Saturday, 27 August 2011

Ineffective, costly and counterproductive - Tom Lloyd on the Misuse of Drugs Act

Extract taken from an interview with Tom Lloyd, former Chief Constable and lead of the International Drug Policy Consortium's law enforcement project. The interview was conducted by SSDP's Education Officer Jess Bradley at our 2011 conference.

I was a police officer mainly in London for over 30 years and I have experience of the implementation of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, from the start of my service in 1974 to the end in 2005, in both urban and rural areas. I came to the conclusion over that time that our implementation of the Misuse of Drugs Act has been ineffective, very costly and counterproductive.

Ineffective because in that time drug use has soared from a relatively low base in the very early 70s of 2000 heroin users to what is now estimated to be a quarter to a third of a million problematic drug users - some of them multiple drug users but certainly many of them addicted to heroin and crack cocaine. By any standards that has been a failure of a stated attempt and intention to reduce drug consumption.

It has been hugely costly and I have seen that cost at first hand in terms of the number of police officers and their equipment that have been used to enforce the drug laws. That amounts to at least £10 million a year spent by the criminal justice system enforcing the Misuse of Drugs Act.

And thirdly counterproductive, many people have unnecessary criminal convictions incurred as a result of their drug use. This does not help people deal with any problems that they may have with drug use, it hinders them. The fact that drugs are subject to law enforcement under the act means that people are actually discouraged from seeking help should they need it for their drug addiction.

What also happened is that a huge criminal enterprise has grown up on the back of the so called illegal drugs market. And it is estimated that criminals in the UK are profiting to the extent of £6 billion every year, internationally the figure is estimated to be US$320 billion, it is a huge criminal trade and the criminals can use that money to corrupt law enforcement officers and anybody else they need to in order to increase their profits and make sure that they evade prosecution.

I maintain the view that we should be enforcing the law in relation to serious and organised crime, even if drugs were controlled and regulated in the future and there was no profit in them there would still be serious and organised criminals active in them, in this country and elsewhere. We should be spending our money on pursuing them, not on pursuing users of the drugs that are currently prescribed.

We also have a problem of health being very badly affected by the fact that drugs are prohibited in this country and round the world. The state of the market which is uncontrolled, other than by criminals, is such that very little attention is paid to the purity or strength of a product. Which is why, in the UK alone, we have about a thousand deaths a year from accidental overdoses or from impurities. Recently there has been Anthrax contaminating heroin which has been on UK streets. Blood borne diseases such as HIV AIDS and hepatitis B and also transmitted, often through the sharing of needles and whilst many drug users might be aware of the health risks of sharing needles they are often driven to do that by their need to take the drug before they, for example, get arrested and have the drug taken away from them by the police.

So overall we have a situation where the drug price is high leading to criminality, theft, shoplifting, robbery, and of course the activities such as prostitution to pay for one’s illegal drug habit. We have health issues, we have extreme costs to the criminal justice system, there seems to be very little in favour of maintaining the status quo.

The most common argument is that many of the drugs which are used are harmful. This is a relatively weak argument as there are many other drugs that are seriously harmful, such as alcohol and tobacco, which are not subject to law enforcement - although they are subject to some control and regulation, unlike drugs like heroin, cocaine and cannabis.

The people who support the status quo will also argue that the law has a strong deterrent effect. Whereas if we moved to a system of control and regulation then a signal would be sent out which would result in a dramatic increase in the consumption of drugs. Surveys don't support that view and studies in a number of countries have shown that the main factors associated with drug use are cultural, societal and peer pressure and at most the fact that drug use is illegal may account for something like a 20% or a fifth of any deterrent effect. It is very difficult of course to quantify that absolutely and certainly in countries like Portugal where there has been de jure decriminalisation of personal drug use there has been no surge of increase in uptake of drugs many of the nay-sayers predicted.

Follow SSDP UK on twitter and facebook

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Glenn Greenwald on Drug Decriminalisation in Portugal

Salon columnist and bestselling author Glenn Greenwald is the author of a new Cato Institute policy paper on Portugal's pathbreaking and hugely successful drug decriminalization program.

Greenwald sat down with Nick Gillespie to talk about the lessons from Portugal-and Barack Obama's decidedly disappointing performance so far on drug policy, executive power, and civil liberties.

Follow SSDP on twitter and facebook

Thursday, 18 August 2011

An Interview With a Cannabis Dealer

Mainly due to my area of study and activities with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, I spend a lot of my time writing and talking about drugs, government policies, and the effects of these on societies in general. I do this with little first hand experience, I choose to keep my personal life separate from illicit drugs. So I thought I’d actually try meeting people involved with 'illegal' drugs. After making a number of phone calls, I managed to arrange to meet a cannabis dealer at a location that was neutral to us both.

