By Peter Hoskin
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The Daily Mail has written up a new opinion poll on drugs policy, conducted by Ipsos MORI. “Just one in seven want drugs laws liberalised and majority say possession should remain criminal offence,” reads their headline – and it’s true. Looking at the full results, only 14 per cent of respondents think that “the law in the UK should be changed so that the possession of small quantities of illegal drugs is decriminalised.” (Although a further 21 per cent support limited trials of such a measure). 60 per cent think there should be no change to the law at all.
But the poll contains other findings that the Mail’s headline doesn’t capture. Turns out, 53 per cent of people support either the legal regulation of cannabis or the decriminalisation of possessing it. And that includes 50 per cent of those respondents who intend to vote Conservative at the next election. It also includes, as it happens, 46 per cent of Daily Mail readers.
By Paul Goodman
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Not so long ago, people were both more free and more orderly. For example, there were no race relations laws: you could say what you liked about ethnic minorities (as they usually weren't called then). The English always drank: "He gives your Hollander a vomit ere the next pottle can be filled". But - again by way of example - fewer illegal drugs were available, so the policing and health and social costs of substance abuse were far lower. And since there was no internet, it followed that there was no online porn. Although the churches were emptying, Christianity was woven deep into the nation's culture, like the threads on the Bayeaux Tapestry.
Today, people are less free but more disorderly, or at least more diverse. You must watch what you say about ethnic minorities or gay people. But illegal drugs, once consumed only by the elites, are available to the masses. And you can say pretty much what you like about Christians, or at least people with socially conservative views. (Though Nick Clegg thought it prudent to claim that he doesn't believe that those who oppose same-sex marriage are "bigots). Where once the presence of the Church of England floated like some universal fog, today there lumbers health and safety...or the European Union.
By Peter Hoskin
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The shape of yesterday’s flare-up over drugs policy was predictable: a committee of MPs suggested that the Government should consider the system of drugs decriminalisation deployed in Portugal, only for the Prime Minister to slap them back down. “I don’t support decriminalisation,” said David Cameron, “we have a policy that actually is working.” End of.
Except that shouldn’t be the end of it, not least because it’s worth considering Mr Cameron’s argument in full. Here’s what he said:
“I don’t support decriminalisation. We have a policy that that actually is working in Britain. Drug use is coming down. The emphasis on treatment is absolutely right. We need to continue with that to make sure we can really make a difference. Also, we need to do more to keep drugs out of our prisons. Those are the Government’s priorities. I think we should stick at that, rather than have some very, very long term Royal Commission.”
The first question: is he right that drug use in Britain is “coming down”? Obviously, it depends on what drug you’re talking about. Here's what the picture looks like for three of the most high-profile fixes:
By Matthew Barrett
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Chris Grayling has a difficult time ahead of him. For the rest of this Parliament, he will be dealing with an uncomfortable situation at the Ministry of Justice. For example, Ken Clarke had to weigh up not cutting as much as he could from legal advice services, or cutting legal advice and costing the Government more money than if it had left legal advice alone - for under £100, a family could receive advice on a housing problem from a Citizen’s Advice Bureau that could prevent a council having to spend thousands of pounds to house the aforementioned family later on.
Legal aid cuts have been condemned by many in the legal establishment (who Mr Grayling will have to work with if he is to make a success of his new position), and by MPs, including one who has just been made a Minister in his department.
Perhaps most importantly, the thousands of staff cuts overseen by Mr Clarke will bring problems administering justice in the country - the cuts will come from prison officers, probation officers, and legal staff. One might expect crime to rise, given how important a role these positions play. But it needn't - a Civitas report, "Offender-Desistance Policing and the Sword of Damocles", by Cambridge criminologists, Lawrence Sherman and Peter Neyroud, looks at modern criminological theory and experience from around the globe - and how it can help stop a rise in crime at relatively low cost, if Mr Grayling puts it into practice. The report recommends three main strands of measures to keep crime low with limited resources.
