The leafy substance khat, grown by many Kenyan farmers, is of economic and cultural significance to many Africans. The UK government has decided, against the advice of its own experts, to treat khat as a class C drug to "protect vulnerable members of our communities". In July, UK Home Secretary Theresa May said khat would be banned "at the earliest possible opportunity" but a ban has yet to be imposed. A team of Kenyan MPs lobby the UK government not to follow suit.
The new Liberal Democrat minister responsible for drugs policy, Norman Baker, has refused to rule out a policy of legalising cannabis but said that it is not his prime objective in the job. "I think it needs to be considered along with everything else. It is not my prime objective and I am not advocating it at the moment. We should be prepared to follow the evidence and see where it takes us," he said.
Over the past few years, local cannabis clubs have blossomed over Britain. There are now 49 around the UK, which are united by the UK Cannabis Social Club, an organisation founded in 2011 to represent cannabis users. Operating primarily through Facebook, (the LCC's page has had 39,301 likes) the clubs bring cannabis users together from all over Britain to discuss topics ranging from fertiliser to self-medication and campaigning for the decriminalisation of the drug.
The UK's drug laws are preventing scientists from carrying out vital research to unlock our understanding of the brain and find new treatments for conditions such as depression and Parkinson's disease, according to Professor David Nutt, a leading neuroscientist and former government drug adviser. "Things are actually getting worse," said Nutt, referring to the restrictions placed on research.
The Beckley report, Licensing and Regulation of the Cannabis Market in England and Wales: Towards a Cost-Benefit Analysis, grasps of the economic consequences of a regulated market, as opposed to the current prohibitionist model. This is essential for evaluating the impacts of possible drug policy reform. The report outlines the factors which must be included in further cost-benefit analyses. The report costed 60.000 pounds and 3 years to create. Reliable data was often lacking and more evidence is needed.
As a senior police official in northern England calls for safe rooms for the injection of hard drugs, attention has focused on similar projects around Europe. They point to an experiment in Copenhagen, which Danish police say has saved lives and helped clean up drug-ridden districts. Addicts bring their own drugs, which remain illegal in Denmark, but police in this neighbourhood, Vesterbro, no longer prosecute them for possession.
Legalising and taxing cannabis could be worth as much as £1.25bn a year to the government, a study suggests. The report Licensing and regulation of the cannabis market in England and Wales: towards a cost-benefit analysis, quantifies the revenue to be gained from the regulation and taxation of the cannabis market in England and Wales. It estimates that reduced enforcement costs, such as police, court and prison time and community sentences, could save £300m or more alone, with the remaining three-quarters of the net benefit come from tax revenue.
A decision by the UK government to ban the stimulant khat later this year is facing fierce resistance in Kenya from those farming the mildly narcotic leaves for export. Local leaders are not happy with the UK's decision to reclassify khat as a class C drug. The local MP, Kubai Kiringo, tells me Kenya could reconsider its ties to Britain if the UK does not drop the ban. "We feel bitter and short-changed. We want the home secretary to revise her decision," he says. (See also: Harmless habit or dangerous drug?)
The chief drugs adviser to the government has given his strongest warning yet on legal highs in Britain, saying there are now more than 200 synthetic psychoactive drugs being sold outside existing laws. He rejected a new approach in New Zealand, which tests and licenses the sale of these new psychoactive substances, as unworkable in Britain, but said a solution might be found by tweaking the Medicines Act or using consumer protection laws.
Since the launch of the room, the quantity of drug paraphernalia collected from gutters, playgrounds, stairwells and doorways in the area has halved. Vesterbro also appears to be a place where the desperate are seemingly becoming a little less desperate. Burglaries in the wider area are down by about 3%, theft from vehicles and violence down about 5%, and possession of weapons also down. "From the police perspective, I can see the benefits," says Superintendent Henrik Orye. "It feels calmer."
Clubbers are regularly taking the former legal high mephedrone alongside ecstasy and cocaine, a trend that experts warn could have grave health implications. Research found that polydrug use was now the norm among clubbers, who are happy to mix legal, newly banned and established illegal club drugs. It indicates that criminalising drugs has little effect on consumption other than to provide new revenue streams for dealers selling established illicit substances. Experts say the findings are important because what happens on the club scene is often copied by wider society later on.
It's never been easier, or cheaper, to buy drugs online – but no one knows what's in them, or how dangerous they are. For most of the last decade, an average of four or five new legal drugs came on to the market each year. Then mephedrone appeared on the scene: cheap, legal and available online. By 2010, the drug had become the fourth most popular drug, after marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. It was banned in April of that year, but not before a new market had emerged for online legal highs. In 2011, EU researchers found 49 new legal drugs for sale online. In 2012, 73 were identified; hundreds more were banned.
"The current war on drugs is successful in creating further victims of acquisitive crime, increasing cost to the taxpayer to accommodate a higher prison population and allowing criminals to control and profit from the sale and distribution of Class A drugs," PGA president Eoin McLennan-Murray. "A fundamental review of the prohibition-based policy is desperately required and this is why the Prison Governors Association are keen to support the Count the Costs initiative."
Keynes, convinced of the power of ideas over that of “vested interests”, famously held that “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.” Now there’s little doubt that the social life of ideas helps explain the astonishing persistence of ‘Thatcherism’.
Brighton is set to be the first British city to offer official "drug consumption rooms" where addicts can use heroin, crack and cocaine under supervision without fear of prosecution. The city's public health leaders will "give serious consideration" to the plan in order to save lives. A report published from an independent drugs commission led by the crime author Peter James and Mike Trace, a former UK deputy drugs tsar, is expected to say that drug consumption rooms "significantly reduce overdose death rates" and do not encourage further use.
Across the UK, 7,865 cannabis farms were discovered in 2011-12, an increase of 15% on the previous year's figures and over double the number for 2007-8 when police found just 3,032. Previously cannabis cultivation was done on a larger scale by gangs, who would fully convert terrace houses, knocking down walls to make larger growing areas, taking electricity direct from the mains, to avoid triggering the suspicion of the energy companies over unusually high consumption. Recently, there has been a shift towards smaller-scale farms, in line with a national trend, identified by the Association of Chief Police Officers' 2012 report into the commercial cultivation of cannabis .
Criminologist Professor Alex Stevens has refuted media reports that reducing penalties for cannabis possession has led to increased drug use, crime and health problems. He said published data shows that these claims are unfounded and in fact highlight that cannabis use and crime have gone down since the 2004 declassification of cannabis to a class C substance. (See also: Shock Press: British papers misrepresent drug statistics)