Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220
TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
220. Mr Davies almost revealed the point I am
trying to get at with one of his answers when he said the problem
with cannabis legalisation is it is just not important, the important
thing is heroin. I think that was the point you were making?
(Mr Davies) Yes.
221. I am not trying to put words into your
mouth at all, but just trying to work out whether the right way
for policy to go is what Blunkett has done, maybe plus a bit more,
or whether you want to have this all-singing, all-dancing legalisation?
Many constituents of ours will say, "I have tried so hard
to keep my children off drugs, I have been telling them it is
wrong, the Government said it was wrong because it was illegal,
but you have now removed that sanction and I think my child is
even more likely than before to take drugs." That is the
worry of the public. I wonder whether you are addressing that
(Mr Kushlick) We are addressing it in terms of the
series of concerns we have including crime, health, treatment
opportunities, better expenditure, public order, all kinds of
things. The Government is looking at one areaprevalenceand
saying "We can keep a little bit of a lid on this and . .
.. to everything else." They have ignored a whole series
of other indicators that you lose again and again and again if
you just focus on prevalence. The last significant move in drug
policy was around HIV and AIDS in the mid-1980s when we brought
in needle exchanges. A lot of resources were thrown towards educating
gay men about safer sex practices and we had a lot of stuff thrown
at us about thatpeople on TV putting condoms on carrotsand
nobody was saying, "Is this not giving out the wrong message
to young people? Is this saying homosexuality is okay? Is this
going to turn all our children queer?" Nobody was saying
that, they were saying, "What we need is pragmatic, harm-reduction
policies to stop people getting sick and dying." Why the
hell is that not being done in drugs policy?
222. But with cannabis getting sick and ill
is not the issue.
(Mr Kushlick) Cannabis is pretty much a non-issue.
We call it "yawnabis".
223. That is my point.
(Mr Kushlick) It is a non-issue and it is a distraction.
The other thing about Mr Blunkett's move is that it is a sop to
those people who are calling for change so he can say, "I'm
doing it, look." The more important issues are what we do
about global prohibition and the way that affects the whole planet
but particularly with respect to heroin and cocaine.
(Mr Davies) There is a problem with the constituents
here, and that is what we are talking about. It seems to be (a)
public opinion has been ahead of political opinion for some years,
which is why Widdecombe ran into what she ran into and why Blunkett's
announcement a week or so ago got a very, very easy-going reception
but (b) public opinion still has some way to go before it grasps
the truth. I refer to what I have written in the paper as being
the truth. If you suddenly went, "Slap, bang, legalisation",
they would not understand it, there would be all kinds of confusion
and hostility, so you can do it only if you get right back down
and explain, which does involve eating some humble pie on the
Home Office's part because of the previous misinformation. The
second thing is this, you are worried about the parents saying,
"Suddenly you are sending a different signal to my child",
insofar as any of these drugs are damagingand cannabis
is implicated in lung cancer, memory loss and anxiety attacks;
cocaine is implicated in strokescontinue to send those
signals. I think all of us should be deeply comforted by what
is happened with alcohol and tobacco, that despite their free
availability the consumption of both has been declining in this
country and it shows you the power of information. In my lifetime
the fact that smoking can cause cancer has got through to people,
so I stopped smoking, masses of people have stopped smoking. Do
not stop telling people about the dangers to the extent they are
there. Do not pretend heroin is not addictive, keep saying that,
so the signal is still there, and it can succeed where necessary
in curbing demand, and we have the evidence of alcohol and tobacco
to support that.
224. I take what you say about cannabis but
do you not accept with the hard drugs, particularly cocaine and
heroin, you are asking this country to take a huge risk? Cocaine
is widely available, widely used, but not in every part of the
country, and by legalising something like cocaine the use is going
to go up, more people are going to experiment, you are taking
a big risk.
(Mr Kushlick) But what about the risk we have taken
in prohibiting it? 59 people died last year as a result of using
contaminated heroin. It does not happen with alcohol.
225. I particularly asked about cocaine. With
heroin, many people argue, and we talked about this earlier, you
can take heroin out of the criminal justice system, and prescribe
it, but you will never get cocaine prescribed through doctors.
You are asking us as a Select Committee that we should legalise
it and make it freely available?
(Mr Kushlick) Absolutely because it is your responsibility
to do that. It is all of our responsibilities to look at those
four other methods of distributing drugs and take those decisions.
