Canvassing for Opinion - aka "Blairs Brain on Cannabis"

IMHO prohibition sentiment requires inherent addiction to status quo, an incapacity to visualise beyond the here and now and a desperate desire to know others might feel the same... Reform is not revolutionary, rather it is evolutionary. Having survived banging your head against a brick wall the evolutionist relishes having stopped. / Blair

Friday, June 29, 2007

Anderton should be embarrassed

Anderton should be embarrassed (or commited).

Czar Anderton's call for a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act purportedly to make manufacture, distribution and consumption of any non-approved chemical (or herb) punishable mocks common sense.

Elevating BZP into an illicit drug rather than improve a legally regulated regime abrogates his own duty 'of care'. Passing control to criminal networks looses not only controlled manufacture and distribution chains, it entrenches failure. The guy is an idiot, and those who serve under him, including it seems his entire Ministry of Health are afflicted by his moral hysteria.

My letter to TV3 follows

Dear TV3 News Team

I have selected this cut and paste below to highlight our erroneous ABC drug classifications system - it is KEY to understanding why Jim Anderton's BZP 'classification' move is destined to fail.

I have standing on this having researched drug policy now for over thirty years. I have given about 16 select committee presentations even arguing for the Expert Advisory Committee (on) Drugs [MDA amendment #4] as I considered such a mechanism a 'safe pair of hands' for evidence based policy development. The Committee was regrettably populated with status-quo thinking, and that is why Jim is ill-advised. Please pass this on to your investigative team. I know that Prof Nutt, Blakemore and others mentioned in this email (and others than I can provide you) would be happy to be interviewed should you and your team wish to explore this crucial issue. NZ's ABC system only differs from the UK insofar Ecstasy and some other 'drugs' we vilify here (P) are treated as Class A. Resolving 'for once and for all' requires INFORMED debate. It is time some equity and balance was given to this issue and politicians made to answer "which part of the current classification system is, on evidence, working?"

Some of you at Tv3 may recall that it was I that brought out to New Zealand the retired head of the Met (and Scotland Yard Narcotics) Det. Chief Superintendent Eddie Ellison who presented to the Ministry of Justice and Associate Ministers of Health (including Jim Anderton) and Rotaries all over the North Island. (see )

The Highlights below are mine../Blair

Excerpt from UK Hansard, courtesy of Phil Willis (Harrogate & Knaresborough, Liberal Democrat, and Chair of the Science and Technology Select Commiteee that reviewed the Drug Classification System)

If there is a lack of evidence to support the classification of particular drugs, does the classification system support other planks of Government drugs policy? It seems not. We found, for example, that there is no solid evidence to support the existence of a deterrent effect, the idea being that there will be a deterrent effect if a drug is placed in a higher class. Our conclusion has since been echoed by the UK Drug Policy Commission, which says that the concept of a deterrent effect has "little or no support from the available research".

To be fair, the Government accepted that there is an absence of conclusive evidence on the deterrent effect and agreed to consider ways in which the evidence base for such an effect could be strengthened. I would like to ask the Minister, first, what steps have been taken to strengthen the evidence base, and secondly, if new evidence were to undermine the principle of the deterrent effect, would that have an impact on the current policy on classification?
Linked to the idea of the deterrent effect is the notion that classification can be used to send out messages. We have a number of concerns about that notion. The purpose of classification should be to categorise a drug according to the comparative harm , be that physical dependence or social, that is associated with its misuse. That does not necessarily sit comfortably with the secondary aim of sending out messages. It must be one or the other.

In our report, we considered the example of methylamphetamine, or crystal meth. The Government kept it in class B because it was concerned that reclassification to class A might send out the message that crystal meth was a dangerous drug, thereby increasing interest in it and encouraging potential users. There was absolutely no evidence on which to base that conclusion. The ACMD told us that it was "a judgment call". That example highlights the inconsistency of a classification system that at times relies on moving a drug to a higher class to deter potential users—the deterrent effect—as was the case with ecstasy.

It is worrying that a Government who claim to formulate evidence-based policies are content to use classification to send out signals to users without undertaking any research to establish the relationship between the class of the drug and the signal that is sent out. Given the inconsistencies in the classification system and the lack of evidence to support the principles on which it is founded, the Select Committee believes that it is not fit for purpose. We concluded in our report, and continue to maintain, that the current classification system is antiquated, arbitrary and ripe for revision .