By Joseph Willits
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Ahead of David Cameron's announcement later today that patients will be given the opportunity to trial pioneering new drugs before the end of clinical tests, David Willetts, Science and Universities Minister has spoken of the need for a "very clear route” from the research lab to NHS patient.
Joining up the health service and the life sciences industry, he said, was "a government role" - because of the sheer amounts of public money financing medical research in universities and the National Health Service. Whilst there are "excellent private businesses", Willetts said, "we haven’t done as well as we should have done in this country" in bridging the gap and developing "a very clear route from the idea in the publicly-supported research lab through to the application to a patient in the publicly-supported NHS". Having "a very clear route through", Willetts said, was the "way to get the businesses, the growth in the future" and "the best thing for patients as well".
Writing in the Times this morning, Willetts continued with Camilla Cavendish's "valley of death" analogy, that "so many great British discoveries in the perilous journey from the lab to the world outside" are set to face. Alluding to Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade , Willetts said the Medical Research Council had "identified 360 promising ideas developed under its auspices, 280 of which are awaiting commercialisation". The NHS, Willetts said, had to show it was "open to help and then to adopting them for UK patients if successful" in order to "persuade investors to fund these innovations... We need to make it much easier to show “proof of concept” in a hospital environment. Then the private sector will invest".
By Tim Montgomerie
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The comments on both threads were heavily in favour of Bruce Anderson's position.
I tested the overall view of Tory members in the latest ConservativeHome survey and these are the results:
My big conclusions are that (i) support for the status quo is very limited (option 3) but that, on balance, Tory members would prefer a change to a tougher rather than a more liberal view; (ii) support for some form of decriminalisation is nonetheless substantial; and (iii) the comment threads which were very pro-decriminalisation failed to reflect the more hardline views of party members.
Blog threads not being representative was a point I recently made in the context of support for David Cameron.
1,340 Tory members all polled on Wednesday 30th November.
The Times (£) leads with the news that drug treatment providers will be incentivised to get addicts off drugs and drug substitutes altogether. The overall aim is to get 200,000 people drug-free.
The prevailing policy under previous governments was to minimise the harm to the person and society of an addiction but not to end that addiction. This policy has led to a massive increase in the prescription of 'safe drugs' like Methadone but as an increasing number of reports demonstrate, heroin substitutes like Methadone now account for one-third of drug-related deaths in Scotland.
“We are looking to have greater emphasis on recovery rather than simply on treatment itself,” Home Office Minister James Brokenshire told The Times. “The aim is to get people clear of addiction.” He said that Methadone should be used by doctors and treatment agencies as a pathway towards complete freedom from addiction and not as a safer form of new addiction.
Policy Exchange research earlier this year noted that one-in-six prisoners are receiving drug substitutes. That, noted the research's author Max Chambers, is equivalent to "an estimated 73,000 prisoners over the course of a year whose drug habits are effectively being maintained by the state." He urged that freedom from addiction should become a condition of parole.
Nick Herbert's Twitter feed alerts me to listen to last night's edition of Radio 4's Any Questions.
The shadow Defra secretary was on the panel alongside erstwhile UKIP leader Nigel Farage, that party's only capable media performer and recognisable face and, of course, one of the candidates challenging John Bercow in Buckingham at the general election.
The subject of mephedrone came up and Farage picked up the ball and ran with it all the way to advocating decriminalisation of all drugs and selling them in Boots.
Here's what he said:
"Prohibition in this whole area simply isn't working... Whilst people may find this distasteful, I think we need a proper full Royal Commission on this whole area of drugs... Let's find out through a Royal Commission whether perhaps we should decriminalise drugs, whether we should license them, license the users and sell them at Boots... I think there is an argument that says that if we decriminalised it, we'd make the lives of millions of people far better than they are today."
Click here to listen for yourself, 16 minutes and 40 seconds in.
I cannot see how advancing such a policy is going to be electorally advantageous for UKIP; indeed, I think it will do them serious damage.
