Legalisation of drugs could save UK £14bn, says study
The regulated legalisation of drugs would have major benefits for taxpayers, victims of crime, local communities and the criminal justice system, according to the first comprehensive comparison between the cost-effectiveness of legalisation and prohibition. The authors of the report, which is due to be published today, suggest that a legalised, regulated market could save the country around £14bn.
For many years the government has been under pressure to conduct an objective cost-benefit analysis of the current drugs policy, but has failed to do so despite calls from MPs. Now the drugs reform charity, Transform, has commissioned its own report, examining all aspects of prohibition from the costs of policing and investigating drugs users and dealers to processing them through the courts and their eventual incarceration.
As well as such savings is the likely taxation revenue in a regulated market. However, there are also the potential costs of increased drug treatment, education and public information campaigns about the risks and dangers of drugs, similar to those for tobacco and alcohol, and the costs of running a regulated system.
The report looked at four potential scenarios, ranging from no increase in drugs use to a 100% rise as they become more readily available.
"The conclusion is that regulating the drugs market is a dramatically more cost-effective policy than prohibition and that moving from prohibition to regulated drugs markets in England and Wales would provide a net saving to taxpayers, victims of crime, communities, the criminal justice system and drug users of somewhere within the range of, for the four scenarios, £13.9bn, £10.8bn, £7.7bn, £4.6bn."
Titled a Comparison of the Cost-effectiveness of the Prohibition and Regulation of Drugs, the report uses government figures on the costs of crime to assess the potential benefits and disadvantages of change. The document, co-written by Steve Rolles, head of research at Transform, uses home office and No 10 strategy unit reports to form its conclusions.
It finds: "The government specifically claims the benefits of any move away from prohibition towards legal regulation would be outweighed by the costs. No such cost-benefit analysis, or even a proper impact assessment of existing enforcement policy and legislation has ever been carried out here or anywhere else in the world."
Taxing drugs would also provide big revenue gains, says the survey. An Independent Drug Monitoring Unit estimate, quoted in the report, suggests up to £1.3bn could be generated by a £1 per gram tax on cannabis resin and £2 per gram on skunk.
The report follows calls for legalisation or a full debate on reform. Last month, the Economist concluded: "Prohibition has failed; legalisation is the least bad solution."
Superb! Do you think they could tell our Government about it. I'm sure they'd be intrigued at the concept of a revenue stream to exploit us that they have failed to implement. Maybe the revolution of the sixties could be reborn.
They only problem I could envisage is that they would realise , that if the country chilled en mass, and started to get their heads round what our government is doing to us, and as much of the world it can abuse it's power in,they would become the first people who would have to go. Such a sweet dream. A pipe dream even
Decriminalize marijuana The war on drugs has caused too much collateral damage: Even the ill face stigmatization by using an alternative to harsh pharmaceuticals.
I'm on the phone getting a recipe for hashish butter. Not from my dealer but from Lester Grinspoon, a physician and emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. And not for a party but for my 9-year-old son, who has autism, anxiety and digestive problems, all of which are helped by the analgesic and psychoactive properties of marijuana. I wouldn't be giving it to my child if I didn't think it was safe.
I came to marijuana while searching for a safer alternative to the powerful antipsychotic drugs, such as Risperdal, that are typically prescribed for children with autism and other behavioral disorders. There have been few studies on the long-term effects of these drugs on a growing child's brain, and in particular autism, a disorder whose biochemical mechanisms are poorly understood. But there is much documentation of the risks, which has caused the Food and Drug Administration to require the highest-level "black box" warnings of possible side effects that include permanent Parkinson's disease-like tremors, metabolic disorders and death. A panel of federal drug experts in 2008 urged physicians to use caution when prescribing these medicines to children, as they are the most susceptible to side effects.
We live in Rhode Island, one of more than a dozen states -- including California -- with medical marijuana laws. That makes giving our son cannabis for a medical condition legal. But we are limited in its use. We cannot take it on a plane on a visit to his grandmother in Minnesota.
Even though we are not breaking the law, I still wonder what my neighbors would think if they knew we were giving our son what most people only think of as an illegal "recreational" drug. Marijuana has always carried that illicit tang of danger -- "reefer madness" and foreign drug cartels. But in 1988, Drug Enforcement Administration Judge Francis L. Young, after two years of hearings, deemed marijuana "one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. ... In strict medical terms, marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume."
Beyond helping people like my son, the reasons to legalize cannabis on a federal level are manifold. Anecdotal evidence from patients already attests to its pain-relieving properties, and the benefits in quelling chemotherapy-induced nausea and wasting syndrome are well documented. Future studies may find even more important medical uses.
Including marijuana in the war on drugs has only proved foolhardy -- and costly. By keeping marijuana illegal and prices high, illicit drug money from the U.S. sustains the murderous narco-traffickers in Mexico and elsewhere. In fact, after seeing how proximity to marijuana growers affected the small Mexican village of Alamos, where my husband spent much of his childhood, I was adamant about never entering into that economy of violence.
