“We’re so up our own arses in terms of thinking how clever we are as a nation. We won’t learn from anyone else at all. But there’s plenty of evidence out there.”
So spoke Professor David Nutt: medical physician, professional in neuropsychopharmacology, and lifelong thorn within the facet of governments who pursue an anti-science coverage on medication.
Once I interviewed Nutt for the New Statesman final yr on the hypocrisy of politicians who take a tough line on medication regardless of their very own private strategy to leisure use (Michael Gove, David Cameron, Boris Johnson), he was scathing. The proof from the world over — on drug reform generally and on hashish particularly — is irrefutable: prohibition doesn’t work, and it prices lives. It allows a thriving black market that strains the pockets of gangs, criminalises peculiar individuals for utilizing a substance that’s much less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, and doesn’t even scale back consumption. “Anyone can get cannabis anywhere [in the UK]… and it’s illegal,” Nutt instructed me. “So at what point do you accept that the policy has failed?”
The reply for many politicians isn’t. It’s extra politically expedient to bury your head within the sand and reel off straightforward soundbites in regards to the hurt of medicine than it’s to acknowledge the proof and danger pearl-clutching Every day Mail headlines. Until you’re Sadiq Khan, that’s.
The Mayor of London has been on a tour of the US this week, ostensibly for the aim of boosting commerce hyperlinks and tourism by way of the medium of self-promoting photograph shoots. The journey has been derided as a publicity stunt, which isn’t fully unfair given the cringe-worthy snaps of Khan posing with James Corden and Hillary Clinton. However one photograph particularly stands out: Khan standing wide-eyed in the midst of a hashish cultivation farm in Los Angeles, flanked by towering marijuana crops and searching dazed.
The shock this photograph has induced is hanging. Hashish has been authorized for medicinal functions in California since 1996, and was legalised for leisure use in 2016. Eighteen states, and Washington DC, have legalised it absolutely, and medicinal marijuana is on the market in 38. If Khan had needed to gentle up in entrance of the cameras, he would have been breaking no regulation; a shot of him with a bong or a brownie can be equal to the limitless pictures of politicians attempting the native beers, wines or spirits of wherever they’re visiting.
Khan didn’t do this, in fact. He stood subsequent to some crops. But so conditioned have we develop into, because of the scaremongering rhetoric of the battle on medication, that for a politician to be in a room the place a wonderfully authorized substance is grown is a radical act.
Radical too was Khan’s announcement of a London Medication Fee to look at hashish decriminalisation. It shouldn’t be, given the expertise of different international locations (not simply the US however Canada, Portugal, the Netherlands and different European states), specifically a discount in each violent crime and drug deaths. Portugal, which decriminalised the private possession of all medication in 2001, has decrease drug use and fewer drug-related deaths than the EU common. The UK has the best price of drug deaths in Europe (largely as a result of Scotland), and final yr deaths had been the best on report. We’re a world chief — and never in the best way Boris Johnson would really like.
If the UK isn’t able to hear within the case of medicine similar to heroin and cocaine, possibly it may no less than begin with hashish. Authorized frameworks are nonetheless being labored out and questions stay round regulating power, promoting guidelines, and at what degree authorized weed needs to be taxed to optimise state income whereas nonetheless dismantling the black market. Some research have proven a slight enhance in use after guidelines are relaxed, others no enhance in any respect.
It’s price remembering that decriminalisation and legalisation will not be the identical (sustaining a authorized ban whereas turning a blind eye to possession dangers handing extra energy to medication gangs), and that having federal restrictions within the US whereas states go their very own manner has created a murky gray space that has opened the door to exploitation. There are templates from overseas for the right way to deal with drug reform efficiently and classes in what to not do. (Because the Instances columnist Hugo Rifkind just lately put it, we don’t “have to make all the same mistakes that America has. I mean, we do eggs and cheese differently, too”.)
All of this, one hopes, can be thought-about by the London Medication Fee. “We need to have an honest, open conversation about the evidence in relation to the history of cannabis and our laws in the UK and our experience of the health consequences in relation to crime and the community,” Khan defined, which appears painfully affordable. Why wouldn’t the federal government wish to assess whether or not its present coverage is working (it isn’t) and whether or not there’s a greater manner (there’s)?
The reply, sadly, is concern. Khan had barely floated the concept of taking a extra evidenced-based strategy to medication earlier than Priti Patel shot him down. The Dwelling Secretary parroted the identical line about how medication “ruin communities, tear apart families and destroy lives” that we now have heard since Richard Nixon launched his battle on medication 50 years in the past, by no means stopping to wonder if it could be prohibition that causes such devastation, fairly than medication themselves. Labour has additionally reiterated its opposition to legalisation — disappointing however unsurprising, given the occasion attacked the Liberal Democrats’ openness to drug reform in marketing campaign leaflets for the native elections earlier in Could.
On this subject, each Labour and the Conservatives are at odds with the general public. Repeated polling has proven that British individuals again hashish reform, and in 2018 it was estimated that legalisation, if completed proper, may earn the Treasury as much as £3.5bn (the identical quantity, by the way, that the federal government is hoping to avoid wasting by axing 90,000 civil servants). What’s standing in the best way is concern. Nutt, who has many years of expertise attempting to persuade successive governments to take a look at the science, has seen that concern first-hand. He was fired over it. “We know that the vast majority of politicians want the drug laws changed, but they’re terrified,” he instructed me. Fearful of the backlash, of being accused of being gentle on crime, of handing their opponents ammunition, even when that ammunition is aimed towards insurance policies that might save lives.
Khan could also be a shameless self-promoter however his hashish farm photoshoot exhibits he isn’t scared. If I had been in California, I’d be elevating a spliff to him proper now.