Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Anonymous (DP 090)

1. Introduction

For professional reasons I wish to remain anonymous, suffice to say I am a university educated self employed businessman in the New Media sector. I am in my early 30s and am a regular user of soft drugs but I do not use alcohol or tobacco. My reasons for submission is I feel passionately about the grave hypocrisy and injustice inherent in the current policy on drug use and feel that prohibition does more harm than could. I have come to this conclusion based on personal experience and on evidence presented to me in media and from recognised professional bodies.

2. “Is present policy fiscally responsible?”

I’m sure I won’t be the first to reference the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit recent report “Taxing the UK Cannabis Market” which was released in August 2011. A lengthy and exhaustive examination on the cost of legalising the most widely used illegal narcotic, cannabis. In it the projected boost to tax coffers (in a time when austerity is being forced on every aspect of public life) would be in the region of billions, taking into account the extra costs of administrating taxation and regulation and the savings from a reduction in legal costs. To quote the report conclusions “10.5.1 Overall the net benefit to the taxpayer of a taxed and regulated cannabis market could range from £3.4 billion to £9.5 billion per annum, with a best estimate of £6.7 billion per year at recent market levels” Daily I read news reports of massive police operations to prosecute one individual for the possession of a few cannabis plants and the subsequent legal proceedings and each time I ask myself how we can afford such wasteful proceedings when the cost to society of personal cannabis use is debatable. Can the Prohibitionists justify the expense in police time and effort on what is essentially a health matter better handled by harm reduction rather than criminalisation?

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

I have yet to see a government provide scientific evidence that the current policy on drug use is better than one of harm reduction and regulation. Indeed I have noticed a shying away from evidence based policy from successive governments with the treatment of Prof David Nutt and the recent appointments to Governments advisory committee on drug policy. To me and many of my peers it would seem that the Government is incapable of providing evidence to back up its continued stance and instead tries to ignore the debate or rely on unsubstantiated rumours purported by tabloid newspapers rather than the opinions of professionals. I, like many in my social bracket have regular experience of cannabis and other soft drugs and still manage to maintain my sanity and keep a job.

Speaking from personal testimony I recall the treatment the synthetic canniboid JWH-071 more commonly known as “Spice” was given by the previous administration in 2009. I was a regular user of the product, a treat for the weekend or after a hard day’s work. As I find alcohol and its effects unpleasant my options were limited in so far as keeping within the law and using a substance which didn’t have the same unwanted effect on me as alcohol. For over a year I regularly used the substance to no ill effects and kept up to date with other’s experiences of the JWH-071 via internet accounts and the experiences of my friends. At no point did I ever hear of anybody being hospitalised by it, at best the most negative reports were that it didn’t work or it wasn’t strong enough. But without any evidence of health risk to back it up JWH-071 was made illegal by the Home Secretary of the time, Jacqui Smith. I can only summarise the reason for the criminalisation of JWH-071 was not based on any actual health risk but for solely political reasons in so far as it was like cannabis and therefore in the minds of some far worse than the effects of alcohol which cause havoc every weekend to great public expense in this country.

Whereas I have no doubt there are those for whom the pleasures of drugs provide too much of a temptation and will destroy their lives the same can be said for the effects of alcohol, gambling and other indulgences but few are seriously arguing that criminalisation of such pursuits is preferable to regulation and support for problem users. Why should users of currently illegal drugs be treated more harshly than alcoholics and compulsive gamblers? Personally I find alcohol to be an awful drug and gambling to be a pointless endeavour but I would not demand that their users be treated as criminals, I would like the same tolerance to be afforded to the habits of my peers and I. There are few who can say live their lives entirely without the “vices” (or what I would prefer to call the “spices”).

I would also ask under what right the State has over what I choose to ingest for my own personal enjoyment and sometimes education. I found experiences with illegal hallucinogenics to be both emotionally and spiritually rewarding yet I have to break the law to reach such epiphanies yet those who choose to find their answers to life via religious means are not only left to their own devices but in some cases receive tax benefits. Are my rights to explore the human condition without causing harm to anyone else not as important as more traditional means of personal exploration? Am I more of a danger to society taking magic mushrooms at home with friends than a preacher telling their followers to hate other members of society because god told them so?

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

Those more inclined to statistics and official reports than me will no doubt provide evidence that since the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 problem drug use has exploded and the illegal drugs trade as blossomed more than any other industry across the world. By now between 1–3 million people regularly use cannabis as opposed to the few hundred thousand since before the Act. People clearly aren’t put off experimenting with drugs by the legality of them and regular users only find the effects of the laws to be an inconvenience rather than a dissuading influence. So long as the Government continues to view drug use as a criminal matter rather than one of a health issue then it will completely misjudge the issue at hand and therefore its targets will be meaningless. For every ton of illegal drugs caught many more get through, across the world whole nations (such as Mexico) are destabilised by the illegal drugs trade. Surely if the current policy were any success this trend would be going down rather than up?

