Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



  140. You say you have 50,000 readers. How many copies do you sell? Do you sell the magazine?
  (Mr McNicholas) Yes. We sell around 50,000 copies.

  141. Your evidence is just addressed to what we might call "club" drugs, is it?
  (Mr McNicholas) Yes. I am a member of an organisation called "Dance/Drugs Alliance", which I understand made a submission to the Committee. It is very much recreational drug use amongst young people, which tends to be ecstasy, cannabis, amphetamines and, increasingly, cocaine; but certainly not drugs like heroin or crack.
  (Mr Buffry) I am from the Legalise Cannabis Alliance. I am the National Co-ordinator and nominating officer. We were formed as a political party in 1999 and put up candidates at by-elections, general elections, county council and local county elections. Our aim is specifically to bring about the full legalisation of cannabis and the utilisation of cannabis, which we see as beneficial for many people. Far more people claim to have benefited from it than claim to have been harmed by it.

  142. Your concern is only with cannabis?
  (Mr Buffry) I obviously have my personal opinions on other substances; but, as the representative from the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, I am specifically concerned with cannabis.

  143. Does your Alliance have members or supporters?
  (Mr Buffry) Yes, we have endorsees because we wanted to attract support from other political parties, and somebody cannot join two political parties. At the moment we have about 1,200 endorsees.

  144. How are you funded?
  (Mr Buffry) Through donations and sales of literature and so on.
  (Mr Evans) I feel completely inadequate here because I do not really represent anyone. I explained in my letter that I have been the moderator and drafter of The Angel Declaration, and there is simply an anonymous coagulation of 15 individuals who came together some four months ago to start casting our minds forward. They are anonymous because several of them are from the active drug users communities, and they are woefully threatened by publicity. They are woefully threatened in their daily lives and in their ability to earn a living; so I must ask for that confidence and do retain that confidence. I came into this because of the Human Rights Act. I started to take a keen interest in the Human Rights Act and I pursue that particular interest. I was by origin a human rights lawyer in the 1960s.

  145. Are you still a practising barrister?
  (Mr Evans) No. I am a danger to shipping as a barrister. I gave up and went into business some 35 years ago.

  146. The Angel Declaration is a group of individuals who came into being in a pub called The Angel?
  (Mr Evans) Yes, more or less. We just got fed up with the present preoccupation with whether there should be legalisation or not. We said, "Plainly, there's going to be legalisation, so let's sit down and explain how it would work". We came to the conclusion that it would work very easily and straightforwardly with institutions and ideas that are already available within the English constitution.

David Winnick

  147. Do you work together in some sort of loose alliance?
  (Mr Davies) I have met only Danny.
  (Mr Evans) We have only just met. I know Alun, of course, because Alun is very prominent.

  148. There is no campaign?
  (Mr Evans) No.

  149. Is there any reason why not?
  (Mr Davies) I am too busy to be involved in campaigns.
  (Mr Kushlik) There have been some links.
  (Mr Evans) We think of Transform as a campaign group. To a certain extent Transform comes nearest to that idea.
  (Mr Kushlik) On certain issues we have worked together and around the anti-declaration.

Bob Russell

  150. My opening two or three questions are to Mr Davies. You have said that "Prohibition has not merely failed to cut the supply of illicit drugs: it has actively spread drug use". The evidence indicates that 90 per cent of young people do not regularly take drugs. What is the area of increase?
  (Mr Davies) Statistically speaking the highest estimate I have ever heard of the number of heroin users at the point of the 1971 Act is 1,000. The lowest estimate I have ever heard of the number of heroin users now is 200,000. Does that accord with your statistics. A 200-fold increase. The reason I say that is this: you will have heard that drug abuse is linked with property crime. If you have been into the best research, you will have been told that property crime is actually committed only by a hard core of users; that most drug users do not commit property crime—although the effect of that hard core is dramatic. The most common way for a user to fund their own use or habit is to sell it. For this reason it is like pyramid selling. If you are using and you need to fund your habit, you turn on your three or four closest friends and inject the profit. Each of those three or four are then in the same position. "How am I going to pay for my habit? I've got to find other people to sell to". I said in the stories, you get one kid in the classroom who starts using and it spreads geometrically—every kid will start. One man in the street is down the pub and selling to his friends, so there is a force pushing it out.

  151. You say "every kid", but, despite the increase, it is still very much a minority activity.
  (Mr Davies) Yes, despite everything that has gone on in the black market.

  152. You will agree that 90 per cent of our young people are not taking drugs, so it is a minority activity?
  (Mr Davies) The heroin use is even smaller than that, which is the thing I have really looked at. Can you see how the difference between 1,000 heroin users and, at the least, 200,000 is a dramatic increase. How do we explain that? With all the deterrents of the law, and all the information campaigns and health education campaigns, why did it blow out suddenly at that rate?—pyramid selling.

  153. This minority activity—is that a success of a state policy on drugs and a mandate for continuation along the same lines?
  (Mr Davies) It cannot be. If you go back to 1971, if you had told the people who had drafted that legislation, "The best you guys are going to be able to do is a 200-fold increase in the next 30 years", they would have fainted with horror. They were talking about extinguishing the supply. I think you can have some sympathy with these people. They had been misinformed about the effects of drugs; but the vision was, "We can kill the supply. People won't take it because it won't be there to be taken". This is a failure on an unimaginable scale, even on the lowest end of estimate. I have talked to Home Office officials who put the figure of heroin users up to 500,000. I am giving you the most conservative estimate of 200,000. That is an unimaginable failure for those people who drafted it.

  154. Are you making an argument for a Royal Commission on Drugs?
  (Mr Davies) No, I would consider that a complete waste of time. I think we should get on with what we know.