Our findings are not surprising. We reiterated the findings of the *Runciman report, which proposed that the classification system be reviewed, and the Home Affairs Committee's 2002 report on drug policy, which recommended that LSD and ecstasy be reclassified. Our conclusions have recently been echoed by the newly formed UK Drug Policy Commission and the report of the RSARoyal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce—commission on illegal drugs, "Drugs—facing facts". The RSA calls the current classification system "arbitrary, confused and haphazard"

Despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary, the Government assert that the classification system discharges its function fully and effectively, and that it has stood the test of time. There is little evidence to support that assertion, and I ask the Minister whether he can provide such evidence this afternoon. Perhaps he could also explain something that has confused me: how can the Government have so much confidence in the current classification system when the chairman of the ACMD technical committee, Professor David Nutt, told the Select Committee that he does not think that "all the drugs are correctly classified according to the current classification system"?

The very person who heads the technical committee of the Government's ACMD says that the system is not fit for purpose. I look forward to the Minister's response to Professor Nutt's strong statement.

Having found the current classification system to be inadequate, we rightly turned our attention to possible improvements. We recommended that the Government establish a more scientifically based scale of harm. We believe that that would have much greater credibility than the current system, in which classification decisions seem quite arbitrary.

Our proposals have considerable support. In March, a paper by Professor Nutt, Professor Colin Blakemore, the chief executive of the Medical Research Council, William Saulsbury of the Police Foundation and Leslie King of the Forensic Science Service—hardly lightweights in the field—was published in The Lancet. The paper proposed a nine-category matrix of harm that took account of physical harm, dependence and social harms—the very things that are at the heart of the Government's policy. Its main findings rejected the crude rank ordering of drugs and their segregation into groups under the ABC classification system. Significantly, it found that tobacco and alcohol were in the top 10 higher-harm groups.

Also in March, an RSA report recommended that the Government replace the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 with a misuse of substances Act that focuses on the harms that drugs cause. Like our report and the paper in The Lancet, the RSA report recommended that there should be an index of substance-related harms that is based on the best available evidence and modified in the light of new evidence. I am keen to hear from the Minister whether he is willing to explore how a more scientifically based scale of harm could be used.

One element of our proposal for classification to be based on the scale of harm is the question whether the classification system should continue to have a direct link to the criminal justice system, as it has had since 1971. During our inquiry, we heard from the chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers drugs committee that the classification system was only "a rough guide for the police and...was pretty crude". That was said by the deputy chief of the Met.

When we discussed the issue with police officers in the United States, we heard that the lack of a direct link between schedules and penalties gave the police the freedom to focus resources as they saw fit, rather than being tied in by the classification. We therefore recommended that the Government decouple the ranking of drugs on the basis of harm from the penalties for possession and trafficking. We believe that such decoupling would mean that harms could be assessed objectively without having practical implications for the criminal justice system. The ranking of drugs could be changed frequently within a scientifically based scale of harm in response to new evidence without directly impacting on the system of penalties.

If the scientific scale of harm were not linked to penalties, it would also be possible to include tobacco and alcohol in the scale and thereby give the public a better sense of the relative harms involved. We believe that the public would be interested to know, as was pointed out in the paper in The Lancet, that alcohol is rated as more harmful than ketamine, amphetamines and tobacco, and that tobacco is rated as more harmful than cannabis, LSD and ecstasy. That is quite a startling statement .

We did not use our report to recommend an alternative approach to determining penalties, as that was not in our remit, but we suggested that possibilities could include a greater emphasis on the link between the misuse of a drug and criminal activity, or a clearer distinction between possession and supply. The Select Committee was in no way trying to undermine the very real problems that the Home Office and the police have in dealing with drug-related crime. They need greater powers rather than fewer powers, but such powers must be very much directed at the problem.

The Government rejected our recommendation to decouple penalties and harm ranking. They said that a fundamental purpose of the classification system was to provide a framework within which penalties are set with reference to the harm caused by a drug. If the Government choose to pursue that line and insist that penalties are coupled with the harm rating of drugs, it is even more important that the classification system is reviewed to ensure that it is robust and evidence-based .

‹(•¿•)› Blair Anderson

ph (643) 389 4065 cell 027 265 7219

*Police Foundation's Runciman report on the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Home Secretary screamed and cursed and tore it up. The report had suggested that the use of cannabis should no longer be an imprisonable offence and that drug classification be related more closely to harm.

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