Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Jasper Knight [DP066]

My name is Jasper Knight, I write to you to provide evidence for the Home Affairs Committees new drugs inquiry. As a constituent of Brighton, the drug death capital of the UK, it is important to me that the drug policy is reformed to help change this. I hope that I will be able to make a contribution to this inquiry as one who has seen and experienced drug use personally and amongst, friends and family.

Summary

I am of the opinion that the current drug strategy is not fiscally responsible. The policy disregards science, health and human rights. The government should consult a board of scientific and medical experts on the effectiveness of the drugs policy and act on their advice; unlike they do with the ACMD.

No matter how much money is spent on fighting drugs people still use them, it just increases the profit for dealers. A regulation policy would be the most effective strategy, in terms of finance and health. Correct education regarding combining any drugs, including alcohol is essential for user/public safety. The comparative harm of legal and illegal drugs indicates that illegal drugs are often less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco, making prohibition seem like a poorly judged policy.

In a regulated market, billions of pounds which current fund organised crime and terrorism would be taken back by the government, and the market for “legal highs” would cease to exist. The Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and Basque Spain have all chosen alternative ways of dealing with drug use, none of which have shown damaging effects. The UK is a very influential country and should take a stand against prohibition, as we lead, may others follow.

The extent to which the Government’s 2010 drug strategy is a “fiscally responsible policy”

In regards to cannabis the most up-to-date evidence available is “Taxing the UK Cannabis Market” from the IDMU which concluded a legal, regulated system would provide the government with approximately £6 billion profit even after the creation of additional drug support services. To answer the question, No, the present policy is not fiscally responsible at all, it uses a huge amount of police and courts funding for non-violent, victimless crimes.

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

The currently prohibiting policy adopted in the UK has shown itself to completely disregard scientific evidence, as was clearly demonstrated after the ACMD made recommendations to down grade cannabis from class B to class C. Unfortunately many feel this policy to be hypocritical, as to date, no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose as it is not physically possible. Yet this policy allows people to go out drinking dangerous quantities of alcohol without consequence or judgment. It allows parents to give a five year old child alcohol without any restrictions. However if one person chooses a safer option like cannabis they risk a criminal record, loss of job and imprisonment. Where is the consistency? The policy needs to be based on science. All drugs need to be assessed by their damages to the user and to society/their local communities.

The health hazards associated with drugs is the most important issue here; currently this country has a poorly structured approach and is unable to supply safety information to any drug users or potential users. Briefly reading through the Talk to Frank webpage I found most of the information to be useless. Many first time users would take the time to read up on a drug before using it and there are no accurate government guidelines on how to use drugs, ensure the quality, and correct dosage and administration. A prohibitive policy allows no quality control of drugs, which makes them far more dangerous to the user. See “A summary of the health harms of drugs” For more information.

In regards to security; the majority of burglaries and thefts in this country are drug related which indicates that drugs are a security issue, alcohol included. Addicts are dangerous and need to be treated accordingly by medical professionals. The criminalisation and imprisonment of a user costs more than treatment and causes more damages. Drugs are often available in prisons, which do not help a user overcome their addiction, and once released there is a high chance of them re-offending. Even if a user is not imprisoned their prospects diminish significantly with a criminal record.

I believe that to use drugs is within our human rights. We cannot control what people put into their bodies and so far the attempts have failed miserably. We only need to look at the affects of alcohol prohibition in America to see that prohibition is an ineffective policy. It feeds criminal gangs, removes quality control and age restrictions. As has been stated many times, it’s easier for children to access Cannabis than it is for them to get alcohol.

The most important point in regards to human rights is the medicinal use of Cannabis compounds which is currently only licensed by GW Pharmaceuticals in the form of Sativex. This is a good quality treatment for MS, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, spinal injury, cancer and many other conditions. Allowing a single company a monopoly over the supply the psychoactive chemical Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol is unacceptable. GW Pharma is permitted to produce 20,000kg of herbal Cannabis legally, while medicinal users are persecuted for growing plants to help them live a better life. It is simply inhumane.