Because Rhode Island has no California-like medical marijuana dispensaries, the patient must apply for a medical marijuana license and then find a way to procure the cannabis. We floundered on our own until we finally connected with a local horticultural school graduate who agreed to provide our son's organic marijuana. But given the seedy underbelly of the illegal drug trade, combined with the current economic collapse, even our grower has to be mindful of not exposing himself to robbery.
Legalizing marijuana not only removes the incentives for this underground economy, it would allow for regulation and taxation of the product, just like cigarettes and alcohol. The potential for abuse is there, as it is with any substance, but toxicology studies have not even been able to establish a lethal dose at typical-use levels. In fact, in 1988, Young of the DEA further stated that "it is estimated that ... a smoker would theoretically have to consume ... nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about 15 minutes to induce a lethal response." Nor is it physically addicting, unlike your daily Starbucks, as anyone who has suffered from a caffeine withdrawal headache can attest.
Although it has been demonized for years, marijuana hasn't been illegal in the U.S. for that long. The cannabis plant became criminalized on a federal level in 1937, largely because of the efforts of one man, Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the then newly formed Bureau of Narcotics, largely through sensationalistic stories of murder and mayhem conducted supposedly under the influence of cannabis. Cannabis was still listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia, or USP, until 1941 as a household drug useful for treating headaches, depression, menstrual cramps and toothaches, and drug companies worked to develop a stronger strain.
In 1938, a skeptical Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York, appointed a committee to conduct the first in-depth study of marijuana's actual effects. It found that, despite the government's fervent claims, marijuana did not cause insanity or act as a gateway drug. It also found no scientific reason for its criminalization. In 1972, President Nixon's Shafer Commission similarly concluded that cannabis should be re-legalized.
Both recommendations were ignored, and since then billions of dollars have been spent enforcing the ban. Public policy analyst Jon Gettman, author of the 2007 report, "Lost Revenues and Other Costs of Marijuana Laws," estimated marijuana-related annual costs of law enforcement at $10.7 billion.
I was heartened to hear California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent call for the U.S. to at least look at other nations' experiences with legalizing marijuana -- and to open a debate. And given the real security threats the nation faces, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.'s announcement that the federal government would no longer conduct raids on legal medicinal marijuana dispensaries was a prudent move. Decriminalizing marijuana is the logical next step.
I have posted Super High Me in the standup video thread, the medical mj in California is covered in this documentary, explaining the state/federal law difference and showing the D.E.A. busting the pot clinics.
Alcohol and cigarettes are more harmful than Ecstasy and LSD, says drugs tsar
Ecstasy, LSD and cannabis are less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes, the Government’s chief drug adviser claims today.
Professor David Nutt is calling for a new ‘index of harm’ to warn the public about the relative dangers of various substances.
He says alcohol should rank fifth, behind only cocaine, heroin, barbiturates and methadone, while tobacco should rank ninth, ahead of cannabis, LSD and Ecstasy.
His comments are likely to prove explosive, given the seniority of his position. Professor Nutt has also courted controversy in the past - by suggesting taking ecstasy was no more dangerous than riding a horse.
But, defending his position, Professor Nutt says: 'I think we have to accept young people like to experiment – with drugs and other potentially harmful activities – and what we should be doing in all of this is to protect them from harm at this stage of their lives.
'We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you’re probably wrong.'
In a wide-ranging article for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, the scientist - who resisted the reclassification of cannabis from C to B - accused - claimed that smoking the drug created only a 'relatively small risk' of psychotic illness.
He accused former home secretary Jacqui Smith, who regraded the drug amid widespread concerns about the harmful effects of super-strength skunk - of 'distorting and devaluing' scientific research.
And he attacked what he called the 'artificial' separation of alcohol and tobacco from other, illegal, drugs.
Professor Nutt contends that, by ranking alcohol and smoking alongside the abuse of illegal drugs, the public will be better informed of the risks they are taking.
He said drug classification based on research evidence would ‘be a powerful educational tool’. Basing classification on the desire 'to give messages other than those relating to relative harms does great damager to the educational message’, he clams.
The comments are certain to provoke a backlash from anti-drug campaigners. They also raise the possibility of the current drug classification system - which puts banned substances into A, B and C categories - being ripped-up.
Earlier this year, Professor Nutt earned a rebuke from the Government for suggesting that taking ecstasy was 'no worse than riding a horse'.
Ex-home secretary Jacqui Smith accused the scientist of 'trivialising' the dangers of drugs and showing 'insensitivity to the families of victims' of ecstasy.
She instructed him to make apologise to the families of those who had been killed by the dance drug.
But, within days of the row erupting, his ACMD recommended Ecstasy should be downgraded from Class A to B. The proposal was rejected outright by the Government.
second proposal to give out kits to allow users to test their tablets in advance for purity and strength was also thrown out by the Home Office.
But Prof Nutt remains adamant that 'I think there's very little doubt that we, the scientists, won the intellectual argument'. In today's paper, he also describes the media's reaction to his horse riding remark as 'extreme'.
