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24/09/2007 00:00:00

UK: Gordon Brown on Drugs: friend of the mafia, enemy of pragmatism

Gordon Brown on Drugs: friend of the mafia, enemy of pragmatism

Gordon Brown has made his first big party speech as PM and has well and
truly nailed his colours to the mast regards drug law reform. In a
seemingly unambiguous statement he has said, amongst other comments, that:

“drugs are never going to be decriminalised.”

We’ll come to this implications of this statement in a moment but first
I think it is important to point out that the Government is in the midst
of a major ten-year drug-strategy policy review and consultation process
(closing on October 19th), what it claims to be the 'biggest ever public
policy consultation' in its history. Now maybe I misunderstand the
meaning of the words ‘consultation’ and ‘policy review’, indeed, maybe
the Government should have waited a few weeks until their consultation
on how to do consultations had finished and reported before undertaking
the biggest one ever. That said I’m absolutely positive that a key rule
is that you don’t decide on policy – and announce it publicly - before
the consultation has even taken place.

Gordon has now done this twice and we should all find it profoundly

Firstly, he has let it be known he wants cannabis was to be
re-re-classified, rather than merely referred to the ACMD (as he had
previously announced). This is odd since the ACMD, the expert body
appointed by the Government specifically to advise on nominally
non-political technical matters like drug harm rankings, haven’t even
begun to look at this again, let alone report back to the PM. Also odd
since the (endlessly tedious) issue of cannabis reclassification was
specifically added to the drug strategy consultation. Yes, the one that
hasn’t closed yet and isn’t due to report its findings till next year.

Now, with today's announcement, for the second time in his short
PM-ship, Brown has done it again. He has ruled out an entire swathe of
policy options regarding drug law reforms something that rather goes
against the 'discussing the oprions spirirt of consultation and
revview'. Now , which whilst admittedly contentious, the reform position
is held by a significant proportion of the public and the drugs field,
as well as intellectual, media, academic, political, and religious
opinion. Other countries have moved in this direction with considerable
success yet, apparently un-bothered by rational evaluation of evidence,
Brown has not only ruled out such a move in the short or medium term, he
has effectively closed down the debate FOR ALL TIME.

Now I understand Brown wants to make a high-principles political splash,
and that their may be an election looming, but these announcements are
frankly offensive to all the 1000s of NGOs and members of the public who
have, or still are, diligently contributing their thoughts and
suggestions to the drug strategy consultation process. This remains true
regardless of their opinions on classification or decriminalisation:
there is a serious process problem here.

As we have said, and will be saying again more vocally in the coming
weeks, the drug strategy consultation is horribly flawed in its design,
content and implementation, and if we are being honest, a completely
fraudulent waste of time. But couldn’t they at least maintain some vague
semblance of it being meaningful, or that they might have not already
decided what the next drug policy was going to look like (i.e. – EXACTLY
like the last one)?

There is something alarmingly arrogant and contemptuous to your
so-called 'stakeholders' about saying you are going to listen to their
views, and then announcing policy decisions and that entire arenas of
debate are closed down forever, before even listening to their answers.

From a pragmatic perspective the decriminalisation announcement also
seems a peculiar one for Brown to have singled out in his maiden speech,
and has the unmistakable whiff of political positioning (not wanting to
be out-DailyMailed by tough-on drugs Tories) , combined with
ill-informed moral grandstanding. The rest of the speech is about things
he is going to do - not stuff he wont even engage with. All very
strange. Consider some of the other things he said in the speech:

"I stand for a Britain that defends its citizens and both punishes crime
and prevents it by dealing with the root causes"

As Transform have argued in detail for years: prohibition directly fuels
vast amounts of crime at all levels, something not even the Home Office
or the previous prime minister's own advisers dispute.

"I stand for a Britain that supports as first class citizens not just
some children and some families but supports all children and all families"

We all remember that biblical saying: "suffer the little children to
come unto me." No Bible I have ever read says: "bring just some of the

Odd then that he makes such play of supporting a law that criminalises
around half of all young people and a third of the adult population,
including those who elected his party to power (now that’s gratitude).
Not casual criminality either, a cheeky fine or warning for example; if
Gordon's apparent re-re-classification plan comes to fruition, cannabis
possession will return to its status of incurring a prosecution, a
criminal record, and a potential 7 year jail term - for about 6.2
million people in the UK if the Lancet is to be believed (including half
the cabinet)

A criminal record: just what the socially excluded and marginalised
young people of Britain need to help them get on in life.