That is a hell of a responsibility but it is one we all should
bear. At the moment we have abrogated responsibility and said,
"Let's let the US run the international show through the
UN, through the UNDCP." We have abrogated responsibility
through prohibition and have let the criminal market place run
226. In Holland, when the coffee shops were
first produced for cannabis, use did go up a lot. I now understand
cannabis use in Holland is below what it is in the UK. Could you
make some forecast as to what do you think would happen to cocaine
use if it was legalised?
(Mr Kushlick) Let us take the worst case scenario
and say it increases, but let us look at the benefits which accrue,
and again it comes back to your indicators. If your main indicator
is prevalence of use as opposed to prevalence of misuse, then,
yes, prohibition may be keeping the lid on the thing to a certain
extent, but the problems which accrue from doing that are so vast
and so horrendous that it just completely contradicts any benefits
and completely outweighs any of the benefits of reducing that
prevalence. Let us say that use increases by two-fold, three-fold,
four-fold, but if you are reducing the prison population by half,
ending all of drug-related prostitution, reducing property crime
by a half, ending the whole system of oppression which takes place
through the police criminalising individuals who are otherwise
law-abiding citizens, ending what goes on in Colombia, Myanmar,
Afghanistan, the benefits are massive. So what you have to ask
is, on cost benefit analysis what works best. One of the things
we are calling for in Transform is an audit to actually look at
that cost benefit analysis and look at expenditure, because we
are throwing well over £10 billion at this project year in
year out and what it does is create more crime, more prostitution,
a catalogue of mishaps which increase year on year on year. That
cannot look like good expenditure to the Treasury, and it would
be interesting to be a fly on the wall during the discussions
between David Blunkett and Gordon Brown when he says, "What
have you done with my money this year?" "Well, the prison
population has gone up, drugs are more available, they are cheaper",
and he is going to be going, "What the hell am I doing here
spending my money, spending the taxpayers' money, on that kind
of stuff", because it just does not add up at all.
(Mr Davies) Cocaine is a really good example. Heroin
is a benign drug, it does not damage your mind or body, cocaine
is implicated in damage. What do we do with it? Number one, do
not make it illegal, for all the reasons Danny has just been sketching,
because it makes it more dangerous socially and physically. Think
about paracetamol, think about aspirin, both of them implicated
in physical damageparacetamol in liver damage, really quite
high, aspirin implicated in all sorts of stomach disordershow
do we handle them at the moment? We provide them through retail
outlets, usually chemists, without prescription and we tell consumers,
"If you take too much paracetamol, you can actually kill
yourself", and nowadays I think they will not let you buy
more than two packets at a time in case you are feeling suicidal,
but it is there on the counter.
227. Paracetamol is not addictive. People have
serious mental addictions to cocaine.
(Mr Davies) There are already models for how we can
regulate and control the supply of consumer items which contain
some risk. Alcohol is another example. The key thing is to bring
it into the mainstream where we can see it and establish what
the content of each thing sold is and give people correct information
on the side of packs so they know what they are taking. The number
of people who accidentally kill themselves accidentally through
paracetamolsome people commit suicideis absolutely
tiny, ditto aspirin. Put cocaine under that sort of heading, whether
it be a café or a chemist. In principle, we already do
it, and it is so much safer and there is so much less crime than
staying under prohibition.
(Mr McNicholas) Can I put it on the record that the
fact is most people do not want to take drugs. It is a minority
pursuit but the amount of money we throw at it just blows the
whole thing up so it has an enormous impact on the rest of society.
If you were to legalise the drugs we are talking about overnight,
Britain would not turn into a nation of drug users. Most people
know what the facts are and simply do not want to take them. If
you are of a personality who is likely to take drugs, or you do
want to take drugs, you can get hold of them already, the supply
is there, but most people choose not to simply because they do
not like the idea of it.
228. You want a market similar to the market
for alcohol, do you think Britain's policy towards alcohol is
(Mr McNicholas) It is much better than US prohibition.
(Mr Kushlick) What I have said is that there are four
methods of distributing drugs, other than the criminal market
placeover-the-counter, licensed retail, pharmacy sales
and prescribingso you have a choice of four. It is not
just that everything goes over the counter. In terms of what we
are ready for, we are all ready for a situation where we have
some very powerful drugs which are prescribed, some very powerful
drugs which are sold. Clearly our alcohol policy stinks as wellwell
we do not have one. Currently, according to the Home Office evidence
and the Department of Health evidence last week, it is earmarked
to be produced in 2004, which is, I have to say, pathetic, given
alcohol has been a legal drug for so long and the health consequences
involved with it are enormous. No, we do not have a good policy
on alcohol, we have a lousy policy on tobacco and countless other
substances, including prescribed drugs. We need to sort that out.