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

The current criteria used must be inaccurate for this same policy to have been adopted for 40 years. The government should seek advice from a board of professionals on how best to categorise all drugs including tobacco and alcohol products according to their damages, and discuss the methods of regulation and quality control for all of them.

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

The ACMD have given accurate advice regarding the damages of drugs but the government is not willing to take the advice of science. Instead our current policy is adopted by politicians with no scientific background.

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

Hundreds of million are spent on fighting non-violent drug use. This money could be better spent helping people who have drug addictions, supplying accurate safety information and in the case of a legal regulated market, it could be used for drug quality control. This could drastically reduce death from overdoses, contaminant and incorrect administration.

The cost effectiveness of different policies to reduce drug usage

The current policy costs a huge amount of money and has little effect. In Portugal where all drugs are decriminalised the cost and average consumption is lower than the UK. In Holland where Cannabis is regulated the number of child users under 15 is lower than in the UK. For the safety of children the policy needs to change.

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

Public health should have an input into the development of a new drugs policy. Our current policy is based on the “misuse” of drugs, which is defined as “having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem” Under this definition surely alcohol should be listed as class A.

The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse

This is a somewhat misleading question as alcohol is a drug. The most commonly used, addictive and harmful drug that can turn users into incredibly violent people. Alcohol use in association with Cannabis often simply results in the person sleeping due to the relaxing effects of the drug. Where as alcohol used with stimulants such as cocaine can help the user feel more alert and sober, thus increasing the chances of further drinking, stimulant use and overdosing. Many drugs should not be combined and it is important that this information is freely available without prejudice against illegal drugs.

The comparative harm and cost of legal and illegal drugs

The comparative harm is clear. More deaths occur per year due to alcohol and tobacco consumption than the deaths caused from every illegal drug, combined. I believe that both tobacco and alcohol products should be listed and controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as they are clearly the most dangerous and damaging, socially and physically.

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

Most legal highs currently available are more dangerous than the actual drugs they attempt to mimic. It is an attempt to side step the current legal system and all of these legal highs should have clinical trials before being publicly sold. Most of these drugs are synthetic variations of the active cannabinoids found in Cannabis. In the case of decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis the market for these legal highs would be removed.

The links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism

The prohibition of drugs has handed a multi-billion pound market to organised criminals. The harder police work to remove drug production facilities from this country the higher the price of drugs rises, thus increased profit for those willing to take that risk. This also prevents users and addicts from being able to afford the drugs which can directly cause more crime in the form of burglaries and theft.

In regards to terrorism, drugs produced in the UK to specific standards would stop the importation of heroin and hashish from the Middle East. The only reason terrorist groups are involved in the supply of drugs is because the profit margin is so high. Remove this opportunity and they their income will be extinguished.

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

Britain need to take a stand against the war on drugs, as it is in some respect a war on human nature. As we have seen in Europe, alternative methods are effective. The Netherlands allows public purchase of Cannabis, yet the UK has a higher number of child users. Portugal have decriminalised all drugs, Switzerland are allowing the cultivation of four plants per person to stop feeding the black market and Spain are following suit. In America over 17 states allow medical Cannabis use, with no ill effects. Britain following the UN Single Convention is not within the countries best interests.

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)

Decriminalisation has shown to be effective in Portugal; however this does not help with the issues of quality control and age restrictions. Children need to be protected from drugs and a decriminalised market will not help that. Instead I would propose full legalization of Cannabis while encouraging safer usage by oral consumption or using a vaporiser. Making serious restrictions to tobacco and reductions to availability of alcohol eg off-license may only supply alcohol from 4pm-midnight on weekdays and other soft drugs, MDMA, ketamine, LSD and psychocatic mushrooms may also be made available from specilised distributors and buyers will have to undergo education on administration, potential damages and safety. These drugs should be used either at home or in a specific controlled environment.

Hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines should be available only through the NHS. These would have to be administered by a trained nurse or doctor and if use is prolonged the doctor should gradually decrease dosage with each visit to aid the user’s recovery.

January 2012

Prepared 8th December 2012