He is unlikely to find favour with his latest comments. The idea of re-opening the thorny debate about drug classification in the run-up to a General Election will not be embraced by either Labour or the Tories.
But Richard Garside, director of the CCJS, based at King's College London, said, 'Professor Nutt’s briefing gives us an insight into what drugs policy might look like if it was based on the research evidence, rather than political posturing and moralistic positioning.'
Professor Nutt is chair of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and heads up the Psychopharmacology Unit at the University of Bristol.
Professor David Nutt: The cannabis conundrum By keeping cannabis as a class B drug, it's possible that, far from deterring its use, we actually increase its cachet
As the headlines this week alone demonstrate, the whole process of determining drug classification has become quite complex and highly politicised. I focus on cannabis partly because it is the only drug that has been downgraded in the whole history of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, which established the present system of drug classification, but also because the issues relating to cannabis pose a challenge to whether the act is working as it was originally intended.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) was requested by the home secretary in 2007 to review the status of cannabis because: "Though statistics show that cannabis use has fallen significantly, there is real public concern about the potential mental health effects of cannabis use, in particular the use of stronger forms of the drug, commonly known as skunk."
So, there was a skunk scare. Cannabis had gone from class B to C, but, supposedly, skunk use had been increasing and it was getting stronger, so we were asked to review whether the decision to go from B to C was still appropriate. In what was the ACMD's third cannabis report (Rawlins et al, 2008), we came to several conclusions:
● Cannabis is a harmful drug and there are concerns about the widespread use of cannabis among young people.
● A concerted public health response is required to drastically reduce its use.
● Current evidence suggests a probable, but weak, causal link between psychotic illness and cannabis use.
● The harms caused by cannabis are not considered to be as serious as drugs in class B and therefore it should remain a class C drug.
On that final point, there has been a lot of commentary and some research as to whether cannabis is associated with schizophrenia, and the results are really quite difficult to interpret.
What we can say is that cannabis use is associated with an increased experience of psychotic disorders. That is quite a complicated thing to disentangle because, of course, the reason people take cannabis is that it produces a change in their mental state. These changes are a bit akin to being psychotic – they include distortions of perception, especially in visual and auditory perception, as well as in the way one thinks. So it can be quite hard to know whether, when you analyse the incidence of psychotic disorders with cannabis, you are simply looking at the acute effects of cannabis, as opposed to some consequence of cannabis use.
If we look on the generous side, there is a likelihood that taking cannabis, particularly if you use a lot of it, will make you more prone to having psychotic experiences. That includes schizophrenia. But schizophrenia is a relatively rare condition, so it's very hard to be sure about its causation. The analysis we came up with was that smokers of cannabis are about 2.6 times more likely to have a psychotic-like experience than non-smokers. To put that figure in proportion, you are 20 times more likely to get lung cancer if you smoke tobacco than if you don't.
The other paradox is that schizophrenia seems to be disappearing (from the general population), even though cannabis use has increased markedly in the last 30 years. So, even though skunk has been around now for 10 years, there has been no upswing in schizophrenia. In fact, where people have looked, they haven't found any evidence linking cannabis use in a population and schizophrenia.
Nevertheless, one of the key arguments in moving cannabis from class C to B was the concern that skunk would cause more psychosis. What is very regularly invoked in this debate is the precautionary principle, which is that, if you're not sure about a drug harm, rank it high, make all drugs class A and get rid of the problem.
In her statement to the Commons, after receiving the ACMD's report but rejecting its recommendation to keep cannabis as a class C drug, Jacqui Smith, the former home secretary, said: "We must err on the side of caution and protect the public." As this is protection from the known unknowns, at first sight it might seem the obvious decision – why wouldn't you take the precautionary principle?
But the precautionary principle is also an act of faith in deterrence, and this is one of the key issues for lawyers. Does deterrence impact on drug use? We don't know. In fact, the outcome may be the opposite of that predicted. It may be that if you move a drug up a class, it has a greater cachet.
I think we have to accept young people like to experiment, and what we should be doing is to protect them from harm at this stage of their lives. We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. We have to tell them the truth, so that they use us as their preferred source of information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you're probably wrong.
David Nutt's dangerous drug list How harmful are the drugs on the list drawn up by the ousted government drugs adviser and his colleagues?
Professor David Nutt was last week forced to resign from his role as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Research by Nutt and his colleagues, published in the medical journal the Lancet in 2007, rates the following as the most dangerous drugs. (They are listed in descending order from the most harmful and all figures are for England and Wales in 2008 unless stated otherwise.)
Class A drug. Originally used as a painkiller and derived from the opium poppy. There were 897 deaths recorded from heroin and morphine use in 2008 in England and Wales, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). There were around 13,000 seizures, amounting to 1.6m tonnes of heroin.
Class A. Stimulant produced from the South American coca leaf. Accounted for 235 deaths – a sharp rise on the previous year's fatalities. Nearly 25,000 seizures were made, amounting to 2.9 tonnes of the drug.