229. Yes, but we have tobacco and alcohol in
a regulated market and we still have a huge number of deaths,
far more than heroin and any of the other underground drugs, and
what we are trying to work out is would we have a similar explosion
in abuse if we were to legalise drugs?
(Mr Evans) Use or abuse?
230. Use and abuse.
(Mr Evans) The earlier questions were all about use.
(Mr Davies) It is the wrong question. Do you make
it safer or more dangerous by banning it? Alcohol is a terrific
example, we know what happened when it was prohibited. That is
the only choice we have, prohibition or legalisation. You can
see what happened. It is not great what is happening, but it is
better than the other. That is what we are inviting you to do
with all these drugs, put them on to that better plateau. We will
all be able to look back 20 years after we have done that and
say, "But there was that problem there, there was that one
there", in its core it will be a whole lot better than what
we have now. They had this argument in the early 1920s about ending
the US prohibition of alcohol, "Do we dare do this? What
will happen?" They dared to do it and by and large they got
it right. I know you can say there are things wrong with it.
(Mr Evans) That only last for 13 years though, drugs
have lasted for 80 years. The Americans had abolished prohibition
by 1933 having introduced it in 1920, so it only lasted 13 years,
but narcotics has lasted 80 years.
(Mr Kushlick) The other issue is the way we market
those drugs. It is incredible, you see footballers running around
with Holstein on their shirts, and Marlborough still on Formula
One, so the Government's policy is equivocal to say the least.
231. What about Conor and his Mitsubishis though?
You are not saying we can have a market where you can advertise
(Mr McNicholas) No, but the point is that is effectively
what is happening at the moment anyway. People are buying branded
forms of ecstasy from dealers in a totally unregulated market.
Ecstasy could not be more illegal in the system we have in this
country, yet there are 2 million tablets being sold every weekend.
I have spoken to young guys in Malaysia who have heard about their
friends being executed the previous week for possession of ecstasy,
and they are out the next weekend in the nightclubs and they are
still taking it, because it does not matter how illegal you make
it, the demand is still there. What you want to do is take that
out of the hands of the mafia and the illegal dealers, so at least
you know what has been supplied is safe, and you provide enough
core education so you build a relationship of trust especially
in schools between children and teachers, so the children start
to trust the drug information they get. At the moment, you have
teachers telling them, "Drugs are really, really bad for
you and will really screw you up", but young children see
their older siblings and quite often their parents going out at
weekends, having fun and they think, "These teachers don't
232. One would not have to travel that far to
find people screwed up on drugs though, would one?
(Mr McNicholas) They would probably have to go an
awful lot further. Look at the number of adverse effects where
ecstasy has been implicated versus the number of ecstasy-taking
incidents over the yearbearing in mind we are talking about
2 million people taking ecstasy every weekend. Quite frankly,
in the current situation it is a miracle more people do not die.
(Mr Buffry) I would like to point out one of the main
differences with cannabis is that it is a plant which can be grown
at home, and it does not require any chemical processes to be
applied to it or any purification to be applied to it. It is simply
a matter of basically putting the seed in the soil, giving it
sunshine and earth, and extracting the benefits from it when it
produces the buds. Most people who use cannabis do it not simply
because they get fun out of it but because they say they get benefit
out of it. The number of people, for instance, in the Home Office
figures who have suffered mental problems from cannabis is 566
out of an estimated 4½ million users (again government figures)
so that is something like 1:9,000 people, so it is not very damaging
at all. I have seen a chart produced by the American Medical Association
comparing the toxicity and the addictiveness of drugs and according
to them the most toxic and addictive drugs are heroin, closely
followed by tobacco. About half way down the list is cocaine,
closely followed by alcohol. A little bit further down the list
is amphetamines, closely followed by coffee and caffeine drinks,
and right down the bottom is LSD, ecstasy and almost zero on both
233. Where do those figures come from?
(Mr Buffry) From the American Medical Association
234. Can you supply us with that?
(Mr Buffry) I do not have it with me at the moment.
235. Would you send it into the clerks please?
(Mr Buffry) Yes.
