Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Simon Chorley (DP192)

(1) I am Simon John Chorley, a 34 year old long term resident of New Cross in South East London. I have worked as a Local Government Enforcement Officer in London for 11 years. I live in an area of high drug and alcohol use. I have for many years been keen to see the problems associated with drug use reduced.

(2) Summary of Main Points

I argue that prohibition is an extreme measure for society with effects wide and grave. I suggest evaluating these effects against any policies aim and effectiveness. (3–7)

I explain how criminalising and stigmatizing drugs makes evidence less reliable. (6–8)

I point out the success of reducing tobacco consumption in a regulated market and advocate this approach for all drugs. (10)

I break down the desired effect of prohibition on the user and its lack of effectiveness. (11)

I point out that substance use is not a problem in its self. (13)

I explain that an illicit market supply will always be more harmful than a legitimate one. (14–16)

I explain that criminalising drugs, makes criminals. An effect on law and order that cannot be under estimated. (17,18)

I briefly set out how a regulated market might work to reduce harm and for our society to enact its moral duty of care. (19–22)

The extent to which the Government’s 2010 drug strategy is a “fiscally responsible policy with strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights” in line with the recent recommendation by the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP)

(3) The policy of prohibition is in no way fiscally responsible policy with strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights. I totally agree with the GCDP recommendation “End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.”.

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

(4) To measure any policy we need to know the true cost of implementation verse its benefits. I also agree with the GCDP stating: “Drug policies must be based on solid empirical and scientific evidence. The primary measure of success should be the reduction of harm to the health, security and welfare of individuals and society.”.

(5) To asses the efficacy of any policy on individuals Government need to measure the number of users and the harm caused by the substance usage. To assess the efficacy of any policy in reducing the wider harm to society, Government needs to measure the levels of non-drug related crime associated with those “under the influence” and users in general. As well as measuring incidences of a drug being used to commit a crime, such as a “date rape drug”.

(6) While substances remain unregulated no evidence of users, usage or harm can reliably be formed. While the usage of substances remain criminalised this evidence becomes a further unknown and open to interpretation. Our current policy of prohibition makes a mockery of its aim by making any measurement of efficacy opace at best. Measurements of enforcement action although useful can only ever show what is not available rather than what is available to individuals.

(7) Any policy must not only consider its desired aim but also the greater affect the policy has on society and our international partners. The extreme step of prohibition is almost immeasurable. To do so one needs to consider its wide effects up the production line, its varied and extreme implementation, as well as the effect of criminalising, stigmatizing and marginalizing the very people the policy sets out to help. Others may be better able to gauge some of these undesired affects. Since these affects are so hard to measure and rarely examined I pray the HASC will take this opportunity to fully consider them all, against any policy’s aims and effectiveness. Recommendations for the use of the extreme measure of prohibition should include regular full evaluations of its efficacy, effectiveness and wider effects.

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

(8) Without a regulated market the collecting of reliable data is open to interpretation. This process is compounded by the criminalising and stigmatizing of the controlled drug user. Those in a position to interpreter evidence are keen not to be seen as out of step with the “status quo” and stigmatized as such. Dr. Nutt is a clear example of this. The Government has the best expert advice available in the circumstances; the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Although as with Dr. Nutt, those with an even great fear of stigmatization, namely politicians, choose to ignore the advice given. This must not be allowed to happen and as such the contentious issue of assessing drug harm and policy should be removed from politicians and entrusted to experts.

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

(9) Police Authorities will set budgets on availability of resources and in line with local and nation priorities. Since a controlled drug user is not necessary affecting anyone else other than themselves, users are not likely to be a priority. All forces will continue to be forced to throw money, needlessly, at the crime associated with prohibition. If I may quote Albert Einstein “The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.” Albert Einstein, “My First Impression of the U.S.A.”, 1921. This is true here today and with decreasing Police budgets will only be made worse.

The cost effectiveness of different policies to reduce drug usage

(10) The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has shown the cost effectiveness of reducing usage of tobacco in a regulated market, a model that should be used for all dangerous substances.

(11) Criminalising drug usage is designed to have two effects, a deterrent and a punishment. As a punishment it smacks of corporal punishment and does not make sense or work. As a deterrent prohibition aims to work at two stages, “first use” and “continuing use”. Where a drug is addictive no legal deterrent is going to stop continuing usage. Where a drug is not addictive but a choose. A legal deterrent is only going to help when the user is ready to make a different choose, from the one they have been making. Any authoritarian intervention is mostly likely to be resented and resisted. As a deterrent for first time usage, the legal consequences are less important than the perceived health risks. For instance despite “ecstasy” being a class A drug its high usage amongst my generation reflects the perceived health risk not the level of punishment. Prohibiting substances without a clearly perceived health risk is likely to encourage usage amongst as many as it discourages. Prohibition only helps those who were not going to use anyway and armed with the same information would make the same decision without prohibition. Therefore prohibition does not work at all and can never be cost effective. The majority of drug use is not a problem and resources should be targeted at problems.