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

With reference to the previous administration (and on the evidence that the current administration is happy to continue its policies on the matter” I refer to the debacle surrounding the sacking of David Nutt and the resignation of many within the ACMD because of undue political influence and agendas which made their position professionally untenable. It would seem that every time a professional expresses an opinion different from the Governments position they find themselves out of job. One wonders why the government bothers with an Advisory Council at all?

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

With reference to the findings of the “Taxing the UK Cannabis Market” report police expenditure is £500 million pounds a year on what should be a health matter at best. This is a lot of money to be spending on a morally ambiguous crusade fuelled by tabloid headlines when the money could be best spent treating problem users and on other areas of policing.

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

In countries which have a more liberal attitude to cannabis use such as Holland and Portugal use has been seen to go down, particularly among the young. Surely if the government’s view on drug use is its reduction the evidence suggests that decriminalisation is way forward rather than prohibition. Again I would refer to the benefits of a regulated and controlled market as opposed to one in the hands of criminal organisations.

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

Unless the government is dictating morals onto its citizens then surely the only consideration with regards to drug use should be its public health consequences whether that is in the physical and mental health of the problem user or the effects that problem users actions have on those around them. Note how I use the term “problem user” rather than anyone who uses narcotics.

9. The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse

Personally I see no distinction between alcohol and other (illegal) drugs. I have seen far more destruction wrought by a bottle of vodka than a bong, I’ve been in relationships which were destroyed by alcohol use yet never had one turn sour because of cannabis or MDMA. I have seen violence caused by alcohol yet never seen a user of cannabis, MDMA, LSD or any other chemical turn on me and others in quite the horrifying way that alcohol does. I don’t touch the substance myself because in the past it has had that appalling effect on me, I only wish others who had the same reaction to alcohol’s effects had the same resolve to quit or to find more narcotics more amenable to their personality that I did. This is the greatest hypocrisy about drug prohibition which angers me most, alcohol is no different a narcotic than those that are illegal. To treat it as so, to ignore the lessons taught to us by alcohol prohibition in America during the 1920s is the real crime and one that many in this country are guilty of. Perhaps unwittingly, for society is only slowly realising the nonsense it has been fed the past 40 years and I notice a rising sea-change in public opinion even going by nothing else than the comment sections in media reports of drug matters. The government is already in danger of being at odds with the public opinion it claims to represent.

As a final aside on the matter I find it an affront that Westminster as a place of work not only has a bar serving alcohol when key matters of state are being discussed and acted upon but that members can also smoke tobacco at that bar. Hardly a good example for an establishment that has the audacity to dictate to the rest of us how to use narcotics.

10. The links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism

As touched on briefly before the illegal drugs trade is one of the biggest businesses in the world, a trade which exists on violence, intimidation and whose profits fuel all sorts of criminal endeavours. None of this trade is taxed, and its influence destabilises whole nations. 30,000 people in Mexico alone have been killed by violence between drug gangs and the state in the past few years and all because current global drugs policy allows such massive and wealthy criminal organisations to exist. It would almost seem as if the state is in collusion with criminal organisations to keep drugs illegal and highly profitable at the expense of public health and safety. It is time to be realistic, where there is a market there will be people wanting to exploit it especially when the profits are so high. Alcohol prohibition in America during the 1920s gave rise to the Mafia, so drug prohibition has given rise to organisations which span across the world in power and influence.

Summary

This is my personal view on drugs policy. Others will supply hard facts and figures to back up the argument and I hope the Committee views this with a fresh attitude and a progressive mindset. We have tried prohibition and it has failed by the definition of its own goals. More people use drugs than ever before and most of those manage maintain a decent hardworking life. Should they be deemed criminals just for what they put into their own bodies? And should those who cannot handle the substances they can get hold of be forced into the darkness rather than get the treatment and support they need because of the legal implications? Should this trade be in the hands of violent criminals or regulated producers and their products taxed to help those who for lack of character or education fall foul of narcotics? Is someone who grows a few cannabis plants to help with their own health complaints a cause of concern for the police over violent thugs who cause injury to person and property? We have an opportunity here to do the smart thing, put hysteria aside and make a policy shift that will not only put money INTO tax coffers but also bring a whole chunk of society out of the darkness and into the light where problems can be addressed and the rest can go about their otherwise law abiding lives without the fear of having them ruined not by drug use itself but by the legal and social consequences of being prosecuted for a habit which done with due care and in moderation causes no harm to anyone else. We can do the smart thing or just continue banging our heads against the wall expecting a different result.

January 2012

Prepared 8th December 2012