I would venture that the ultra-libertarian section of the electorate to whom this policy appeals is massively outweighed by the more conservative-minded pool of voters from which UKIP has generally drawn its support.
Next time someone tells you on the doorstep that they are thinking of voting UKIP, drawing their attention to this ought to make most of them think again. And I certainly can't imagine many voters in the sleepy villages of the Buckingham constituency giving this policy the thumbs-up. What an Easter gift for John Bercow (not that I believe for a moment that he needs it - I have every confidence he will be returned with a very healthy majority).
It was the main story on the Today programme and the splash in today's Sun; the death of two young men from a drug known popularly as "meow meow". Its proper name is "mephedrone" and is legally marketed as a plant food.
Carol Cooper, "Sun doctor", explains:
"It is popular because it's legal and easy to buy. The drug gives users hallucinations and makes them feel really excited. But it's extremely addictive so people might buy a lot of it expecting that it will last for a few days, but end up taking it all in one go. Meow meow can cause nose bleeds, dilated pupils and teeth grinding. It can also give you palpitations. Because people take a lot of it - and often take it with other drugs such as ketamine - it can also cause blood vessels to narrow and bring on a cardiac arrest."
Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling has this morning said there is a "very strong case" for banning the drug:
“We think there is a very strong case for banning mephedrone and other so-called ‘legal highs’. There is mounting evidence to suggest these drugs are doing real damage to people’s health. An incoming Conservative Government would mount an urgent review of these substances with a view to adding them to the list of banned substances.”
11.30am: Some comments in the thread below suggest that the Tories are jumping on a bandwagon here. Nonsense. Chris Grayling and Shadow Home Affairs Minister James Brokenshire are actually hosting a long-arranged summit on drugs like mephedrone later today.
4.45pm: Statement from CCHQ:
"The Conservatives are planning to introduce a system of temporary bans on new drugs that can give so-called "legal-highs" while health issues are considered by independent experts. The move follows mounting concern over the emergence of new drugs like Mephedrone, which are being widely and legally used despite emerging evidence to suggest they may pose a serious health risk. The measure was discussed at a summit of drug experts held by the Party today. Also at the meeting was Maryon Stewart, mother of the medical student Hester Stewart who died after taking the drug GBL which was legal at the time of her death. The Government was criticised for taking eighteen months before deciding to ban it. The Conservatives are planning immediate bans of up to a year to allow a full assessment to be carried out of the impact of the drugs, and they say there is a very strong case for other new drugs like Mephedrone to be banned permanently.
Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said:
"We have been warning the Government for some time about the risk posed by so-called "legal highs". It's now much too easy for an existing drug to be slightly reconstituted to make it legal, and it takes too long to decide whether or not it should be banned. We should be able to ban these new drugs temporarily until there is a proper assessment of the risks they present, and then do so permanently for those that are shown to be dangerous.""
Ministers decide and advisers advise but what happens when advisers start campaigning publicly for a change in policy and when they start attacking ministers?
Home Secretary Alan Johnson decided that recent remarks by Professor David Nutt, Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, overstepped the line.
He had said that ecstasy was no more dangerous than riding a horse and accused former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith of "distorting and devaluing" his Council's scientific research with her decision to toughen the classification of cannabis.
The Conservatives - who also disagree with the ACMD position on cannabis - backed the decision to sack Professor Nutt. Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling issued this statement:
“This was an inevitable decision after his latest ill-judged contribution to the debate but it is a sign of lack of focus at the Home Office that it didn’t act sooner given that he has done this before.”
As faith in politicians declines there are many who will transfer their trust to independent voices or to an "expert class". This is understandable but independent voices are not always what they appear. The Conservative government will inherit a quangocracy stuffed with Labour appointees. A sensible Tory Party will want to replace many of these appointees before they cause trouble and block policy. Careful distinctions will need to be made between genuine experts and, for example, the educational establishment and its bias against traditional teaching methods.
PS Amanda Platell adopts the irresistable headline about the "Nutty Professor".