Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Dara Fitzpatrick [DP018]

1. Introduction

I am a 31 year old unemployed man. I am single and live with a house mate and my dog. I have suffered from ulcerative colitis, which is a type of inflammatory bowel disease, since I was 13. My symptoms include blood and mucus in my stool and a feeling of always needing to go to the toilet and difficulty emptying the bowel, tiredness and no appetite. After barium enemas, sigmoidoscopes, and a fibre optic camera I was diagnosed and given medication which included, up to 16 tablets a day and up to four enemas a day. All this while I was doing my GCSEs and A levels. The medication helped to stop the bleeding but I suffered from increased cramps and having to go to the toilet more frequently. When I left school I started work but was laid off from jobs I believe because I would take too long in the bathroom. I ended up unemployed for a few years and was given an opportunity to work in a bar in Lanzarote. So I decided to go over for the summer. I was introduced to cannabis in Lanzarote. I had never tried drugs before because they were illegal and I therefore thought they were dangerous. But my Spanish boss told me that cannabis has been used for thousands of years and it can’t kill you. After a few drinks one night I saw him rolling a spliff and passing it to all his friends after work. I tried it but couldn’t understand all the fuss over it. I wasn’t going mad, or didn’t feel like I wanted to jump out the window, I just felt nice. My summer in Lanzarote turned into four years. In those years I stopped taking all medication because I had no need for it anymore. I learned that in Spain, there is tolerance of cannabis use and that it was legal to grow your own cannabis for your personal use. The selling of cannabis is not permitted. I even ended up growing my own plants. Since my return to the UK I told my doctor that smoking cannabis stopped the bleeding and helped ease the uncomfortable cramps but he didn’t seem impressed. I wish it to be legal for me to grow my own cannabis but a licence costs thousands of pounds, that’s supposing the Home Office will issue it in the first place.

2. Is present policy fiscally responsible?

The following is a link to a report published by The Independent Drug Monitoring Unit on 26 August 2011:

http://clear-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf.

It is here they conclude, “There are between 1.7 million and 3.6 million active cannabis users in the UK consuming between 620 and 1,400 metric tonnes of cannabis each year with an estimated market value of between £2.9 and £8.6 billion per annum. The best estimates are an average 2.7 million active users consuming 1,037 metric tonnes with an estimated street value of £5.9 billion per annum.” If laws were changed this money could be taxed and help pay for public services or the national debt. Also the report shows that in 2009 there 849 people sentenced to immediate custody for cannabis offences including possession, possession with intent and supply. And if the average cost to imprison someone is £45,000 per year then in 2009 it cost £38,205,000 to imprison these people. This strongly indicates that current policy is not fiscally responsible.

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

I do not believe this to be true when it comes to cannabis. If we listen to scientists and not the Daily Mail, it can be seen that there is ample information suggesting cannabis can be used as medicine for many different diseases. The Department of Health has a report titled ’A Summary of the Health Harms of Drugs’.1 The report discusses Cannabis and states that “no cases of fatal overdose have been reported” and there is “no evidence of structural change in brains of heavy long term cannabis users”. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) published on their website a review of recent scientific literature on research on medical marijuana from 2000 to 2011.2 Science and Health are two fields of research strongly supported by the Government and I hope the relevance of all research is considered fairly in the review of any related drug policies.

Current policy does not give me any security in my own home because I could have my front door knocked down by the police and arrested for smoking a £20 bag of, as I see it, medical marijuana. In terms of human rights and cannabis, there is none. I can legally go to Asda, buy as much alcohol as I want and drink myself to death. I can legally buy tobacco which will give me cancer and kill me. I can eat all the fast food I want and get a heart attack but I can’t relax and smoke a spliff.

I hear politicians talking about terrorism in other countries and how they attack us because they are jealous of our free society. So I ask, is it not the principle of a free society that people should be able to do whatever they like as long as they cause no harm to other people?