I must admit, I was a little worried as I was travelling to meet them, I didn’t really know what to expect. When I arrived at the location I was met by “Joe” (named changed to hide identity), a rather friendly individual in their early 20s. For obvious reasons, at the beginning of our conversation Joe seemed a little reserved as they tried to gauge me, but after a while they began to be more open with me.

By their own admission, Joe is not your stereotypical drug dealer. They were brought up in a middle-class family and had started dealing cannabis whilst at university due to financial difficulties. I’m told they wouldn’t have been able to finish their course if they had done the usual 20-hour a week, minimum wage job, especially after having spent time working as a non-skilled worker which they had hated.

It all started for Joe when they thought that maybe they could sell a small amount of cannabis to cover the cost of their own use, just dealing to friends. “And for a while I didn’t make any money off of it” partly from being ripped off by the people Joe bought cannabis off and partly from simple mistakes that are made by someone doing something for the first time. Within a small number of months though, things seemed to have picked up for Joe, as friends passed on Joe’s number to other friends and is now struggling to keep up with demand. From what I’m being told it appears Joe rather enjoys this job, spending most of the day travelling round chatting and smoking with the people they deal to, and whom I’m informed are generally interesting folk.

What’s apparent from talking to Joe is that dealing cannabis is something that they have done as an active choice. It’s common to talk about those individuals, especially those from less privileged backgrounds, who have become involved in the drugs trade due to lack of alternatives. I personally like to use the phrase “drug dealing is the only equal opportunities employment in some places". However Joe’s story, where someone starts dealing to fund their own use but then it grows into something bigger is not one I’m unfamiliar with. This can have terrible consequences with addictive drugs where people try to encourage other people to use so they can pay for their own addiction.

As time has gone on, the paranoia that comes from working in a black market has built up on them. “I do have nightmares about getting caught, dreams where my place gets raided or I’m in court.” Most people have a story about someone they know who used to deal drugs and they got caught by police or attacked by rival drug dealers, and I get a real feeling of worry from Joe as they tell me about these stories being recalled to them.

We also discuss the ethics of being a cannabis dealer. Despite for all intents and purposes Joe seems a good person they’re fully aware that higher up in the drug ladder some less nice people will be operating. Joe insists that cannabis is not a damaging drug like heroin or cocaine, and that they would feel awful if they were dealing drugs like those to people who were ruining their lives through drug use. “I’m not a criminal, I would consider myself a good person, I try to live my life in a good way…”

It’s at this point Joe’s phone rings, makes their excuses and leaves.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Stop Torture in Healthcare (video)

Video from The Campaign to Stop Torture in Health Care. Some viewers may find this video upsetting or triggering.

Venta needed treatment for his drug problem. Instead, he was tortured.

In all corners of the world, people who use drugs are forcibly detained in "rehabilitation" centers where they may be subjected to beatings, forced labor, medical experimentation, denial of basic health care (including evidence-based drug treatment), and other severe human rights violations.

Like Venta, thousands of people throughout Southeast Asia are locked away in so-called drug rehabilitation centers where they are regularly beaten, abused, and denied access to medical care.

The Campaign to Stop Torture in Health Care is working worldwide to put an end to human rights violations and abuses in health care settings.

Follow SSDP UK on twitter and facebook

Friday, 12 August 2011

Job Vacancy: Volunteer Web Developer

Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK is recruiting...

Web Developer Job Description

An opportunity has arisen to help develop the web presence of a new youth driven organisation working to reform drug policy. The developer will be responsible for the creation and design of the website according to specification.

Duties and Responsibilities.

  • To design and develop the website ensuring strong functionality and optimisation.
  • To providing training to volunteers on how to update and maintain the website.
  • To help develop and evaluate our online strategy.

Skills/Attributes Required.

  • Proven Web and Database Development experience.
  • Knowledge of PHP and MySQL is desirable.
  • Web/Graphical Design skills would be desirable.
  • A flexible attitude with proven experience of working in a small team.
  • Excellent communication skills and attention to detail.
  • Dedication to ending the War on Drugs.


The opportunity to work within a developing dynamic network of drug policy reform advocates. Travel expenses and lunch will be covered when visiting the head office.

In order to apply send your CV to Levent Akbulut at

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Fiscal Significance of Drugs

Reblogged from the Beckley Foundation, with thanks.