I must say, I despise the hypocrisy of those who cite the bible for
self-righteous political brownie points, and in the same breath are
happy to indiscriminately condemn millions to the stigma of criminality
and punishment for a consenting personal choice that offends their
personal morality (especially given the when only some drugs, for no
logical reason, are deemed illegal, whilst others, equally or more
harmful, remain legal…see below).

Mass criminalisation of young people, how very Christian.

"To punish the evil of drug pushers who poison our children: I want the
tough new powers that have already closed over one thousand crack houses
in some areas of the country to be used in all areas of the country"

Ridiculous and shameless drug war posturing. Crack use has risen
consistently and dramatically throughout his government's tenure, as
well he knows, and crack is cheaper and more available than ever before.
No mention of the fact that cocaine use has doubled amongst young people
under Labour, or that we now top the European consumption leagues. This
is classic drug war spin and misdirection (something that has
characterized the entire 10 year strategy and positively infests the
consultation document)

And to encourage local police to use new powers to confiscate drug
profits, more of the confiscated funds will go direct to the police and
local communities.

Laughable rubbish. It is the policy of prohibition which gifts the
lucrative drug market to gangsters in the first place. The Government
have hosed literally billions every year enforcing it and billions more
each year attempting to deal with the chaos it creates. Meanwhile they
pull in a couple of million a year in recovered assets. It’s a total
joke to proclaim asset recovery as a central pillar of current or future

To prevent addiction: we will extend drug education and expand drug
treatment and we will send out a clear message that drugs are never
going to be decriminalised.

Your own appointed expert advisers say drug education has been
completely ineffectual, and recent announcements have been clear that
drug treatment budgets are going to be scaled back. As for the
decriminalization announcement – well this appears to be a classic case
of misappropriating the criminal justice system to send out public
health messages – something it is not designed for doing (and when it
has been tried has been a counterproductive failure, as 40 years of a
growing drug problem under prohibition demonstrate rather clearly to
those with eyes/minds open).

So yes we will strengthen the police. Yes we will strengthen our laws.
But preventing crime for me also means all of us as a community setting
boundaries between what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour - with
clear penalties for stepping over the line.

OK that seems sensible enough, in theory.

Boundaries that reflect the words I was taught when I was young - words
upon which we all know strong communities are founded: discipline,
respect, responsibility

Bit school-teachery but fair enough, you are the Prime Minister I suppose

Binge drinking and underage drinking that disrupt neighbourhoods are

OK fine – but how come you make a distinction between acceptable and
unacceptable drug use regards alcohol, but resort to the blunderbuss of
indiscriminate blanket criminalization for other drugs, Hmm? Why the
moral absolutism for some drugs , but not others? 9Reminds me of this.)

To punish: let me tell the shops that repeatedly sell alcohol to those
who are under age - we will take your licences away.

Hang on. Why not give these ‘the evil of drug pushers who poison our
children’ a walloping great big criminal record aswell? Not being very
consistent with your message about 'discipline respect and
responsibility' now are you?

To prevent: councils should use new powers to ban alcohol in trouble
spots and I call on the industry to do more to advertise the dangers of
teenage drinking.

I'm forced to point out that your Government's record on alcohol
advertising is a total disgrace.

So nothing new, and perhaps nothing we shouldn’t have expected it, but
there was brief moment when I thought that, just maybe, with a new drug
strategy and a new PM (following on from an old drug strategy/PM combo
that was such a complete disaster) might herald some genuine reflection
and even a reasoned debate on policy options. This was particularly the
case given that Brown comes from the treasury and might have been
expected to look more pragmatically at how spending on drug enforcement
relates to policy outcomes.

Apparently not. Move along now, nothing has changed: if Gordon gets his
way the mafia will remain in charge of the multi billion pound trade in
illegal drugs. Forever.
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Author: transform blog via UKCIA

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