Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Paul Sax (DP097)

Thank you for asking for the views of people on the subject of drug law, it is a subject I feel strongly about as I had my life prospects damaged at the age of 20 from being given a criminal record for cannabis use, which for many years only served to anger and cement me to the habit as well as teaching me to think like a criminal and see the police as an enemy, 40 years later it still damages my work options. I have also seen so many decent, honest people being sent to prison with such awful consequences to their lives and society as a whole that I thought I would submit a letter. I have no qualification for this except personal experience and reflection which I will attempt to communicate to you. As an ex-user I can do this, unlike many current users who would like to contribute their views yet are prevented from doing so from fear of the reprisals.

These laws have helped create the hatred felt towards the police and state by youngsters and ethnic minorities that is a very real problem in today’s society. Indeed at its heart the prohibition of drugs had racist origins- fear of the other, the unknown and misunderstood, the “yellow-peril” or the publicity of “reefer madness” which laughably said that your daughter will have one puff and have sex with a black man, all shameless but effective lies originally disseminated by US cotton and timber barons who received aid from corrupt politicians and law-enforcement agencies to remove hemp as a market competitor. Even now in this country black and Asian people have much more chance of being sent to prison than Caucasians for these offences.

It must surely be that in the future drug criminalisation will take its place alongside the, now seen to be unjust, historic anomalies of the criminalisation of homosexuality, abortion, or institutionalised racism. That the users of some drugs receive criminal penalties while users of another similar or more dangerous intoxicant (alcohol) do not, is an obvious injustice that derides any concept of equality under the law. Not only does scientific fact seem to have no part of this discrimination, the prejudicial treatment of some, mostly poor, drug users makes any associated problems worse, as well as make the sections of society most in need of drug education and help impervious to it. The whole terminology is wrong, the law and biased media have made it normal for the term drug-user solely to mean users of illegal drugs. Not only does this make no reference to the huge difference between the usage and effects of different illegal drugs, for instance lumping the occasional user of cannabis with a long-term heroin addict, it ignores the fact that damage from illegal drugs pales to insignificance next to the toll taken on the users of the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco and even the many casualties and addicts of drugs prescribed medically. The concentration on some drugs being illegal makes education to minimise the harms from all drugs impossible to undertake.

The Misuse of Drugs Act was enacted to prohibit, restrict or control ALL substances that may cause medical or social harm and grade them according to their relative dangers. That lawmakers choose to omit the inclusion of the drugs most used by themselves and the electoral majority is indicative of the hypocrisy that has always attended the application of this law. Also the haphazard, media-driven and scientifically ludicrous classifications that have been made over the years make this originally well-crafted law unworthy of any respect. There is no reason in this law that alcohol and tobacco should not be given a category under the MDA which permits licensed sale except that alcohol and tobacco users falsely see themselves in a different light than the users of other similar drugs, this is merely self-delusion and should have no basis in law. This irrational bias flouts natural justice as well as contributing to the hundreds of thousands of deaths every year in this country alone and the terrible health consequences from the very dangerous drugs tobacco and alcohol, which make up by far the greatest proportion of casualties from all drugs worldwide (even including the multitude of casualties and the poverty caused by the “war on drugs”). The only reason that has ever been given for this discrimination is that users of alcohol and tobacco have a historical and cultural basis for their unequal treatment under law which is a very flimsy excuse for locking up users of similar, often less dangerous substances which also often had traditional usage until the 1920s. Legal challenge of these irregularities has been constantly blocked by the home office, no doubt because they are aware of the poor legality of their position. For some insight into this please see the history of cases brought against the Home Office and the ACMD by Casey Hardison. This man has been declared a vexatious litigant in order to silence him, although who wouldn’t be vexatious after receiving a 20 year sentence for drugs that are irrationally and wrongfully declared class A under a misapplied MDA?

We still hear from our leaders the blatantly false assertion that tobacco and alcohol are used responsibly by the majority while other drugs are always used irresponsibly. If this were so there would be many less casualties from legal drugs and many more from illegal ones. This is not seen despite the added dangers that illegal drug-users face from having to resort to a criminally driven market with the attendant difficulties of obtaining supplies of their drug of choice that are pure, of a known dosage and the total lack of directions for safe use, as well as often not seeking medical help when it is needed because of fear of the police. This is especially true for the statistically few casualties from the drug MDMA, many of the widely advertised tragedies would not have happened but for drug impurities, fear of the law stopping people from seeking medical help and the sort of sheer ignorance which led to Leah Betts being drowned by her policeman father. Even heroin users die most often from the impossibility of giving themselves a known dosage of variable quality blackmarket heroin in clean surroundings. A law that increases the likelihood of death cannot be right. Recently the relaxation of penalties for cannabis was reversed by the pressure of media misinformation which completely ignored the severe mental health dangers of alcohol whilst wildly over-exaggerating the dangers to latent schizophrenics from cannabis. Even as a class C drug why would a potential five year sentence be inadequate to deter users and sellers? In fact cannabis use had declined after the change to category C, but politicians ignored this and ACMD advice solely to grovel to the press barons as we have seen so often over the past 90 years. This year we have witnessed some of the extent of police and political abasement to the tabloids and it stinks, yet it is still the main factor that makes any sensible rethink of drug policy impossible.