Class B. Synthetic sedatives used for anaesthetic purposes. Blamed for 13 deaths.
4. Street methadone
Class A. A synthetic opioid, commonly used as a substitute for treating heroin patients. Accounted for 378 deaths and there were more than 1,000 seizures of the drug.
Subject to increasing concern from the medical profession about its damage to health. According to the ONS, there were 8,724 alcohol deaths in the UK in 2007. Other sources claim the true figure is far higher.
Class C. A hallucinogenic dance drug for clubbers. There were 23 ketamine-related deaths in the UK between 1993 and 2006. Last year there were 1,266 seizures.
Class C. A hypnotic relaxant used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Includes drugs such as diazepam, temazepam and nitrazepam. Caused 230 deaths and 1.8m doses were confiscated in more than 4,000 seizure operations.
Class B. A psychostimulant that combats fatigue and suppresses hunger. Associated with 99 deaths, although this tally includes some ecstasy deaths. Nearly 8,000 seizures, adding up to almost three tonnes.
A stimulant that is highly addictive due to its nicotine content. More than 100,000 people a year die from smoking and tobacco-related diseases, including cancer, respiratory diseases and heart disease.
An opiate used for pain control, and sometimes as a substitute to wean addicts off heroin. Said to have caused 43 deaths in the UK between 1980 and 2002.
Class B. A psychoactive drug recently appearing in stronger forms such as "skunk". The subject of intense controversy over its long-term effects and capacity for inducing schizophrenia. Caused 19 deaths and there were 186,000 seizures, netting 65 tonnes of the drug and 640,000 cannabis plants.
Fumes inhaled to produce a sense of intoxication. Usually abused by teenagers. Derived from commonly available products such as glue and aerosol sprays. Causes around 50 deaths a year.
Class A. Originally designed for laboratory research. Releases serotonin in the body. Only four deaths reported in the UK between 1997 and 2004.
Class A. Hallucinogenic drug originally synthesised by a German chemist in 1938. Very few deaths recorded.
Class B drug. Brand name of Ritalin. A psychostimulant sometimes used in the treatment of attention deficit disorders.
16. Anabolic steroids
Class C. Used to develop muscles, notably in competitive sports. Also alleged to induce aggression. Have been blamed for causing deaths among bodybuilders. More than 800 seizures.
Class C drug. A clear liquid dance drug said to induce euphoria, also described as a date rape drug. Can trigger comas and suppress breathing. Caused 20 deaths and 47 seizures were recorded.
Class A. Psychoactive dance drug. Caused 44 deaths, with around 5,000 seizures made.
19. Alykl nitrites
Known as "poppers". Inhaled for their role as a muscle relaxant and supposed sexual stimulant. Reduce blood pressure, which can cause fainting and in some cases death.
A psychoactive plant, the leaves of which are chewed in east Africa and Yemen. Also known as qat. Produces mild psychological dependence. Its derivatives, cathinone and cathine, are Class C drugs in the UK.
In the drugs debate, politicians are intoxicated by cowardice Nutt was the victim of an outdated taboo that neither Johnson nor Cameron appear to have the courage to challenge
Even Alan Johnson must know his sacking of David Nutt was a mistake. The boast that he was being "big enough, strong enough, bold enough" to make such decisions was a gift to the gods of hypocrisy. If he was that big and strong he would have ignored Nutt and not pretended that an academic lecture on drug classification constituted a "public campaign" against him. Nutt's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs had been humiliated by Johnson and his colleagues, and rendered virtually useless. Leave the guy alone.
It is not the mistakes politicians make that matter, but why they make them. The Labour government's drugs policy must qualify as the worst confection of unreason even in Whitehall's copious canon. This is not for want of advice or research. Few subjects have been more rigorously investigated, not least by Nutt and his collapsed committee.
We know the differential impact of narcotics on the brain. We chart the evolution of schizophrenia in drug users. We can measure harm reduction schemes across Europe. We can even balance the impact of education against deterrence in curbing drug use. When I hear of another committee, conference or seminar on drugs policy I scream: "Don't waste the money: spend it on rehab instead."
Researching drug use is pointless since policy on the subject has nothing to do with evidence, only emotion. It has to do with fear of the unknown, the taboo of other people's escapist narcotics (or worse, those of one's children). Politicians could not care less what experts say – witness this week's smattering of support for Johnson. They care only for the rightwing press, whose editors suffer a similar taboo.
The test was how the Tories reacted to Nutt's sacking. Faced with a home secretary gasping for air, Cameron and his home affairs spokesman, Chris Grayling, rushed forward with oxygen. Parting company with half the cabinet and the weight of scientific opinion, Cameron had a bad attack of funk. He refused to defend Nutt, and asserted his conviction that ecstasy was as harmful as heroin and crack cocaine. This was the same Cameron who, as a backbench member of the home affairs select committee in 2001, had supported Nutt in taking the opposite view. He must know what he said this week was rubbish.
