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.

UK Government Policy

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.

  • discerner

    The ‘ UK Drug Strategy’ is worse than useless regarding reform and progress for medicinal and recreational cannabis use, at least for the moment they’ve not made cannabis Class A with a minimal 10 years in prison for ‘offenders’. With regard to the progressive drug strategy policies found abroad and what can be learnt from them positively or negatively there is no referral to how this can be a way forward.

    Historically oppressive drug policies have failed monumentally particularly in the Western world in the absence of sensible control and regulation. There is no better evidence for failed drugs policy than history itself, evidence that is ignored by this government in favour of waffle and rhetoric that looks ‘good’ to their supporters.

    So the future looks as bleak as ever for the overall cannabis community, thus the importance of CLEAR and other reform organisations to continue to strive for at least a common sense approach, particularly for medicinal cannabis – the fight shall continue unabated.

  • Andrea Clarke

    The very definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result.

    • conner mcbride

      According to a theoretical physisist

  • AstroSmurf

    It seems to me that the Conservatives have a magic money tree. All this new money being spent on more enforcement , what a waste!!! There are people suffering who could do with that money. What about the survivors of Grenfell they could do with some of that . What about social care pff that doesn’t matter either. What about the NHS , forget it ! they say the staff are already overpaid. I used to say “the whole World has gone mad” but how wrong was i, it’s just the Uk that has gone mad. What is happening to this Country? We can’t take anymore misery and death. Get a grip Theresa or get out!!! You are alienating us from each other and the rest of the World. I used to love UK and was proud to be British not so much anymore after 7 years of this!!!

  • davidraynes

    “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”.


    The UK was emphatically NOT AT ALL self sufficient in cannabis during the 1990s, nor is it now. That does not mean that you do not have a point about there being a lot of home grown now, you do.

    I monitor these things very closely, there is no substantial body of evidence pointing to the UK “exporting” to other European countries, save for the traffic there has always been with the Republic of Ireland, the “large pool” effect. It is true that one academic did claim we are major exporters, that is until I slapped him down in a media debate. He was in no position to argue, with evidence. I doubt you are.

    I have monitored the market at wholesale level, in great detail, for 47 years. Fair to say I know of no other who has done that.

    I always read your stuff with interest, I do not correct too much,

    On the NPS matter, the law of course followed the RoI, Poland and particularly Portugal, the last often cited as a bastion of common sense on drug policy.

    Portugal had a similar act of their parliament around four years ago, True it does not remove the criminal market, but in Portugal it was done to close down what they called “Smartshops” which we know as “Headshops”.

    At that, the legislation is reasonably successful . You may not agree with it but from the point of view of schools, removing that normalisation effect was seen in both countries as important.

    • The PSA is an unmitigated disaster and any attempt at defending it is laughable. It has increased potency, unpredictability, deaths, availability and all harms. it is classic prohibitionist stupidity. That many head shops have disappeared perfect demonstrates that all the evil Home Office is interested in is window dressing. As long as its out of sight they don’t really give a damn about victims. Mrs May, Rudd and Newton have their hands drenched in blood.

      • davidraynes

        Well that is one view. One of my offspring is Deputy Head of a Senior School which had one of these shops nearby.

        The various substances were causing mayhem.

        I am told the normalisation problem and easy avaiibility has much reduced.

        It largely achieved a similar objective in Portugal.

        True it does not remove such substances or all the use.

        It does contain it to some extent.

        • It doesn’t “contain it” David, it drives it underground where it becomes ever more dangerous and uncontrolled.

          As in Poland and Ireland similar bans increased potency, use, harms and deaths.

          • conner mcbride

            So what can actually be done about the lying and manipulating other than wait for the chance to be spoken to like an idiot by amber rudd at the next parliamentary debate.

      • Strand

        I’m surprised to see you say that Peter given your support and membership of the conservative party and your backing of Theresa May.

    • conner mcbride

      The school i went to was a nest for Cannabis dealers, lots of unemployed young students given the chance to earn money for selling Cannabis to fellow students. From my point of view while at school which was only 5 years ago i could see that prohibition allowed adults with Cannabis to employ kids as dealers but never had i seen any brewers or distillerys offering to employ the youth of Britain to sell alcohol, only unmarketed untaxable cannabis. Its easy for people to think keeping it illegal is a good thing but only because they cant see what is actually impacted, all they have are statistics and articles, those of us that know how evil and unjustified that pile of festering crap we call the war on drugs is are left cautious and scared for understanding that OUR government are either complete idiots or corrupt evil bastards.

      • davidraynes

        If you were at school only five years ago you are unlikely to have the life experience to understand the alternatives. Cannabis use is contained at around 6 to 7% of the population, lower than neighbouring countries. That means the harms of cannabis are contained. Not as good as they could be, but contained.

        Tobacco is is now around 16% and reducing, through a combination of law and social pressure, It has been much higher (48% in 1948) and IS much higher in many parts of the world.

        Tobacco is within a regulated framework, yet illegal counterfeit or smuggled (or both) tobacco, has recently been as high as 25% or more of the market. Massive and much bigger than the cannabis market.

        So your arguments for legalisation do not hold up.

        Legalisation would mean much more “total harm”, it would not be enforcement cost free either. The health consequences would be very great and mental ill health is very expensive to treat. We all end up paying.

        The downsides might well, some might argue, be worth paying, some people do try to argue that, not very effectively, which is why no progress is being made.

        It is right and proper that such an issue should be debated. People who are dependent or near dependent on cannabis use, are probably not the most impartial or competent debaters of the issues. That is probably why they make zero progress. I am not expecting a change in that lack of progress to their nirvana, any time soon.

        • conner mcbride

          How corrupt of a journalist are you to actually say this shite, youre only making it known to those that read your pish that youre an idiot, youre not the person to argue against cannabis because all you have are statistics which by the way are completely untrustworthy due to there being no possible way to actually know who smokes cannabis and who doesn’t in our country. Why are arseholes like you arguing for the evil shits in office, is it money?, control, blackmail or blind acceptance to the politicians in power.
          Im sorry to hit you as hard with this debate but when shite like the first 3 paragraphs of your reply i cant find any logic only pish.

  • Rose K.

    Cannabis is the best medicine. I’m so glad I came to know about “AnnCannaMed”. It’s been 6 months now and I’m still pretty much free of the chronic back pain that I had for nearly two decades prior. I am managing my anxiety and IBS very well and I have not been on that stupid pill (omeprazole) for over 2 months now which I never use to be able to go a day without.