236. Thank you.
(Mr Buffry) Secondly, on the availability of drugs,
if all drugs were legal, accurate information would be provided,
and I believe there are certain people who take drugs and certain
people who will never take drugs. At the moment we say that 9
per cent of the adult population take cannabis, about 25 per cent
of young people, the rest of them probably drink alcohol. In my
experience a lot of people who have previously drunk alcohol to
the point where they have had problems with it and then taken
cannabis have actually drunk a lot less alcohol, and it is quite
possible if more people used cannabis in preference to other substances
including pharmaceutically-prescribed tranquillisers, the health
of the population and the mood of the population would increase.
It should not be necessarily regarded that all substances when
taken are taken as an abuse. Cannabis specifically is used by
many people as a self-medication and also by people in a religious
sense, from Rastafarians, Buddhists and all sorts of religious
groups who are presently prohibited by law from practising their
religion. This comes back to Article 8 of the European Convention.
The object of government to protect people and the criteria that
is put on government on interfering with what people do in their
private lives are clearly written in Article 8. In order to interfere
there has to be justification because the practice is interfering
with public health, public order and so on.
Chairman: Thank you, we have the message.
237. This is all very interesting. Given the
fact that the vast majority of people, including young people,
do not take drugs, given that Mr Davies tells us heroin is not
harmful apart from depressing the respiratory systemwhich
presumably means you might die at the end of it, but that might
not be harmful although it might be quite sadwhy are we
bothering? Why are we putting all this effort and billions of
pounds into drug policy?
(Mr McNicholas) It is a very, very good question,
and it is something which should be thrown back at the authorities.
You look at us sat here, we were described as individuals with
vested interests, but that is because our interest comes from
a perspective of the social harm not just because we think drugs
are cool. The vested interests we are facing in our arguments
are enormous. There is a massive international prohibition industry,
it is a multinational corporation. It operates in the US, it operates
over here. There are thousands of people who owe their jobs to
the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. As soon as we start breaking that
down and start really looking at it and saying, "Hang on,
why are these laws in place? Are we trying to reduce harm in society
or are we trying to reduce prevalence, et cetera, et cetera",
suddenly the whole house of cards starts to break down. It is
a very good question. It is an awful lot of money which could
be used much better elsewhere, plus you can actually flip the
whole thing round and start drawing a social benefit in terms
of taxation on these things which are currently in the hands of
238. I do not want anybody else to answer, that
is a perfectly detailed response. Let us talk about taxation,
and someone talked about the conversation between Gordon Brown
and David Blunkett. If drugs were to be legalised and taxed, would
the dealers or the illegal drug dealers not then still try to
undercut the legal market with cheaper drugs? What would be the
dangers in that?
(Mr Kushlick) They currently do. That is the situation
with alcohol and tobacco. If you get the price wrong, of course
people will step in to undercut it. There are two issues here.
The first one is, even illegally-smuggled alcohol and tobacco
is legally produced, so it has a list of ingredients, it has the
purity on it, in the case of cigarettes it will often have a health
warning on it, and that is significantly different from what goes
on in the illicit drugs market because there is none of that there.
The other thing is, yes, all markets are price-sensitive, and
if you get the price too high it will be undercut. The situation
at the moment is that it is not us who determine the price, it
is the market place and completely unregulated people all the
way through the chain. The opportunities that legalisation provides
to operate fiscally within that system are huge. At the moment
there is none, absolutely none, so the price is just determined
by anyone other than government. If government wants a say in
it, it had better take the trade back.
(Mr Davies) Certainly where you are prescribing a
drug in order to shift consumers away from the black market and
into legitimate supply, it would be a terrible mistake to tax
it or to put any other form of financial or administrative barrier
between the consumer and the drug.
239. Do you actually think that any Government,
even if it were going down the route of legalisation, would not
want to tax it?
(Mr Davies) You must stop them. You are right in your
question. If you said, "The GPs can supply heroin, it is
pure, the needles are clean, the dose is supervised, but it will
cost you", you will still have the black market running.
You must not create barriers around it.
(Mr Evans) It depends on the level. I was wondering
if I could go back to your first question, why are we doing this?
I have a simple answer, the old prohibition system preceded our
understanding of human rights, it preceded the 1951 European Convention
on Human Rights, and I say that the system is an improper interference
by Government into personal freedom. I think it is entirely misconceived.
I think we have to intervene for medical, therapeutic, social,
rehabilitation reasons, all sorts of reasons, but the intervention
which was instigated by a very strange political deal in 1919-1920
is fundamentally misconceived. This whole, heavyweight establishment
has been built up on this. Americans got out of it with alcohol
in 1933 but the rest of the world has remained trapped in this
drugs establishment ever since. There is no reasonable or logical
foundation for it. Yours is the best question we have had this