Barons at getting their products to their market.

14. I will argue that we must not presume that by legalizing or decriminalizing illicit drugs the government will gain any real control of the problem.

15. If drug-related deaths are important indicators of success in solving our drug problems then the latest facts from Scotland speak volumes:

13,473 deaths from tobacco (2004), 1,282 (2009) from alcohol and 574 from illicit drugs (2011). These figures are normally about 10% of the UK totals. Clearly our strong emphasis on tackling the illicit drug problem has been a big mistake.

16. Fact: The illicit drugs trade across the world has developed over the last 60 years. It operates in every corner of our land, 24/7 and has never been controlled by any police force, army or government. There are no quality control systems, no customer services department to complain to and they are free to market and produce new products at will.

17. Even our most senior police officers now accept that they have failed in their duty to control access to tobacco and alcohol by children and young people. Our priority should now be to do everything we can to reduce the demand for all drugs by children, through the revision of the laws, innovative public education and by targeting the top echelons of the illicit drugs trade.

18. Too many politicians have accepted the quite incorrect view that drugs education does not work.

I will argue that drugs education has been more successful than we think, but that we have concentrated that work for too long mainly on school children, not post-school young people. We have failed miserably to provide any drugs education to parents and carers of children. This major omission has undermined the drugs education of children and allowed misinformation and myths to be a major source of the public’s understanding of drugs.

19. The arguments FOR legalising or decriminalising illicit drugs:

20. That over the century’s humankind in most societies have used drugs and always will.

21. That drug misuse is endemic in the UK so we have to accept that it is here to stay and should concentrate on policies to reduce the harm caused to the minority of users.

22. That it will save the government money in police time and criminal justice costs.

23. That fully grown adults should have the right to do what they want to their own bodies. It is not clear what the definition of an adult is in this context.

24. That the quality of illicit drugs used by the public will improve, and health information could reduce some of the harm.

25. That the government would gain tax income which, if ring-fenced, could tackle the damage to people and pay for treatment and rehabilitation for those damaged by drugs.

26. That it will remove the production, distribution and profit from illicit drugs away from criminals and into the hands of legitimate licensed and trustworthy business people.

27. The arguments AGAINST legalizing or decriminalizing illicit drugs:

28. Although it is true that over the centuries humankind have always used drugs of one kind or another, in the ancient past such use of drugs were mainly to do with rituals, like coming of age ceremonies or to strengthen the will of men going to war or hunting. Drugs were not sold for massive profits.

29. The more stressed the population of countries is, the higher the consumption of all drugs.

30. Children are not adults. They are not physically fully grown until around 19 years of age and their brains are not fully wired until later. For females this may by 21 but for males it could be two or three years later according to research. Misusing drugs can inhibit mental development. We should define in law that children are those who are under the age of 25 as in Europe.

31. Children must be protected from using substances that are likely to damage them physically or mentally and could cause damage to their normal growth. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (F5A) is one example of this.

32. The two main legalised drugs, tobacco and alcohol have been very damaging for humankind, costing the UK far more in government expenditure than the tax income justifies.

33. That when any substance or drug is sold for profit the people involved will always push to the limit the opportunity to maximize profits and so they exploit people for personal gain.

34. It is argued that fully grown adults should have a right to do what they want to their bodies. However the cost to the state is now so high that it could damage the economy eg in liver transplants, cancers and the 13,473 deaths from smoking in Scotland is an avoidable expense.

35. That drugs education drugs is so ineffective that we cannot depend on it, or the sellers of drugs, to ensure that they will assist the users to stay safe.

36. That humankind does not need drugs to provide the extraordinary experiences claimed to result from the use of illicit drugs.

37. That our failure to deal with the major mental health problems of our nation has driven people to self-medicate using both legal and illicit drugs.

38. That current drug laws do not protect the vulnerable and children, only adults and businesses.

39. That we have done very little to curb the access to drugs by prisoners, perhaps because staffing is too low in prisons and this form of social control is cheaper.

40. That decades of evidence shows that we cannot depend on the police to control drug selling by criminals, because that job is extremely dangerous and the police have been too easily corrupted by fear or greed.

41. That the police, licensing authorities and consumer protection authorities have not seen the importance of applying some of the drug protection laws as a high priority. For decades there were no prosecutions for the sales of tobacco and alcohol to minors. This laxity has helped to create 10 million smokers in the UK and 10 million ex-smokers in the UK with a population of only 62 million.

42. There are alternative ways of blowing people’s minds that are not drug induced and so are safer, especially for children. The achievements of our incredible sports people, our brilliant musicians, poets, artists and the use of spiritual practices of meditation, or the secular use of hypnosis, can all provide safer, cheaper, more positive mental experiences for us.

43. That drugs prescribed by doctors have to undergo rigorous testing before they are allowed to be used by the public, but we still know very little about many of the illicit substances. Legalizing cannabis would be damaging to children and lunacy.

44. That mental ill-health can be caused by drug use or made worse by it. Allowing the public to buy and use what are now hundreds of different substances, would be extremely irresponsible.

45. That it is estimated that 40% of children in America are now addicted to drugs prescribed by their own doctors. This is yet another example of the ability of the pharmaceutical industry to persuade GP’s to over-prescribe medicines, especially to children.

46. That Methadone has been commonly used to treat heroin problems with very mixed results and many people have died from using it, under prescription, and from buying it from street dealers.

47. That smoking patches, such as Nicorettes, only have about a 2% success rate across the world. Yet these ineffective products make high profits for their manufacturers and are the main treatment provided by government funded smoking cessation clinics. Some users of patches get addicted to the patches, so why are they in use when their success rate is so low?

48. That the most common and most successful way for people to quit smoking is that they just decide to do it, with no intervention from doctors or anyone else. The myth that quitting smoking is so difficult needs to be blown away. A fortune is being made out of selling and prescribing treatments for stopping smoking that are neither necessary not cost effective.


49. In my opinion legalising or decriminalising drugs would be a defeatist action by our government.

50. The solutions lie in addressing the issues of massive mental ill-health exacerbated by drug use.

51. Providing new and effective laws to protect our children from harm from all drugs is both urgent and essential.

52. We should now be concentrating on drugs education for adults, especially parents to ensure that they are better informed about how drugs affect them and their children. Knowledge is power. It has already been demonstrated to work with tobacco use. Education can be used as an effective tool to reduce demand for dangerous substances.

53. None of these solutions have been consistently applied to the issue of drug use and misuse. We already know how to do all of this and it is unlikely to cost any more than the failed activities of the last five decades.

54. If these courageous actions were taken by our political leaders we could ensure that the tobacco industry and criminals across the world would no longer need to put into action their plans to sell legalized cannabis and other illicit substances.

My relevant qualifications to submit these suggestions are:

Fifty years of innovative youth work practice.

Member of the Board of Scottish Drugs Forum for 21 years.

Member of the Scottish Parliament’s—Futures Forum on Drugs and Alcohol.

Member of The Independent Enquiry into Recovery from drug misuse.

I have delivered 4,000 health workshops to young people and adults.

February 2012

Prepared 8th December 2012