All these politicians accept in private that the law is in chronic need of reform. Yet should they dare murmur so, they seem terrified of being assailed by the Mail, the Sun and the Telegraph. They could handle the House of Commons. They could even carry their constituents. But the rightwing press holds them in thrall, perhaps because they feel powerless before its lash. Might their youthful indiscretions be discovered, or the antics of their children pursued?
Politicians can stand the pressure of corpses piling up in Helmand, but one corpse at a rave would be too much for their consciences. Whenever I have tackled Home Office ministers, from Jack Straw and Charles Clarke to recent, less distinguished holders of the office, the response is the same. Don't even think about it, they cry. We would be crucified by the press. Just say no to drugs reform.
I served on the 2000 police foundation committee on the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, the only exhaustive study of the act ever undertaken. It was set up with the government's blessing and members included David Nutt, distinguished pharmacologists and two chief police officers. Our conclusions were mild, embracing a redirection of drugs policy towards harm reduction and a partial decriminalisation of cannabis use.
Polling evidence showed a wide gulf between a public desire for toughness on hard drugs on the one hand; and on the other, two-thirds of opinion that regarded cannabis as "least harmful". An overwhelming majority thought chasing cannabis users was "not a police priority", and a significant majority, from all ages and social groups, favoured cannabis decriminalisation. That was confirmed in other similar polls.
What happened next was a textbook case of Tony Blair's governing style. The home secretary, Jack Straw, went ape, reputedly on the instructions of Alastair Campbell, then at the height of his Downing Street ascendancy. They feared that the slightest welcome for the report's findings might have the government castigated by the rightwing press, of which Campbell lived in perpetual fear. The committee's chairman, Ruth Runciman, was summoned in advance of publication and castigated by Straw in front of his team, until Mo Mowlam had to suggest it might be better if they all read the document first.
When the report appeared it was well received. The Daily Mail, in a front-page editorial, welcomed it and said it had delivered "a mature and serious national debate". The Telegraph was even more favourable and criticised Straw for "misjudging the public mood". The head of the Metropolitan police was supportive.
In other words it was quite untrue that the public and press were opposed to drugs law reform. Realising this, Straw performed a U-turn and was induced, apparently by Campbell, to write an article full of wishy-washy assertions for the News of the World. It warmly welcomed the report and further debate. There was none. The subject was buried.
The incident was a classic example of public policy determined by ministers trying to second-guess Fleet Street. Drugs policy is desperately important. It has the power to wreck lives, families and communities. It underpins a third of crime and 80% of acquisitive crime. Four decades of illegality have done nothing to curb consumption, merely breeding the most lucrative, untaxed product market in Britain. No country has achieved the remotest success with prohibition, but Britain's archaic laws have been the least successful. Go to any deprived area, any difficult school, any failing social service, and the root cause of trouble is drugs.
There is no evidence that the public is averse to reform of the 1971 law, indeed the opposite. Why senior politicians should accord mystical influence to a few irrationalist newspaper editorialists is bizarre. Ministers and opposition leaders disregard the press on war and peace, on indulging banks, and on infringing civil liberties. The media's bluff is called every day on some topic or other – and rightly so. The press, like the pope, can field no divisions.
So what is it about drugs? Britain's deepest social problem is blighted by political cowardice towards an outdated taboo. But who will break the spell?
Johann Hari: Accept the facts – and end this futile 'war on drugs' We are handing one of our biggest industries over to armed, criminal gangs
The proponents of the "war on drugs" are well-intentioned people who believe they are saving people from the nightmare of drug addiction and making the world safer. But this self-image has turned into a faith – and like all faiths, it can only be maintained by cultivating a deliberate blindness to the evidence.
The recent furore about the British government's decision to fire its chief scientific advisor on drugs, Professor David Nutt, missed the point. Yes, it is shocking that he was ditched for pointing out the mathematical truth that taking ecstasy is less dangerous than horse-riding, and that smoking cannabis is less harmful than drinking alcohol. But this is how the war on drugs has to be fought. The unofficial slogan of the prohibitionists for decades has been: The facts will only undermine the war, so invent some that show how successful we are, fast.
Look at the United States, the country that pioneered the drug war, and still uses its military and diplomatic might to demand the rest of the world cracks down. In 1998, the Office of National Drug Control Policy was ordered by Congress to stop funding any scientific research that might give the impression that we should redirect funding from anti-trafficking busts into medical treatment of addicts, or that there is any argument to legalise, regulate or medicalise drug use.
It's Nutt cubed: only tell us what we want to hear. So, to give a small example, the ONDCP spent $14bn on anti-cannabis adverts aimed at teenagers, and $43m to find out if the ads worked. They discovered that kids who saw the ads were more likely afterwards to get stoned, so the evidence was suppressed, and the ad campaign marched on.