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

I do not think the way that the government decides its drug policy and measures how it is working is effective. Most of the answers submitted to parliamentary questions to the Home Secretary suggest that the government does nothing to measure the effectiveness of its drug policies. Both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have previously commented that drugs policy is run on the basis of politicians opinions rather than evidence.

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

I recall in 2008 Professor David Nutt released a report trying to put drug harms into perspective with harms in other parts in life. When he refused to resign for expressing unbiased evidence that did not comply with Government policy, he was sacked. The resulting impression is that politicians will not agree with scientists if the evidence shows the politicians were incorrect in the first place. Instead of listening to new advice they would prefer to save their reputation. I don’t understand this. I hope common sense will prevail.

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

According to the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit,3 £500 million is spent every year on the criminal justice system for cannabis offences alone, of which £200 million is spent on police costs. There must be better uses for this money, especially with the state of the economy now.

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

Cannabis has been used for thousands of years and has been illegal for only the past 100 years or so. The IDMUs report is an excellent read considering the money spent catching cannabis users, taking them to the courts and imprisoning them. I don’t understand why the government won’t address this and just admit that the war on drugs has failed and it is time to take a new approach.

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

I find this a joke. I believe that if the government really cared about our health, then, yobacco and alcohol would be illegal to consume. Cars would be limited to 40 mph and have cotton wool bumpers, the list could go on and on. It is not my health the government is concerned about, it is about preventing a social problem. What about the employment problem. We could address this problem with an end to prohibition of cannabis. We could have jobs for farmers, plumbers, electricians, inspectors, then we could open cannabis bars selling it to over 18s only and five grams maximum at a time like in Amsterdam. And then if people wanted to grow their own they could get a licence. Laws can be changed to protect children. Currently the only ID needed to buy cannabis or any other drug is a £20 note.

9. The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse

In my own experiences I have found that some people have addictive personalities, and will do anything for a buzz be it getting drunk, stoned, cheating on their wife, jumping out of a plane. Things that give us pleasure make us want to experience that pleasure again and again and this is what becomes addictive. But for some, they find one thing that is a vice to them like the guy who drinks too much or the guy who always cheats on his wife or me I smoke weed, every day. I have tried cocaine before in Spain. I didn’t like it. I took an ecstasy pill once with my brother. I didn’t care too much for that either. I hate alcohol, it made me sick and I hate the way it makes people act so pathetic when they take too much. I believe cannabis to be much more civilised. I enjoy smoking cannabis and the fact that it eases a medical condition and enables me to live without a dependency on prescription pills is essential for me.

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

I have tried Salvia Divenorum, which is one of these legal highs. It can be smoked in a similar way to cannabis. I decided that I would try some because I had had no cannabis in a few weeks and my colitis had flared up again. I took the weakest strength and it cost £15. I took it home and had a hit. I felt a warmth rising from my stomach followed by a cold shiver and 10 minutes of hysterical laughing. I did not enjoy the experience but found myself taking it on two more occasions and promised myself that I would never take it again. I believe Salvia to be far more dangerous and addictive than cannabis and frankly cannot believe that it can be bought legally while cannabis remains illegal.

11. The links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism

I know that I have contributed to terrorism by buying cannabis, especially living in Northern Ireland. I would have to buy my stuff from a guy who gets it from terrorists. But if I could have bought cannabis from an off licence or public house/coffee shop type establishment, I would, gladly safe in the knowledge that what I am smoking is not contaminated and I am contributing to the economy. I hear of stories of cannabis factories set up in entire five bedroom houses with Vietnam and Chinese nationals running the factories. They are trapped in these houses and made to work as slaves. People have been brought from Vietnam to the UK, promised restaurant work or something similar and then brought to cannabis houses and told if they don’t tend to the plants, they’ll be killed. I believe that if cannabis were legalised and regulated by the government, then the amounts of these operations would decrease.

I am a supporter of Clear and I support their aims and objectives.4

January 2012

1 www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/healthharmsfinal-v1.pdf

2 http://norml.org/component/zoo/category/recent-research-on-medical-marijuana

3 http://clear-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf

4 http://clear-uk.org/aims-objectives/

Prepared 8th December 2012