Melanie Phillips

10 December 2012

British MPs break ranks on international drug prevention

Published in: Daily Mail

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From the carefully-placed story in a Sunday paper over the weekend, you’d think that today’s report from the Home Affairs Select Committee had come out with all guns blazing for the legalisation of drugs.

That’s because the leak was intended to create an impression of an overwhelming move towards such a revolutionary change in policy.

In fact, the report does not spell out this agenda so explicitly. What it does recommend, however, is something whose only purpose is to bring about drug legalisation — while pretending all the time to be moderate and responsible in order not to frighten the horses.

For its main recommendation is that there should be a Royal Commission which would look again at Britain’s drug policy on the basis that it isn’t working.

Now it doesn’t take long to realise that, taking it at face value, this is a pretty strange suggestion.

First of all, there is a major contradiction at the heart of the report. For it also states that the use of illegal drugs in Britain has fallen to almost the lowest levels since records began in 1996.

We can all argue about why that has happened. But given this, it is bizarre to argue that drug policy is a failure. Indeed, one might say it seems to be working quite well. To say it’s such a disaster that we should now consider legalisation makes no sense whatever.

True, the report says such a rethink is necessary because ‘international’ drug policy isn’t working. But even if that is so, what’s that got to do with Britain? 

Is this to be a Royal Commission on World Drug Policy? Surely not even the very grand Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, can harbour quite such delusions of grandeur?

And since Mr Vaz’s own committee has been solemnly taking evidence on drug policy for a whole year and has now produced this weighty report, why on earth does it say that we need yet another inquiry and another report called a Royal Commission?

Of course, there is only one conclusion to be drawn from this. The sole reason for having a Royal Commission is for it to recommend the legalisation of drugs — the outcome which Mr Vaz’s committee collectively seems to want, but is too canny to say honestly and openly.

And to this end, while the committee sidles round the subject with its coy proposal, the notion that legalisation is an idea whose time has now come is slammed down on the table to frame the agenda.

This is but the latest tactic by a committee which mysteriously for years has been pushing the liberalisation of our drug laws. Not that it is entirely composed of pro-legalisation MPs; indeed, the incoherence of this report testifies to a committee that is deeply divided. Nevertheless, the list of witnesses it called to give evidence reads like a veritable Who’s Who of the pro-legalisation world, with relatively few voices from the more realistic professionals committed to law enforcement and drug prevention.

It is really quite astonishing — and very telling — that it has taken so seriously evidence from people whose opinions are of such dubious worth.

For example, when it heard evidence from the comedian and former heroin addict Russell Brand, its proceedings degenerated into near farce as he turned the session into a vehicle for personal grandstanding.

And insofar as he had a message, it was, of course, that we needed to stop regarding drug addiction as a judicial and criminal issue and develop instead ‘more compassionate, altruistic, loving attitudes’ towards drug users.

More disturbingly, the committee has treated with exaggerated respect the views of Sir Richard Branson, himself a former cannabis user who, from what he has been saying over the past year and more, might be thought to fancy adding Virgin Drugs to his entrepreneurial portfolio.

Sir Richard represents something that calls itself the Global Commission on Drug Policy — which is just a front for a number of well-funded organisations which campaign to legalise drugs.

Sir Richard spouts the higher nonsense about the ‘failed war on drugs’ and the need to decriminalise them to allow the police to concentrate on other crimes (the same argument could be used against the crimes of theft, say, or burglary).

But there has been no war on drugs, but instead a lot of muddled policies and disastrously mixed messages — which only recently have become a little more rigorous.

The reason the Home Affairs Select Committee gives these people so much attention is that it supports their agenda — and itself promotes the higher nonsense of legalisation propaganda. 

Thus it says in its report that it was very impressed by the experience of Portugal, which decriminalised drugs in 2001.

But the results of Portugal’s experiment have been grossly misrepresented by the legalisation lobby — including Sir Richard Branson — who go round claiming it has been a terrific success.

This is totally untrue. Manuel Pinto Coelho, the medical director of the Association For A Drug Free Portugal, has written that drug decriminalisation has been an utter failure — but that the evidence has been manipulated to give the opposite impression.

Since decriminalisation, Portugal has seen a massive 40 per cent rise in drug-related murder; it has developed the highest incidence of injected drug-related Aids in Europe; the number of people testing positive for drugs rose by 45 per cent by 2007; drug use increased by 4 per cent in six years, while numbers using drugs at least once in their life rose by nearly 5 per cent, and so on.

To all such evidence, the Home Affairs Select Committee seems utterly impervious. Even more startling is its stubborn refusal to accept the reclassification of cannabis from category C to B.

Astoundingly, the committee wants to reopen this issue and restore cannabis to category C. This despite the fact that even the Prime Minister himself changed his mind in favour of the higher category in the light of horrifying evidence of the terrible harm cannabis does to the brains of young people, particularly in the soaring rates of psychosis.

Yet all that meant nothing to the committee, which mulishly voted again to support downgrading cannabis — on the casting vote, moreover, of chairman Vaz.

The fact is that all the arguments supporting legalisation are full of holes or are demonstrably bogus.

The single most important argument against it is that it would mean countless more young people using and being addicted to mind-altering substances that will damage them and those who come into contact with them.

Legalisation is therefore an argument of extraordinary irresponsibility. Yet it is being promoted by a global, multi-million-dollar campaign whose aim is to overturn the UN drug laws which commit the world to trying to eradicate drug use.

If the line for drug prevention is to be upheld, individual countries must not undermine each other’s efforts to curb the use of drugs. That, however, is precisely the aim of this campaign to get countries to break ranks and legalise. And it is gaining ground. A few days ago, Washington became the first U.S. state to legalise marijuana possession.

In practice, every country that has flirted with drug liberalisation has found it has resulted in disaster.

One really has to ask, therefore, how it has come about that the Home Affairs Select Committee has been captured by what is nothing less than a covert global campaign for the fracturing of the international line against drugs and the resulting reckless enslavement of so many in society.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

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