What would happen if we started to build our drugs policy around the facts, rather than our desire for a fuzzy feeling inside? Prof Nutt only took baby steps in this direction before he was booted out. He argued that we should rank drugs by the harm they do, rather than by the size of the panicked headlines they trigger. Now the row is fading, it is possible to see how conservative he was. A must-read new report out this week – "After The War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation", by the Transform Drug Policy Foundation – follows the facts as far as they will take us. It shows that the rational solution is to take the drug market back from the unregulated anarchy of criminal gangs, and transfer it to pharmacists, off-licences, and doctors who operate in the legal economy. To see why this is necessary, we have to look at some of the facts our politicians refuse to see:
Fact One The drug war hands one of our biggest industries to armed criminal gangs, who unleash terrible violence across the country. When alcohol was prohibited in the US in the 1920s, it didn't vanish. No: armed gangsters like Al Capone stepped in and sold it – and they shot anybody who got in their way. Yet today, Wine Rack does not shoot up Threshers. Oddbins does not threaten to kill anybody who sees its staff selling wine. Why? Because it wasn't the booze that caused the violence; it was the prohibition. Once alcohol was reclaimed for legal businesses, the dealer-on-dealer violence swiftly stopped.
Where there is a huge profit to be made in a black market – it's 3,000 per cent on drugs today – people will fight and kill to control it. Arrest a dealer, and you simply trigger a new war for his patch, with the rest of us caught in the crossfire. In 1986, the Nobel-prize winning economist, Milton Friedman, calculated that there are 10,000 murders in the US alone every year caused this way. Legalise, and you bankrupt most organised crime overnight. With their profits in freefall, the gangsters don't suddenly become cuddly – but the huge financial incentives to remain a gangster wither fast. It's the drug war that keeps them in business, and legalisation that shuts them down. As Friedman said: "Prohibition is the drug dealer's best friend."
Fact Two Under prohibition, drug use becomes more hardcore. Before alcohol prohibition, most Americans drank beer and wine. After prohibition was introduced, super-strong moonshine became the most popular drink, as booze rapidly became 150 per cent stronger. Why?
The writer Richard Cowan called it "the iron law of prohibition": whenever you criminalise a substance, it gets stronger. Because they are smuggling and stashing a substance, the dealers condense their product to give the biggest possible kick while taking up the smallest possible space. It's at work today: it's why dealers invented crack in the 1980s. The researchers Matthew Robinson and Renee Scherlen found: "The increased deadly nature of drugs under prohibition led to 15,000 more deaths in 2000 [in the US alone] than [if] prohibition had not made drugs more dangerous."
Fact Three The drug war doesn't reduce drug use – but the alternatives can. Some people believe these two dark side-effects are a price worth paying if prohibition stops a significant number of people from picking up their first bong or needle. It was an understandable enough argument – until the evidence came in from countries that have experimented with ending the drug war.
On 1 July 2001, Portugal decriminalised the possession of all drugs, including heroin and cocaine. You can have and use as much as you like for your own needs, and if you are caught, the police might refer you to a rehab programme, but you will never get a criminal record. (Supplying and selling remains illegal.) The prohibitionists predicted a catastrophic rise in addiction, and even I – an instinctive legaliser – was nervous.
Now we know: overall drug use actually fell a little. As a major study by Glenn Greenwald for The Cato Institute found, among Portuguese teenagers the fall was fastest: 13-year-olds are four per cent less likely to use drugs, and 16-year-olds are six per cent less likely. As the iron law of prohibition predicts, the use of hard drugs has fallen fastest: heroin use has crashed by nearly 50 per cent among the young who were not yet addicted. The Portuguese have switched the billions that used to be spent chasing and jailing addicts to providing them with prescriptions and rehab. The number of people in drug treatment is now up by 147 per cent. Almost nobody in Portugal wants to go back. Indeed, many citizens want to take the next step: legalise supply too, and break the back of the gangs.
Portugal is no fluke. It turns out that wherever the drug laws are relaxed, drug use stays the same, or – where spending is switched to treatment – declines. Between 1972 and 1978, 11 US states decriminalised marijuana possession. The National Research Council found that the number of dope-smokers stayed the same. In Switzerland, a decade ago the government started providing legal centres where people could safely inject heroin – for free. Burglary rates fell by 60 per cent, and street homelessness ended. A study by The Lancet – one of the most respected medical journals in the world – found that the rate of people becoming new heroin addicts fell by 82 per cent. Why? Heroin addicts didn't need to recruit new addicts to sell to in order to feed their habit. The pyramid scheme of heroin addiction was broken.
So the drug war doesn't achieve its goal of reducing addiction. All it does achieve is horrific gang violence – and in some cases the cartels gut whole countries like Mexico and Afghanistan. It does unwittingly press people into using harder and more dangerous drugs. And it does waste tens of billions of dollars that could really reduce drug addiction, by spending it on treatment for addicts.
The prohibitionists are therefore left a contradiction between their message and the facts. They can either change their message, or try to suppress the facts. Last week, the British Government made its choice. But how long will this be tenable? The prohibitionists are – from the best intentions and the highest motives – unleashing a catastrophe. Human beings have been finding ways to get stoned or high since we lived in caves. In our attempt to end this natural impulse, we have created a problem worse than drug use itself.