I believe that alcohol is unique in its effect of being so often liable to cause random violence and misbehaviour in its users, even noticed in normally moderate drinkers. In all my wide experience of watching drug users from junkies, hippies, cocaine-users, speed freaks and alcoholics I know there is no drug that makes people behave as badly as alcohol—socially, personally or sexually! In fact the total opposite to our leaders view is true and I doubt whether there is any alcohol drinker who has not misbehaved under its influence at sometime during their drinking history. The law should chastise people for their actions regardless of their chosen recreational drug and drug use of any sort should never be an excuse for bad behaviour. It is also pertinent to note the majority of people feel it is their right take alcohol for every conceivable celebration, as a reward after a good day or a bad day, as a ubiquitous social lubricant or for myriad other reasons yet it is a drug that is unable to be used by one third of the human race for religious reasons and many others for medical or personal reasons, why should all these people be denied any legal recreational alternative because they don’t use the addictive poison preferred by our lawmakers.

On the subject of other legal-highs apart from alcohol, many vendors of these products started in the business with the aim of reducing drug harm by supplying pure and less harmful alternatives to street drugs and to take away the very real danger that drugs can ruin your life by giving you a criminal record. It is obvious that as one substance is banned two others, possibly more dangerous, take its place. In one way or another this will always happen because human beings have a inbuilt desire (I would say a right) to change their consciousness and the more you try to suppress this urge the more the urge will push back. Your job should be to help make this natural desire as safe as possible, not to carry on with some hopeless pie-in-the-sky aim of changing an innate and basically positive aspect of human nature, as without this urge we may well have no religion, mysticism or philosophy. The law has in its usual way made all of these “legal high” products more dangerous by making any advice on contents or dosage illegal leading to the ridiculous and dangerous “plant food and bath salts” situation. If you did manage to stop this market, its customers will merely seek out criminal-based suppliers who will then have a longer menu to push to a wider customer base and even higher profits. The international criminal gangs don’t want a change in the law, the current status quo has made them rich. As their profits in recent years have been damaged by the “legal high” trade they would like these alternatives to illegal drugs banned as well; as usual the lawmakers seem intent on helping them.

Drug prohibition, as we saw with the 1920s alcohol prohibition in the US, causes so many of the widely perceived attendant evils of drugs—alienation, criminality, street gangs, guns, prostitution, poverty, easy access by youngsters, runaway addiction and many unintended overdoses, as well as giving drugs more allure to normal healthily rebellious youngsters. I realise that decriminalisation would not cure some people’s problems with drugs overnight and may initially increase use although it would most likely reduce harms immediately. But one thing for sure is that prohibition does not work nationally and is a disaster internationally, probably causing more misery than any other law on this planet. It also has meant that much innovative work in medicine and neuroscience is stifled as well as the ridiculous situation where we see ill and dying people denied cannabis-based medicines, even non-psychoactive ones, yet are freely given far more dangerous addictive opiate painkillers and benzodiazepines—it makes no sense and we have to ask what ignorance or corruption is behind this. Research into new painkillers, psychiatric medicines and even cancer therapies are not pursued merely because they may prove to be pleasurable to some people, this is enough for them to be immediately dropped by pharmaceutical companies who won’t spend money to research drugs which may then be “abused” and banned by lawmakers who seem determined to see only evil in pleasure, unless it is alcoholic pleasure which is socially encouraged. If research could find a non-addictive, non-toxic, pleasurable drug which could be used by people who need to self-medicate in order to live happily or to enjoy their recreation what would your opinion of it be? And why? I believe before you can meaningfully look at this issue you will have to examine your views on the attainment of pleasure, its relation to human happiness and social order and lose the fundamentalist idea that pleasure is always destructive of morality. Also you should consider why any government would want to needlessly alienate and criminalise millions of its citizens whilst providing many of the world’s worst criminals and terrorists with a bottomless pit of money, spending our taxes on a war on drugs that has succeeded in only filling our jails, increasing drug availability and lowering prices over the past forty years of the war on some people who use some drugs.

There will be those among you and many others now in highest office who have used illegal drugs yet were lucky in avoiding detection and the subsequent criminal record which would have prevented any success in their careers or even any career at all. To them I ask how many thousands of other talented but less fortunate young people have been denied a similar chance to benefit themselves and society, not because of any inherent damage done by their drug-use but solely because they got caught and punished by the law. I believe they, at least, should have the honour and bravery to speak up to stop future young lives being wasted by this unworkable and unjust law and find a way to deal with the issue of the dangers of drugs through social, medical and educational methods which will not damage lives and the fabric of society as the current criminal prohibition does.

To anyone who actually reads this far, thank you again for allowing this democratic debate. You have a chance to initiate a new paradigm for preventing harms from all drug use, I hope you are not prevented from doing this solely for fear of negative media or political response.

January 2012

Prepared 8th December 2012