  155. What principles like behind such a drugs policy?
  (Mr Davies) The principle is this: we have got the wrong answer because we have been asking the wrong question. What we have done is, we drew up the league table of drugs with what we perceived to be the most dangerous at the top. Okay, there are errors of fact in our understanding of what the most dangerous are, but set that to one side. What we did was we drew a line across the middle and said, "All those above this line are so dangerous that they have to be prohibited". It is the wrong question; it is the wrong approach. What you need to do is to ask yourself this: what drug becomes safer, in terms of health or social damage, if you make it illegal? What does it do to the drugs? If you remove what I would describe as the "fantasy option", which is that you can extinguish supply by prohibition (and we can all see we have not done that), then you have to acknowledge that, even though you have prohibited it, the drug continues to be supplied, but not through government channels, not through regulated channels. I said in these stories, when all this is over the people who have run the drugs war should be made to chip it out on the side of a mountain, "No drug becomes safer when you hand its production and distribution to criminals", and that is what we are suffering.

  156. Which is more important: to minimise the prevalence of drug use or to minimise harm?
  (Mr Davies) The second, overwhelmingly. If you accept the evidence (which interestingly enough I think the Home Office are now accepting, and let us concentrate on that example because it is the most difficult) that heroin is a benign drug—just supposing the Home Office memo put in last week is right (and I think they are wrong), that legalisation would increase the use of heroin; if you believe that heroin damages your mind, body, morals, social behaviour and will kill you that matters enormously; but all of the evidence points in the other direction. If only we would allow our users to get their heroin in clean form, with clean needles through doctors who can tell them how much is safe to take, it will not have any of those effects. I am saying it will not spread anyway; but even if it did spread why are we interested in drugs? It is to stop them hurting people.
  (Mr Kushlik) I want to say something about the issues of methods of distribution and the principles which lie behind drugs policy. The first point is: the principles that lie behind the drugs policy then drive resources. To the extent you are trying to push down prevalence, and it may be true that prohibition does reduce prevalence, the resources are going to be pushed into enforcement. From proper education, from interdiction, the Customs & Excise, the PAC Report 1998 which showed they were only getting10 per cent of what came into the country, and they could not stem the flow there either, we know from the price and the purity on the street, that the price is dropping dramatically. The price of a gram heroin down in Bristol is £25. When I was a drugs worker six years ago it was about £80. You cannot control price; you cannot control availability; you cannot control the people producing; and you cannot stop people trafficking it. Clearly enforcement is not the way forward. To the extent that we keep throwing resources into that, all we do is create chaos and hand it over to the Mafia. There are four other ways of distributing drugs: over the counter; licensed premises; pharmacy sales; and prescribing. With all those four methods you have opportunities to influence price, quality, points of distribution and numerous other things. If you use the principles of crime reduction, health improvement, treatment and really begin to deal with the issues of why people are growing drugs in the first place in an unregulated way, you are going to have a policy that then supplies resources into dealing with those issues and managing the problem, rather than pretending we can actually eradicate it.


  157. Mr Davies, you are saying you do not accept that legalisation would increase usage?
  (Mr Davies) No. I have two thoughts there: one is, take away the black market, and take away that pyramid selling which actively pushes out the black market—and I call as evidence in support of that this enormous increase ; the second is, have you looked at the results of the Swiss pilot? Since 1994 they have been doing what I am talking about doing, which is allowing their doctors to prescribe heroin to recidivist veteran users. For political reasons they have only done it in that portion of the population. Just last week The Lancet published the most up-to-date reports on that. They have got really impressive abstinence rates. The way it works is: if you can stabilise the heroin user so he is no longer spending all this time out on the street and, therefore, unable to work; no longer spending all his money on drugs and, therefore, able to eat; able to work, have a home and stabilised life, heroin does not hurt him. It is fascinating—heroin does not intoxicate you. I have a friend who has been working in a professional career for 20 years, who has been smoking heroin all that time. Nobody knows. He functions; he is sharp. He is absolutely rational. What they find is that, having stabilised them, they can then address whatever it was that originally impelled them into the addiction. It may have just been stupidity. That is a fairly easy thing to deal with. At the other end of the spectrum you may have heard that there is a high proportion of heroin users who have suffered various forms of childhood abuse. It is the same with alcoholism, to get somebody off like that they can stop taking the drug but it releases all the anguish they were originally concealing, and unless you deal with that they will go back. With the Swiss, 26 per cent of users are coming off, so you have actually got a reduction of the pool of users.

  158. Most surveys show that one of the reasons given by young people for not using drugs is the fact that it is doing something illegal; and another reason they give is risks to health. If you remove the risks to health and you remove the illegality, surely there will be an increase?
  (Mr Davies) It is odd, because the Police Foundation found the opposite. They said the law is not deterring. It is all highly speculative, is it not?

  159. Yes, that is why we are a little nervous.
  (Mr Davies) If you understand my pyramid argument, about how it deliberately pushes out and has to push its frontier out all the time, then you look at the only evidence which we have got, which is the Swiss; which is of a contracted pool of users as a result of putting them in a stable position where they can start to come off. I would not recommend a world in which you simply legalised and did not continue to say, "This is a bad thing to take; it's a bad thing to take because it's addictive, not because it is going to cause an abscess". Turn it round the other way: you are a 16 year-old and you are going to school. You have been told the truth: "Heroin is addictive. You start using this stuff, you'll be using it for years. It'll tangle you up and you'll have to deal with all the problems that are associated with it, of being merely addicted". Down the road there is a doctor who is allowed to prescribe, for free I would say, to anybody who is an established user. Why would you go to that doctor and say, "Please can I have some of that stuff?" Why would you do it? Because at the moment your friend is saying, "Can I flog you this stuff?" It is there on the doorstep, in your street.

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