There is another way. Imagine a country with no drug dealers killing to protect their patch or terrorising whole estates. Imagine a country where burglary fell by 60 per cent. Imagine a Britain where we spent all these billions treating addicts as ill people who need our help, not hunting them down as criminals who need punishment. We can be that country. We just have to come down from chasing the dragon of a drug-free world – and start looking soberly at the facts.
Baby-boomers leading the way to marijuana legalisation, report shows
American pensioners are indulging in more than the occasional Werther’s Original as they approach their twilight years, swapping their tartan rugs and sheepskin-lined slippers for joints and bongs.
A new US government report predicts that over the coming decade, as America’s 78 million baby-boomers grow older, stoned grandpas and grandmas will be commonplace — especially in parts of the country where marijuana can be obtained legally for medicinal purposes. Political analysts believe that this demographic shift in marijuana use is likely to hasten the drug’s full legalisation across the US.
The report, by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, claims that the number of 55 to 59-year-olds in the US using marijuana has more than tripled since 2002 to 5.1 per cent.
Meanwhile, about 2.9 per cent of Americans over 50 are now getting high regularly, a jump of more than 50 per cent since the early days of the second Bush Administration.
Users of marijuana have long claimed that it works as a treatment for the aches and pains of ageing, particularly arthritis, and that it is also an effective sleeping medication.
On top of this, Americans approaching the age of 60 were teenagers during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, when smoking marijuana became an integral part of the hippie movement.
One such user is Florence Seigel, a married 88-year-old from Miami, Florida. She lists her pleasures in life as red wine, newspapers, classic music — and her marijuana pipe.
Indeed, Mrs Seigel, who walks with a cane and suffers from arthritis in her back and her legs, says that she cannot understand why anyone approaching their 90th birthday wouldn’t use the drug to ease the physical discomforts of ageing. “They’re missing a lot of fun and a lot of relief,” she said.
Perry Parks, 67, of Rockingham, North Carolina, agreed. The retired army pilot, who suffers from a degenerative disease, said that he tried all kinds of legal medications with little success. But then, two years ago, he started using marijuana, which he had not touched since college.
“I realised I could get by without the narcotics,” Mr Parks said, referring to prescription painkillers. “I am essentially pain free.”
Doctors urge caution, however. Marijuana use can cause dizziness, they say, which may increase the likelihood of falls. It can also heighten confusion in older people, many of whom will already be experiencing some cognitive impairment from early-stage dementia.
“There are other, better, ways to achieve the same effects,” William Dale, the chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Centre, said.
years ago i was re tiling my nans kitchen and had left a joint in the ash tray whilst i'd popped out the room. i come back in and she's sparked it up and is puffing away! i was like don't smoke that nan, let me give you a whole cigarette!
probably would have done her some good though, especially her glaucoma
High times for American marijuana smokers as police allow thousands of '4/20' pot protesters to light up across the country
Marijuana smokers across the America lit up in public parks, outside statehouses and in the posh confines of a Hummer parked outside a pot gardening superstore to observe the movement's annual 'high holiday' yesterday.
Those who weren't within whiffing distance of a college campus or a reggae concert may not have realised that Tuesday was '4/20', the celebration-cum-mass civil disobedience derived from '420' - insider shorthand for cannabis consumption.
Smoke gets in your eyes: An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people all exhale marijuana smoke as the clock hit 4.20pm during the 4/20 event on Norlin Quad at the University of Colorado in Boulder
Oversized: A giant marijuana joint is lit at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Marijuana legalisation advocates lit up across the country during the annual observance of 4/20
Advocates from New Hampshire to California trumpeted marijuana's rising commercial and political acceptance while producing collective clouds of pungent smoke - often under the watchful eyes of law enforcement officers who for the most part let the parties proceed.
A daylong rally in Denver's Civil Centre Park drew thousands of people, as did the public smoking event that persisted at the University of Colorado in Boulder despite discouragement from college administrators.
Colorado politicians coincidentally marked the day by backing new regulations for dispensaries selling medical marijuana.
In New Hampshire, about 100 people rallied in the state capital of Concord on the eve of a Senate vote to decriminalise small amounts of pot.
'Mary Jane': Marijuana smoke rises from a crowd in front of the state capitol building in Denver. Colorado is one of 14 states to allow use of medical marijuana - which is know as 'Mary Jane' to users
Some lit up joints as state troopers watched from inside the Statehouse.
Governor John Lynch said he will veto the bill if it reaches him.
In Juneau, Alaska, about 20 young people, two dogs and a mother pushing a stroller marched in driving rain, whooping and chanting, 'Yes we cannabis!' - a play on Barack Obama's campaign slogan. Their route took them past the state Capitol and City Hall.
In California, where voters in November will consider whether to tax the sale of marijuana for recreational use, a three-month-old cultivation equipment emporium in Oakland got a 24-hour jump start, sponsoring a '420 Eve' festival on Monday.
