13 Jul New Drug Strategy Promises More Death, Misery And Ill Health For UK.
The long overdue update to the UK Drug Strategy is published today by the Home Office. A copy may be downloaded here.
Sadly, as expected, it is nothing except more of the same. It offers no new ideas worthy of any note and reinforces the failure of existing policy by further embedding an approach which has already been conclusively proven not to work.
The UK has become increasingly isolated in its approach to drugs policy and now that both Ireland and France are moving towards decriminalisation we are unique amongst modern democracies in maintaining an approach based on nothing but prohibition. We now stand closer to countries such as Russia, China, Indonesia and Singapore. In fact, the only thing that separates us from countries with such medieval policies is that we do not have the death penalty for drug offences. Otherwise our policy is just as repressive, anti-evidence, anti-human rights and based on prejudice rather than what is proven to work.
From Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s introduction, through sections based on repetition of the original strategy, ‘Reducing Demand, Restricting Supply and Building Recovery’, the document is more of the same old platitudes, bureaucratic doublespeak and meaningless civil service and social worker jargon. It offers nothing but despair to those wracked by addiction, desperate for the proven medical benefits of cannabis or suffering from the tremendous social problems caused by prohibition. In every respect it mirrors the government’s approach to housing which has led to mass homelessness, deprivation and the Grenfell Tower disaster. It is yet another inadequate response imposed by a government which is out of touch and wedded to policies based on ideology rather than evidence.
Current UK drug policy has already led to the highest ever rate of deaths from overdose. Deaths from heroin more than doubled from 2012 to 2015, yet there is absolutely nothing offered in this document that might change this – as if existing policy is quite OK. Similarly, in what would be farcical humour were it not so tragic, the government seeks to portray the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 as a success. It trumpets the closure of hundreds of retailers and websites and end to open sales but it doesn’t even mention the burgeoning new criminal market which has led to a massive increase in harm and products which are more potent but also more inconsistent and unpredictable. All the experts (except those appointed by the government) agree that this new law has been a disaster. Just like Grenfell Tower, this is government enforcing policies which significantly increase danger and harm without any regard at all to evidence or public opinion.
As before, this strategy doesn’t even consider harm reduction, it offers only a puritanical, moralistic approach based on abstinence. It fails entirely to recognise that 95% of all drug use is non-problematic, without causing harm to anybody. It is entirely focused on mis-use and blind to the great benefits, often therapeutic but also simply of pleasure, enjoyment and recreation that many people gain from safe drug use, just as most people do with that most dangerous drug of all, alcohol. These people, the vast majority, are completely ignored by their government.
By its own title this is a drug strategy, not a drugs strategy. It treats all drugs and all drug users the same, whether they are a prisoner serving a long sentence without access to education or rehabilitation, a ruthless gangster engaged in human trafficking, an affluent clubber, humble festival goer or a multiple sclerosis patient who grows a few cannabis plants for pain relief. It is a travesty of government, failing entirely to meet the needs of the population.
It also contains some of the most extraordinary factual errors and contradictions. “Most cannabis in the UK is imported”, it states in defiance of the evidence that the UK has been virtually self-sufficient in homegrown cannabis since the 1990s, even to the extent where we are ‘exporting’ to other European countries.
Unsurprisingly, the report states “We have no intention of decriminalising drugs” but then makes the dubious assertion that “Drugs are illegal because scientific and medical analysis has shown they are harmful to human health.” This is simply unsustainable in face of the facts about harms caused by legal substances such as alcohol, peanuts and energy drinks. It is also inconsistent with the stated purpose of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 which is about misuse “having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem.”, nothing to do with individual health harms.
The report fails at all to consider the negative effects of current policy and how prohibition rather than drugs themselves is actually the cause of most harms connected with drugs. It doesn’t even mention the worldwide revolution in the medical use of cannabis or that one million UK citizens are criminalised and placed in danger of criminal sanctions or contaminated product simply for trying to improve their health. Neither does it mention drug testing, a proven method of reducing the harms of club drugs, now being supported by many police forces at festivals.
This report really is as empty, ineffectual and useless as anything produced by this already tired and discredited government. The parallels between Grenfell Tower and a government which actively maximise the harms of drugs through its policies are extraordinary. Thousands are dying every year because Mrs May and Mrs Rudd won’t listen to evidence. They pick and choose whether to accept the advice of their own Advisory Council based on political convenience rather than facts and while the Council includes eminent scientists it also includes specialists in ‘chocolate addiction’ and evangelical Christian ‘re-education’ of gay people.
Whether it’s determining the inflammability of building materials or the relative potential for harm of different substances, what is clear is that this government is more concerned with dogma, vested interests and old-fashioned prejudices than the safety, health and wellbeing of the population. This Drug Strategy is a recipe for failure, for continuing exactly as before.