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

(12) Health, welfare and happiness of individuals all need to be central considerations in the development of a policy.

The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse

(13) Any substance can be abused. Substance misuse is a manifestation of a problem. Substance use is not necessary abuse or a problem in its self. Policy should only look to identify those abusing or misusing a substance and target support. This is best done by a regulated system. In a hidden, illicit market dealers have a vested interest to allow substance misuse to continue.

The comparative harm and cost of legal and illegal drugs

(14) Illegal drugs will always be more harmful in general than legal and regulated ones. As with alcohol prohibition in the US during the 1930; supply was polluted and a drinker did not know what was being bought. Poisonings were common. A similar thing is happening with the supply of cannabis and other controlled drugs in the UK. Supply has many contaminates though poor production, transportation or malicious intent. The relative quality and strength is also unknown. Therefore no matter how safe the substance an illicit market supply will always be more harmful, over all, than a legitimate one.

(15) A regulated market allows price control. No comparison can easily be made between different drugs and their cost. Although you may consider the cost to a user for an evenings or weeks supply.

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

(16) Legals highs are a direct result of prohibition. If all drugs were regulated users could make informed chooses. Few would choose an unknown risk over a known one with a similar effect. Regulation would largely destroy the legal high market. All substances could automatically be added to the regulated market with its controls.

The links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism

(17) Criminalising drug use put simply makes criminals. Users and low level dealers learn to be better criminals and to work against authorities. As such drug use becomes a training ground for other criminality. These people might else never imagine committing a crime. The resentment caused by our authoritarian approach leads to disaffection. The Police loose support of millions of drug users, who without prohibition would be positively active members of society. A helping hand quickly becomes a hated controlling power. The legal system should never be used to control personal behaviour which has no direct effect on others.

The vast money in the drugs market is always going to be a temptation for good people to move up the supply chain and involve themselves with Al Capone style gang culture.

I believe drug prohibition was connected to all major aspects of the recent riots.

An illicit market will always be a target for terrorist, either through polluting supply or to divert funds to other activities.

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

(18) As you go down the supply chain the value of the market increases massively. With the increased scale, risks are outweighed by profits and criminality increases. Our illicit usage is responsible for the illicit supply. If we cannot prevent the illicit demand we must replace it with a legitimate one. The moral arguments for this are grave. We should take steps internationally to facilitate this.

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)

(19) Detailed consideration must be given to alternatives. I will briefly describe an alternative that would not only be the best approach in reducing harm, but also allow society to enact its moral duty of care.

(20) Any regulation would at first need to ensure that illicit markets are destroyed to allow tightening regulations to affect use. Problems associated with drug use should be dealt with under existing laws with drug usage considered in sentencing. I would licence the use and sale of ALL drugs and poisons. Drugs would be placed on a scale taking into account:

(a)The dangers to health in normal and extreme usage,

(b)Their addictive qualities;

(c)Their ability to be used in crime, and

(d)Their availability on the illicit market.

(21) I would have four levels of regulation:

(a)The highest level of restriction would include poisons and extremely dangerous and addictive drugs largely not available on an illicit market. This level would be largely unavailable without assessed legitimate reasons, like research.

(b)The next level would include addictive and dangerous drugs. This would include heroin and cocaine as well as new, non-assessed drugs. Access would largely be restricted to “addicts”. Requirements could include completing tests to show full comprehension of the dangers and payback social activities, such as working in hospitals.

(c)The third level would include alcohol and other less dangerous and less addictive substances. Requirements could also include completing tests to show comprehension of the dangers. Access could be age restricted, consumption of users could be monitored. This would allow targeted help for heavy and problem users.

(d)The lowest level would be for largely non-dangerous and largely non-addictive drugs such a cannabis and caffeine. These would be largely unregulated. Access could be age restricted. Requirements could include completing tests to demonstrate comprehension of how to use the drugs safely.

(22) The benefits of a regulated market is clearly apparent not only in reducing the harm of drug usage but essentially will also remove the massive cost, social and fiscal of prohibition.

May 2012

Prepared 8th December 2012