Hey, bud: A man smokes a marijuana blunt - the drug wrapped up inside a cigar casing - at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco yesterday afternoon
Several hundred revelers lined up outside the 15,000sq ft iGrow 'hydroponics superstore'. Security guards kept them at bay until 4.20pm, when they could enter a medical marijuana delivery service raffle to win an giant joint and a tour of a 53ft long portable grow room with a starting price of $60,000.
'I wouldn't have thought we would be able to consume on site,' marveled John Corral, 19, of San Jose, after he obtained a wristband that gave him access to the event's two 'vapour lounges,' the one inside the Hummer and another inside a companion Range Rover limousine.
Two years ago, before he had a doctor's recommendation to smoke pot, Corral commemorated 4/20 on Hippie Hill, the Golden Gate Park promontory where an earlier generation of pot aficionados made their stand.
Marijuana use - medically and recreationally - is getting more attention these days, with voters in California and possibly three other states set to decide whether to legalize adult use of the drug.
South Dakota voters will consider in the fall whether to join California and the 13 other states that allow medical cannabis use.
Most Americans still oppose legalising marijuana, but larger majorities believe pot has medical benefits and the government should allow its use for that purpose, according to an Associated Press-CNBC poll released yesterday.
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the drug's steady movement from counterculture indulgence to mainstream acceptance was evident on Tuesday, when four cable television channels dedicated 'a good chunk of programming to 420'.
St. Pierre said that with the terms 'marijuana' or 'cannabis' regularly showing up on the top Internet searches, it's clear that groups like his, which has lobbied to decriminalize marijuana since 1970, are no longer blowing smoke.
'There is a large mainstreaming of all of this,' he said. 'Some of it is happening because commercial entities looking to comport with local social mores and values are taking advantage of this bizarre numerology.'
There are a variety of stories about the origin of 420, but pot advocates generally attribute the term to the time when a group of San Francisco Bay area high schoolers would gather to smoke marijuana during the early 1970s.
The term was then popularised by High Times magazine and the Grateful Dead.
At the iGrow event, Tom Patton of GrowOp Technology, proudly discussed the inspiration for the 'Big Bud' growing trailer he developed with Derek Peterson, a former stock broker.
A pot protester, Rich Hall, takes a puff of a marijuana joint in front of the Statehouse in Concord, New Hampshire
[A haze of marijuana settles on the crowd at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado
Patton said he kept hearing about pot growers who 'were constantly putting up and taking down' grow rooms built inside warehouses or residential homes because of complaints from neighbours, fires sparked by faulty wiring or threats of law enforcement raids.
His pot room on wheels, which comes outfitted with a security system and technology to adjust temperature and humidity levels from an iPhone, may not completely eliminate the last concern, but that hasn't stopped a pair of New York bankers from investing in the invention.
'This is an enabling technology, not a hiding-out technology,' Patton said.
The lure of revenue and respectability has prompted some veterans of the marijuana wars to diversify.
Joshua Freeman, a Sonoma County pot grower, was at the 420 Eve festival handing out samples of the specialty plant food he recently developed and is trying to market.
'We are not just a bunch of stoners sitting back on a couch playing video games,' Freeman said.
Voters in California will consider a measure on the November general election ballot that could make the State the first in the nation to legalise the growing of a limited amount of marijuana for private use
Legalise cannabis sales to cut crime and save the NHS millions, says expert
Legalising cannabis and selling it alongside cigarettes and alcohol would cut crime and costs to the NHS, Britain's leading expert on the drug has said.
Professor Roger Pertwee said that a system that legalises cannabis with very strict regulations 'could be the way forward'.
The Aberdeen University professor, who has dedicated the last four decades to researching the drug, said that the current prohibition clearly isn't working and feasible alternatives include producing branded products that undergo strict safety tests.
Made under licence, they would be free of contaminants and sold in shops, removing the risk of users also being sold harder drugs.
Those who wanted to use the drug could apply for a licence.
Professor Pertwee told the British Science Festival in Birmingham: 'We have to have a car licence, we used to have a dog licence, so why not have a cannabis licence so you can only take it if it is medically safe to do so?
'That would exclude some people who are have a risk of becoming schizophrenic.'
The drug's links to schizophrenia mean that licences should be restricted those age 21 and over, said the professor, who has advised the Government and the British Medical Association on the drug.
Calling for a public debate on the scenario, he said: 'We are allowed to take alcohol and smoke cigarettes and cannabis if it is handled properly is probably not going to be any more dangerous than that.
'I think that this could be the way forward but it might not work because it depends on a company coming forward and producing branded products.
'If you came up with a company that wanted to do that it would have to go through the same licensing process as a medicine and show it was safe.
'If it went through all these steps, I would be in favour of it.'
But drug campaigners described the scheme as 'foolish'.
Mary Brett, of Europe Against Drugs, said it was impossible to predict who would react badly to the drug.
Questioning the practicalities of policing such a scheme, she said: 'We have been terrible at keeping alcohol away from kids. Why would we want to add to our misery? blah blah blah'
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