Statistics can be a limited and limiting way to understand social issues. When we focus on how many people are affected by a problem, or how much the government spends on tackling it, we start to see numbers instead of people. The opposite is also true, though: without statistical evidence, it’s hard to understand the scale of a problem.
Under pressure from the Lib Dems, the Home Office commissioned a report looking at the international evidence on the impact of legislation on drug use. Theresa May, the home secretary, made no secret of the fact that she had no enthusiasm for the project, and when it was published in October, with Baker taking the lead in publicising it, Conservative ministers signalled that they would ignore it. Baker revealed that the original draft had contained policy recommendations that, on May’s orders, had been removed prior to publication.
The vaping trend seemingly knows no bounds as the first “cannabis” e-cigarette goes on sale in the UK. The KanaVape, which contains hemp, has been legalised for use in France by people with cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS) and other conditions requiring pain relief. It will go on sale around the world tomorrow but the Home Office has cast doubt on whether that would be legal, saying the product must be tested for controlled substances. KanaVape cannot be compared to a joint because it does not contain THC, the chemical causing cannabis highs.
Westminster has finally reached a tipping point in the drug debate and radical change is now becoming possible, Norman Baker has said. The Liberal Democrat Home Office minister was speaking to Politics.co.uk after the publication of a government report on international drug laws which found no correlation between the severity of a country's policy and levels of drug use. It is unprecedented for the Home Office to publish a report which casts doubt on its own policy for the last 40 years and many reformers are becoming increasingly confident that it could herald a sea-change in Westminster's view on the issue.
The House of Commons will today debate whether to rethink the war on drugs. While it is only a backbench business debate, and is therefore not binding, it still represents a step towards reviewing the UK’s drug laws. There is a simple reason why the UK’s drug policy is so expensive and ineffective: the law is so old. Policy is still dictated by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, signed into law shortly after the 1971 UN Convention on Drugs. In 43 years since, the approach has failed catastrophically.
An increasing proportion of Britons favours a more liberal approach to drugs and would support decriminalisation strategies, according to a comprehensive survey commissioned by the Observer. An overwhelming majority believes that the so-called "war on drugs" is futile, with 84% saying that the decades-long campaign by law enforcement agencies against the global narcotics trade can never be won. The proportion of Britons who believe certain drugs should be decriminalised has risen from 27% to 39% since 2008. (See also: Britain divided: how we really feel about drugs)
Twelve years ago, a promising young politician rose to speak in the British parliament. “I ask the Government not to return to retribution and war on drugs,” he said. “That has been tried, and we all know that it does not work.” He went on to criticise the government for “posturing with tough policies”, and “calling for crackdown after crackdown”, thereby “holding back the debate”. And when a vote was called, his was cast in support of “the possibility of legalisation and regulation”.
Even though, in 1998, the Home Office granted GW Pharmaceuticals a license to grow cannabis in order to develop cannabinoid-based medicines, Britain is not following suit. Norman Baker, Lib Dem minister of state for crime prevention, called for more liberalised drug laws, and specifically the legalisation of cannabis grown for medicinal use. A coalition spokesman rejected his suggestion outright. And so those seeking cannabis for medicinal purposes must continue to chase it in the same way as recreational users, through the black market.
Liberalised drug laws should be introduced to legalise the widespread use of cannabis to relieve symptoms of certain medical conditions, including the side effects of chemotherapy, the drugs minister Norman Baker will say. Amid concerns that "credible people" are having to break the law to secure the only substance that can help to relieve their condition, Baker is writing to the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to call for a review of the medicinal properties of cannabis.
William Patey, British ambassador to Afghanistan from 2010-2012
25 June 2014
When Tony Blair deployed British troops in Afghanistan, ending the illicit production and supply of opium was cited as a key objective. In 2001 the prime minister linked heroin use in the UK with opium cultivation in Afghanistan. Yet after 10 years of effort with tens of thousands of troops in the country, and having spent billions trying to reduce poppy cultivation, Afghans are growing more opium than ever before. For the sake of both Afghans and British citizens, politicians must take responsibility for the failings of global prohibition, and take control of the drug trade through legal regulation.
Today, khat joined the range of prohibited substances that fall under the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Those who distribute this Class C drug can now face 14 years imprisonment – the same maximum sentence that applies to individuals who cause death by dangerous driving, and four years more than the maximum penalty for sexual assault. So what exactly is khat, and why has it attracted such harsh legislation? (See also: Khat: Update - Ban to be implemented on the 24th of June)
Police have been officially advised to use their discretion in deciding how to enforce the ban on qat, a mild herbal stimulant, that has been widely used in Britain's Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities. Official guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers tells constables that in applying a "three strikes" enforcement policy they should take into account that qat has "historically not been a controlled drug and was part of the culture of certain communities linked to the Horn of Africa." (See also: Stimulant khat banned as illegal class C drug in UK)
Martha Fernback, 15, died from taking 91% pure ecstasy. The response of her mother, Anne-Marie Cockburn was unusual. She refused to blame her daughter, her friends, or the dealer or the manufacturer. Cockburn, a single mother, focused on a greater target: the government. "It quickly became obvious that prohibition had had its chance but failed," she said. "Martha is a sacrificial lamb under prohibition. The question is: how many more Marthas have to die before we change our approach? It's not acceptable to allow the risks to remain."
Legalisation of cannabis is making slow but unstoppable progress across much of the developed world, many experts believe, following the end of prohibition in two US states. In Amsterdam, long famous for its coffee shops, international experts gathering to discuss cannabis regulation said the international conventions, once so heavily policed by the US, would now be increasingly flouted. Already many countries, most notably the Netherlands and Spain, have bypassed the rules.