Drugs

Umm….

Yet wherever you live, there is no way back from crack, the ultimate dead-end drug. You either stop taking it, or you die.

Where I live, out here in the real world, stopping taking crack is known as a way back.

Well Said

As you may know, I hold no brief for either Ken or various Green types, but this seems entirely sensible:

Ken Livingstone came under fresh pressure last night when it emerged that his allies in the Green Party are calling for the legalisation of ecstasy.

Actually, the full policy:

Miss Berry\’s manifesto, launched last week, advocates "decriminalising recreational drugs such as ecstasy and psychotropic mushrooms" as well as "providing heroin on prescription".

Entirely sensible. It might be that we\’ve actually got there the first recorded agreement betwen the Adam Smith Inst (not that I speak for them ex officio you understand, but it is close to stated policy) and the Green Party.

Government by Personal Anecdote

It would appear that this is what we have come to.

Sigh.

Our eldest son, Will, once a highly academic, sporty, handsome, smiling young boy, began smoking cannabis at school with friends. He was fourteen. He soon began to change into someone we scarcely recognised, who stole to fund the habit that began to consume him. Pleas from us to stop were met with a shrug and the comments ‘the government wouldn’t have downgraded it if it wasn’t safe to smoke’. With predictions of nine excellent passes at GCSE, we could never have foreseen that our son would follow a route of drug abuse and destructive behaviour that would bring our family to breaking point.

Yes, sad. But no, not the basis upon which to threaten 10 million man years of prison (2million smokers, 5 years jail time each).

Not that such a threat would in fact reduce consumption. One of the oddities has been that consumption has fallen since the downgrading.

Oho!

This is going to make things interesting:

The Government\’s drug advisory body is set to recommend that cannabis should remain a Class C drug, creating a dilemma for Gordon Brown who has indicated he wants to clamp down on use of the drug.

Which way is he going to jump?

But the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs appears to go against this view.

Though the council refused to confirm its conclusions, the BBC reports that the decision was taken at a private meeting of the council where new research from Keele University about links between cannabis and mental illness was discussed.

The study reportedly found no evidence that rising cannabis use in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s led to more cases of schizophrenia later on.

Quite: the question of whether the link between cannabis and schizophrenia is causative or not still remains. Does smoking send you crazy or do people going crazy self medicate?

That, even on the most alarmist figures, and assuming that the dope is the cause, we were talking about 500 cases per year. Amongst 2 4 8 million users (make up your own statistic here) that\’s nothing:and certainly not, even if true, a good enough reason to threaten that many people with 5 years in jail.

So, which way will the monocular Scot go? Will politics trump science again? Politics trump freedom and liberty?

Dean Baker on Drugs

I\’ve been deperately trying to get my head around Dean Baker\’s proposals for reducing the costs of pharmaceuticals.

Essentially, as I understand it, do not allow patents on drugs. Instead, pay development costs directly from tax revenue and thus the drugs will be sold at marginal cost, rather than having to bear the costs of their development as well.

This would of course require that the bureaucrats allocating the tax money were wise enough (and unbribable enough) to only fund the good drugs. And central planning has worked so well, hasn\’t it?

But it all becomes clear in this comment he made to one of my questions:

We can also radically reduce the amount of research wasted developing copycat drugs, since there is much less incentive for this research, absent the opportunities to gain patent rents.

So we will reduce the number of copycat drugs. So those drug firms with a successful product will in fact face less competition.

And this is going to reduce the costs of drugs?

Genius, pure genius!

Eh?

So, congratulations Gordon: a line of cocaine (on Dec07 street prices) is now cheaper than half a pint cider.

The Hansard Fraser points to says cocaine is £40 a gramme. A half pint of cider, well….

Sainsbury\’s has come under fire for slashing the price of cider to 26p a pint, fuelling concern over the role of supermarkets in the nation\’s binge-drinking culture.

So, umm, 13 p.

So, we can now calculate how much cocaine Fraser thinks is in a line, can we not?

One three hundred and eighth of a gramme.

1/308 g.

Journalists really are lightweights, aren\’t they?

 

Quite

We won\’t end this violence by jailing celebrities or middle-class users. The only way to take back our streets is to wrest back control of the drugs from the criminals, by legalising and regulating their trade.

