Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleSupplementary written evidence submitted by Simon Chorley [DP192a]

I would like to add the following comments after gratefully attending the International Conference on Drug Policy and the workshop on “reducing harms”. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved with the committees work. I have come away hopeful that together we will be able to improve the situation.

1. The concerns of drugs are moral concerns. Within our diverse community we must not alienate people by imposing moral judgements, especially when choices primarily effect only an individual. Drug use is highest amongst minorities groups and drug laws are rightly seen as prejudiced. I would love to see more “social solidarity” in the UK, although this can only be achieved through opportunities and engagement, not compulsion. Else our helping hand quickly becomes a hated controlling power, resisted and resented.

2. If sociality has a duty of care towards people, regarding drugs, it would only lie in the correct informing of potential users and regulating of sales and promotions; not to mention medical supply. Where the dangers of drugs are clear, obstacles could be put in the way of use. Such as ages restriction, licensing and health warnings. Although to prevent use by imposing morality on people, who do not directly effect others, is as good as laws against a clothing style; unless we ban all dangerous activities. Over the past fifty or sixty years our society has developed to include a much greater variety of practices. This has largely come about through greater travel, communication and immigration. Giving us an enriched array of choice. To continue to ban drug use while continuing to allow other dangerous activity is akin to banning curry or bananas.

3. Perceived risk is the main reason people choose not to take a drug. Information cannot be easily controlled and therefore we must be very honest in order not to lose the voice of authority. Else our good intentioned information holds no weight against malicious information. Not to lose the trust of those we try to help, public health promotion can never be a place for moral control.

4. To simply aim to reduce drug usage in the hope it will reduce harm is naive. To continue to use law enforcement as a deterrent or a punishment when it is clear that problematic drug use is a symptom of an emotional problem, is like the use of corporal punishment to stop a child crying. To truly help protect our children we should aim to reduce harm of any usage and reduce use through informed choice. We must be more like a peer group excepting experiments and mistakes and not denying choice like a controlling parent. A person compelled to do good, is not living a good life.

5. In response to others expressing how laws can set boundaries and create social norms I would like to respond with the following:

(a)From “child abuse” to “dog fighting” to “second hand smoke” the victim is another person or being, this is what gives it the moral authority. This moral authority comes from being good, fair and ultimately right in the control of actions that effect others. Yet non-nuisance drug use primarily only effects the user, with other nuisances already defined in Law. Genuine nuisances, risks and harms to others are never excused by self intoxication.

(b)Where the law was used to bring about a “sea change” with “seat belt wearing”. Any change came about because people largely agreed with the message. Evidently you are safer wearing a seat belt although with non-hard drug the use, the risks compared to other activities are not as clear cut. People except the regulations around driving in general, because the risk to others are clear. We have had laws against drug use for many years yet the practice is increasing. To use the law as a moral guide or compass, setting boundaries and establishing norms can only be achieved with the growing support of the people it controls. The lobby who did not want to wear seat beats continued not to wear seat belts, until they got cars that would not stop bleeping until they did. Punishment is also more mild compared to the drug laws and an offence is not a symptom of a personal problem, as with problematic drug use. If over time a law is shown to be resisted as a restriction on personal behaviour. Such as laws against homosexuality, it can in no way be seen as successful and to continue with those laws, to be aiding any social unity. Worse, those going against the drugs laws are put at greater risk; as if we also took away any other safety measures when a seat belt is not engaged and fitted and ejector seat. Therefore this comparison is limited and we cannot reduce the harms around drug use in the same way.

(c)A another example would be laws against indecency, although activity can still be undertaken with requirements. If nudism was completely banned groups would be forced to go against it with what they would see as their divine right. Society would have no moral authority to prevent it, if it did not affect anyone else.

(d)Where the law was used to ban smoking inside enclosed public places, its effect although partly positive, are not as clear cut as we might of hoped. It was thought that to include any exemption would have driven a “coach and horses” through the legislation failing to protect both the staff and non-smokers. Yet if there was an exemption with tough requirement, we could have prevented the growing numbers of underground smoking clubs. Any requirement on the businesses to show that staff members health is protected was missed. For instance a requirement for extraction could have been put in place, with temporary exclusions for staff members. These measures would have largely been very costly and prohibitive. As well as in-line with the spirit of the law, namely to protect others from second hand smoke. As someone myself who has had to sell the legislation to businesses and individuals; the risk to others, gave the moral authority to quell the resentment of the universal nature of the ban. An exemption would have prevented the appeal to young people of the illicit activity of attending a smoking den and would have turned the activity into a non-sexy regulated and controlled one. While still having the considerable medical and social benefits of protecting others and bringing about a social “sea change” in most establishments. People also would have been happier that their choices were being respected and minorities would not have felt alienated. It would have kept all actively open and accessible for health promoters and law enforcement. A clear failing with the ban and now leaving a constant battle to achieve any further harm reduction.

6. Public opinion understands that prohibition protects no one and harms their children more. If a handful of people at the Daily Mail and others reported honestly around drugs, public opinion would be even more enlightened. Recent studies show high numbers in favour of change. There is also a growing extreme of society that feels completely disaffected by this issue which could prove to be very dangerous in the future; again not to mention medical drug users. When Rt Hon Keith Vaz asked, I raised my hand in favour of being able to find a solution we all can be happy with. I do not believe that anyone’s intention is to prevent freedoms, just prevent harms. Something we can all pray for and something largely achievable.

7. The difficulties and expense of creating and maintaining a regulated market was expressed; to which I say we must start somewhere. To think the present system is the default is wrong, we already have an expensive and unsustainable system in place. The savings of changing the present system are not only financial but essential if our aim is to reduce harm.

8. I am very happy to explain any points and to help further in any way I can.

Simon Chorley

September 2012

Prepared 8th December 2012