Yesterday the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) announced that after a careful review of the scientific evidence, ecstasy should be downgraded from Class A to Class B. The UK Government were quick to react by sticking their fingers in their ears and going 'LA LA LA'.
In a letter to the ACMD, Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said: "Ecstasy can and does kill unpredictably. The Government has a duty to protect the public and firmly believes that ecstasy should remain a Class A drug."
Sadly, this is the kind of reaction we have come to expect from the government when it comes to drugs, their position on which can't now be argued as anything other than wholly ideological. Last year, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith reclassified cannabis from Class C to B, ignoring evidence from 23 scientists at the ACMD. It's worth pointing out at this point that the ACMD aren't a lobby group - they are the Government's own scientific advisors.
The drug debate in the UK is now in such a piss-poor state that any hope for rational argument is gone. Labour MP Austin Mitchell summed things up pretty well:
"Things have gone from bad to worse, there is no possibility of an honest discussion now. Anyone who sticks their head above the parapet and calls for a rational consideration of the drug laws gets it shot off and kicked around by a horde of lunatics."
He's not exaggerating. If you want to experience the full head-in-sand mentality of the UK authority's approach to drugs, look no further than this discussion on BBC Radio 5 Live between Police Chief Superintendent Ian Johnston and Danny Kushlick of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation (skip to 2hrs 54min). I've selected a couple of choice quotes:
IJ: What message is it going to send out to young and vulnerable people if we downgrade this?...
DK: Ian, what kind of message do you think alcohol and tobacco being legal sends out to young people?
IJ: We've gone down the tobacco and alcohol argument before.
DK: Yes, and the reason they're legal is the same reason that the US decided to re-legalise alcohol in the thirties, because the trade had been gifted to the Mafia...
IJ: I agree with some of that, but we've got what we've got.
In other words: what we have shouldn't change according to little things like evidence, and in fact, let's not debate it at all.
DK: There's no evidence to show reclassifying downwards encourages people to use.
IJ: I don't agree with that at all.
DK: That's what the figures show. That's what the Home Office figures show.
IJ: Well I disagree with that point, because as far as I am concerned we are sending out the wrong message to young people.
Simply breathtaking. This isn't just a debate about kids getting kicks, it's about the major cash artery of organised crime both in the UK and abroad, it's about the war in Afghanistan, and perpetual conflicts in Colombia, Mexico, West Africa, it's about the treatment of addicts, the health of our nation, people languishing in jail for life, and the Government seems to want no part in even discussing solution to those problems, let alone learning the facts of them. I recommend visiting the excellent Transform Drug Policy Foundation blog for all your informed-debate-on-drugs needs. God knows you won't find it in Parliament.
What message is it going to send out to young and vulnerable people if we downgrade this?
I don't know about the UK, but here in the US, the message being received about America's current Drug War, is: The government is full of shit and cannot be trusted to tell the truth about any drug. I don't know whether or not legalization would send a better message, but the current message is very bad.
It sounds like the British government is picking up the crazy where the Americans left off. The U.S. has some back-asswards drug laws that are causing millions of deaths and wrongful imprisonments, but things seem to be easing up here, with up to an ounce being decriminalized in several states. It's a baby step, but at least a step in the right direction. It's beginning to look like legalization of marijuana is closer than it has ever been, people here are beginning to see through the lies.
The message that the government's policy sends out to young people is that the government is out of touch. The policy of exaggerating the harm that certain drugs do doesn't match with people's experience.
Government refuses to even consider that their policies on drugs cause an enormous amount of harm in themselves.
It's sad that so many people are close minded about this. If I tell people I think that pot (god forbid I say something actually dangerous) should be legalized they automatically think that I'm some sort of user and then take the "higher ground". Sheesh, I've never even smoked a cigarette or drank a beer, but if you are going to do it you are going to do it; laws be damned.
This government makes a mockery of evidence-based policy making. They set up seemingly powerful Commissions and Advisory Councils, made up of eminent experts in their fields, and then neatly sidestep any advice they hand down when it conflicts with their agenda in wooing the few thousand swing voters in a handful of marginal constituencies - almost all of whom are daily mail-reading reactionaries.
IMHO this is as much a failure of the electoral system as it is of the ability of scientists of convincing those in power of what's right and wrong - Advisory Councils can advise till they're blue in the face, and they do, but it means nothing if the government are scared to appear 'soft on drugs' to a minority of middle-englanders.
I think the whole argument for not reclassifying it as "it sends out the wrong message" is pathetic. Why even bother doing the research in the first place? Do people suddenly think kids will go: oh gee it's only Class B, it can't be that bad. Besides if one looks at the statistics, the vast majority of ecstasy deaths are males in their late 20s - not naive kids.
The law sets out the penalties, which should surely be based on damage/impact/etc, not the media and socio-moral prejudices of the ignorant public.
Then of course you have the do-gooders who can't ever have a rational debate as their brains can't deal with separating impartial statistics from the legality factor.
Just look at DJ Nutt's article that earned him a severe beatdown for from that nuttcase Smith!