Imagine if you could buy coke from Boots. Or the aptly named Superdrug. That would drain the glamour from it more effectively than making a martyr of Kate Moss. I don\’t imagine her lovely features would adorn state-regulated packets of white powder, hanging next to the corn plasters. Yes, legalisation would make drugs cheaper, in order to undercut the dealers. Yes, usage might increase. But perhaps not much, because it is already widespread. A third of 16 to 24-year-olds routinely admit to having tried drugs, despite knowing that they are admitting to a crime.

The benefits of legalisation could be enormous. Overcrowded prisons would be relieved of people needing treatment rather than punishment (about 15 per cent of prisoners are in for possession or supply). Addicts would not be forced into associating with criminals. Children could be safe in Britain\’s playgrounds again.

Interesting

Cannabis use among young people has fallen since the Government downgraded it to a Class C drug, according to figures published yesterday.

Of course, the Government thinks that cannabis should be upgraded back to Class B in order to reduce the number of young who take it….

 

Umm

The problem has not been extended licensing itself, but its often baffling application. I don\’t recall, for example, widespread public demand for supermarkets and off-licences to sell booze around the clock.

Well, the widespread public demand is surely in the fact that people are buying and drinking the stuff, which is what you\’re complaining about, isn\’t it?

Typical

To be honest, I don\’t know whether this is a good idea or not.

Thousands of problem drug users will face losing welfare benefit payments for up to six months if they repeatedly fail to participate in drug treatment programmes under "three strikes and you\’re out" proposals to be announced today.

The move to use the benefits system to encourage drug users to stay in treatment is likely to prove controversial, with some critics warning that cutting benefits could actually fuel crime as those affected steal more to fund their habit.

There will be (as so often when looking at economic incentives) two effects. One is that the threat of losing benefits will increase th number who do stay wih treatment (and hopefully profit from such). There will also be those denied benefits who then steal to fund both their habits and life itself.

The important question, again as so often with matters concering economic incentives, is which effect will prevail: which effect will be stronger on more people? The answer is that we don\’t know, inded, we cannot know until we conduct an experiment. Which we should do, before making these rule changes for everyone.

It might or might not be a good idea: so let\’s find out first shall we?

Drugs and Prostitution

Not quite Vicki:

Something must be done. It\’s obvious to me, if not to others, that what must be done is not "reducing the demand" or tightening up the prostitution laws (thus making it harder for women to take responsibility for their own safety) or banging up punters or "ending the world\’s sex industry" or any other highfalutin soundbite – but dealing with the drugs.

We have a muddled and messy drugs policy in this country. (I\’m not surprised: we have a muddled and messy alcohol policy.) Ipswich police are doing their best to handle the acute situation in which they\’ve found themselves. They\’re lifting girls off the street, offering them methadone (that won\’t help, but let it lie), driving busily about to frighten off punters (that won\’t help long-term, either). They can\’t draw the obvious conclusion about £120 bags being worth four to six horrible encounters every night (either give them the damn bags, or lots and lots of very expensive rehab at the taxpayers\’ expense) because we\’d need a "Swedish model" of state funding to do so.

Not quite. The cost of that heroin is vastly inflated by its very illegality. A few months back I went and looked up the price of diamorphine in the NHS formulary (I think that\’s the right word). Enough to keep a determined addict happy costs about £20 a day.

At first glance simply giving addicts (depends upon who you believe, perhaps 40,000 registered ones, 400,000 in total seem likely numbers) their dose is wildly impractical: £900,000 to £9 million a day,  over £3 billion a year at the top end.

However, when offset against the reduction in costs of the crime caused by addicts, the abuses of our civil liberties, the prostitution mentioned, it all begins to sound rather cheap. Overall we\’d be spending less than we do already, that I\’m certain of.

Judge on Drugs

Something doesn\’t sound quite right here:

A judge condemned politicians for downgrading cannabis yesterday as he jailed an "inspirational" teenager whose addiction to the drug turned him into a heroin dealer.

Judge Michael Murphy told Sheffield Crown Court that it was "a nonsense" to claim the drug was not addictive.

"You have to be in court for five minutes to realise what a nonsense that is," he said. "People are often addicted to it. It\’s an awful drug and it\’s the gateway to other drugs.

The gateway part is of course because it is illegal. Legal supply would make cannabis no more likely to turn people into heroin addicts than booze or fags do. Of coffee, for that matter.

Judge Murphy spoke out after hearing how Jerome Blake, 19, had been an inspirational community worker in Sheffield\’s deprived Burngreave area. But he began peddling heroin in order to feed his £20-a-day addiction to cannabis.

I\’m decades out of the market so I\’ve no idea how much inflation (or deflation) there\’s been, but can anyone actually smoke £20\’s worth of cannabis and still walk upright?

Polly on Drugs

While there\’s still details to be worked out here, Polly Toynbee is on precisely the right lines here:

But one great blundering mistake may in the end destroy all the good done elsewhere. The opium economy will always be stronger than the real economy. Only 8% of GDP comes from commerce: the rest is aid. Off the books the real economy is all opium, more and more by the year. The US wants to spray and impoverish the poorest farmers, causing hatred. The US drives the disastrous prohibition policy imposed by the UN. Unless and until the drug is given as a medicine to registered addicts, cutting demand and cutting drug-driven crime in the west, illegal opium growing will always distort and corrupt everything else here in Afghanistan. Buy it to use for morphine, buy it to destroy, but buy it at a price above the relatively low price the narco barons pay to poor farmers. Agriculture in the EU and the US has always been a strange subsidised distorted market. But there never was a better reason for buying a crop than to bring Afghan farmers in from the world of crime that risks keeping the country lawless indefinitely.

This is, roughly speaking, the Adam Smith Institute view as well. Some form of legalisation, decriminalisation, medicalisation, is the only possible way to deal with the War on Drugs and the foul criminality that ensues.

I\’m not really sure that the world can quite cope with both Polly Toynbee and Madsen Pirie being on the same side of the same question. Perhaps it\’s just a signal that the proposal is so gobsmackingly obvious: I\’m sure both believe that kittens are cute as well.

Why Bother?

Why have a review?

Cannabis is to be reclassified as a Class B drug after an official review this spring, The Times has learnt.

Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith are determined to reverse the decision to downgrade the drug when the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs completes its report in the next few months.

While its recommendations are not yet known, ministers are already making plain that the Home Secretary is prepared to overrule the expert body if necessary.

If you know what you\’re going to do anyway, why bother to spend the money?

In her letter to Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, the chairman of the council, requesting a further review of evidence, Ms Smith said: “Though statistics show that cannabis use has fallen significantly, there is really public concern about the potential mental health effects of cannabis use, in particular the use of stronger forms of the drug, commonly known as skunk. This is in addition to the longitudinal studies undertaken in New Zealand and the Netherlands that link cannabis use to mental health problems.”

Allow me to translate that for you. Given that everyone has been lying through their teeth about the effects of cannabis on mental health, the public now believe that cannabis causes schizophrenia. Because we have mislead the public on this point we can now change the law to accord with the misinformation we have fed the poor deluded fools.

Newspaper Watch

Potent variety

— Skunk is a type of cannabis containing two or three times the normal amount of THC, the active ingredient

— It is named after its strong smell

— The maximum penalty for possession is two years in prison plus an unlimited fine, although police are more likely to let first-time offenders off with a warning

— The maximum penalty for supply of skunk is 14 years in prison plus an unlimited fine

— Skunk costs about £200 per ounce

— There is evidence that skunk can trigger mental health problems, such as schizophrenia. It can also lower sperm count in men and suppress ovulation in women

Source: Frank

Really? The Times is using the Government\’s propaganda site as a source of impartial information?

Well, that was my first reaction. Having actually read their entry on cannabis I have to admit that it\’s not quite as bad as it used to be.

There’s also increasing evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health problems such as schizophrenia. If you’ve a history of mental health problems, depression or are experiencing paranoia, then taking this drug is not a good idea.

That\’s pretty much as I understand matters: not so much that pot *causes* schizophrenia, but that it may exacerbate pre-existing conditions.

Reefer Madness Again

The use of super-strength "skunk" cannabis has soared five-fold over the past six years, a Home Office study has found.

So?

We\’re told this in the same shocked tones the doctor uses when announcing that you\’ve got cancer. That this is clear evidence that some disaster is happening.

But why? Whether people are smoking a stronger drug or not is irrelevant…..unless we know whether people are smoking more or less of it. We don\’t actually care whether people are drinking beer or whisky, we care (to the extent that we care at all) how many units they\’re drinking.

So, we don\’t care whether cannabis is stronger or weaker. We care, to the extent that we care at all, about how much is being smoked. given that no one is mentioning that I\’ll assume that volume is down and strength up: if volume was up they\’d definitely be mentioning it.

Update. Aha!

A more potent "skunk" form of cannabis now accounts for 70-80% of the British market for the drug, but many users are cutting down and only smoking enough to get high, the initial results of a Home Office study show.

Given that the smoke itself causes damage, smoking less to get to a certain high is actually an improvement in public health terms.

 

Cannabis Hysteria

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said: "While many people can smoke a joint with no long-term effects, for some young people regular use can double their risk of developing schizophrenia, in which a person may hear voices, and experience strange thoughts and paranoid delusions."

That\’s a blitheringly stupid statement, isn\’t it? "Some", "can double" ….there\’s no information there, is there? If we define our set for whom smoking dope is dangerous as those for whom smoking dope is dangerous…well, we\’ve not actually said anything, have we?

As we know from when this was raised previously, there are some (depending upon who you believe) 2 million to 8 million regular dope smokers in the country. The number said to present with psychiatric problems as a result has near doubled, from some 600 or so to 950 or so in a year. So our definition of "many" is in fact damn near "everyone" and out definition of "some" is damn near "none".

That\’s without even including the fact that we already know that incipient schizophrenics (not quite sure if that\’s the correct word, but those descending into the hell that is that disease) self-medicate heavily before it truly takes hold and is diagnosed. They might do it with tobacco, might do it with alcohol, might do it with whatever other drugs, legal, prescription or not, that come to hand. Given that the downgrading from Class B to Class C will have made dope more readily available (rather the point of doing so in fact) that those on that slope self-medicate with dope more often than they did so previously (sorry, to be accurate, those suffering now do so more than the previous cohort) is really not a surprise.

We\’ve go the classic confusion over causation here. We\’re not distinguishing between those who become psychotic as a result of smoking dope and those who are smoking dope because they\’re becoming psychotic.

And we\’ve got all these people using such glaringly, obviously, incomplete facts (to be generous) to decide upon public policy?

Gaaaah!

Simon Heffer On Drugs

I do wonder what he\’s been taking.

I make no apology either for being so uncharitable towards the drugs culture, or for hectoring a government that refuses to deal seriously with it. It causes, on a conservative estimate, 70 per cent of the crime in our country. Mugging, burglary, prostitution and most other forms of vice are linked to it. It provokes violence and murder. Poverty, misery and broken families are its result. So, too, as this report shows, are numerous health problems, notably mental illness. The drain this puts on our public resources, whether in the NHS or the social security bill, runs into billions of pounds that could be spent on useful causes – education, care of the elderly, or more police and better hospitals. That toll of money and human misery is what our rulers choose to pay for the drugs menace in this country: or, rather, they choose to have us pay it.

The evil that drug dealers do cannot be adequately punished under our present law; I would take a leaf out of China\’s book, and have them taken out and shot in the back of the head. That isn\’t going to happen. But using the laws we do have more effectively, applying them with zero tolerance, and making junkies pay – literally – for the damage they do to society would be a start. I fear, though, that it is already too late.

Everything he\’s desscribing there is a result of the illegality of drugs, not the existence of drugs themselves. And yet he insists that drugs should not be legalised (or decriminalised) and that we should have a zero tolerance approach: that is, make the problems of illegality worse. As the late great Uncle Milton said:

You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are tearing asunder our social fabric, ruining the lives of many young people, and imposing heavy costs on some of the most disadvantaged among us. You are not mistaken in believing that the majority of the public share your concerns. In short, you are not mistaken in the end you seek to achieve.

Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore. Of course the problem is demand, but it is not only demand, it is demand that must operate through repressed and illegal channels. Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials; illegality monopolizes the efforts of honest law forces so that they are starved for resources to fight the simpler crimes of robbery, theft and assault.

Drugs are a tragedy for addicts. But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike. Our experience with the prohibition of drugs is a replay of our experience with the prohibition of alcoholic beverages.

Suing Your Drug Dealer

Hmm, OK, so this was a default judgement (he wouldn\’t give up the name of his dealer) but I wonder how this would fly here:

A former addict has opened a new front in the war on illegal drugs by successfully suing her dealer for selling her crystal methamphetamine that almost killed her.

What\’s the argument? Not fit for purpose? Not of merchantable quality? I might see that you could argue those things if it was bad shit, but what if it\’s actually good stuff, exactly the material that you did order?