These past ten years, the war on drugs has led to repeated demands from academics and economists (including 3 Nobel Prize winners) to change the current flawed strategy that seems to ignore the laws of supply and demand. Milton Friedman has long advocated the legalization of drugs; indeed, the world famous economist even said that “if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That’s literally true.” And he isn’t the only one defending this point of view: Gary Becker (Nobel-Prize economist), George Shultz, the U.S. Secretary of State from 1982 to 1989, or National Humanities Medal winner Thomas Sowell have also endorsed the liberalization approach.

It has become clear that the war on drugs is not only ineffective, but expensive too, as a lot of money spent by governments is used to catch the people who buy or sell illegal drugs, to prosecute them in court, and to send them to jail. In the US, under current rules regarding parole and probation, a positive urine test for drugs can send a parolee or probationer to prison, regardless of the original offense. Over $100 billion is spent globally each year on enforcing the war on drugs[1] – the following figures are indeed quite thought-provoking:

Between 1919 and 1933, alcohol was illegal in the United States; historians believe that the decision to end prohibition on March 23 1933 was partly fuelled by the desire to raise tax revenue in the 1930s when the depression started. Today, the risk of a double-dip recession is very high, and cuts are necessary in many parts of the world. Yet the President’s Fiscal Year 2011 Nation requests $15.5 billion to reduce drug use in the United States. This represents an increase of $521.1 million (3.5%) over the FY 2010 enacted level of $15.0 billion. In the European Union, state expenditure on the drug problem costs about €34 billion [2] – in other words, an incredible amount of money that could be saved and used to address the economic difficulties faced by Western countries nowadays.

The illicit drug market, on the other hand, seems to be doing very well. According to the UN World Drug Report (2007), the market was estimated at $322 billion, and that despite the seizures and losses, the value of drugs increase substantially as the move from producer to consumer[3]. A study of drug dealers in Washington in the 1980s concluded that they could earn up to $30/h – compared with the $7/h average from legal employment.[4] Robert Neild, a Cambridge University professor, asserts that third world states are often “undermined, sometimes destroyed” by the violence and corruption that goes with this lucrative market. Clearly the war on drugs affects not only the economy of Western countries, but the stability of many developing countries as well, especially in South America. A regulated and legal market would “fix” many of these problems.

Legalisation is now more than ever necessary, and it is important for governments to address the problem in order to avoid other long-term socio-economic risks such as the “cyclic creation of permanent underclass”, as theorized by Eric Blumenson and Eva S. Nilsens[5]. The CATO Institute’s “The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition” estimates that drug legalization would yield tax revenue of $46.7 billion annually; assuming legal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.

“A monetary tax on a legal good could cause a greater reduction in output and increase in price than would optimal enforcement, even recognizing that producers may want to go underground to try to avoid a monetary tax. This means that fighting a war on drugs by legalizing drug use and taxing consumption may be more effective than continuing to prohibit the legal use of drugs”. – Gary S. Becker, Kevin M. Murphy and Michael Grossman, “The Economic Theory of Illegal Goods: The Case of Drugs”.

It is thus clear that money is being spent excessively, ineffectively and sometimes even dangerously. The billions of dollars spent by governments each year fail to address economic realities, and ignore the exponential demand for policy change.
– Sebastien Krier, Amanda Feilding


* Annual enforcement costs based on 2008 figures by researcher Timothy J Moore.

National Drug Intelligence Center, “National Drug Threat Assessment 2010,” - ------(Johnstown, PA: February 2010), p. 1.
Jeffrey A. Miron – “Making an Economic Case for Legalizing Drugs”




[1] Transform Drug Policy Foundation estimate, 2011: cf. ‘Estimating global spending on drug enforcement’ –
[2] Annual Report 2008: “The State of the Drugs Problem in Europe,” European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2008), p. 21.
[3] Drug War Facts, 6th Ed. – Common Sense for Drug Policy
[4] The Economist, July 28th – August 3rd 2001 (The case for legalising drugs)
[5] Blumenson & Nilsen – “How to construct an underclass, or how the War on Drugs became a war on education“

Follow the Beckley Foundation on twitter and facebook
Follow SSDP UK on twitter and facebook

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

New Book: Children of the Drug War, available for free

'Children of the Drug War' is collection of original essays that investigates the impacts of the war on drugs on children, young people and their families.
It asks a series of questions, addressing production and trade; race, class and law enforcement; families and drug policy, and drug use and dependance:

What have been the costs to children and young people of the war on drugs?
Is the protection of children from drugs a solid justification for current policies?
What kinds of public fears and preconceptions exist in relation to drugs and the drug trade?
How can children and young people be placed at the forefront of drug policies?

The book is published by the International Debate Education Association (iDebate Press). It is available for purchase in hard copy from Amazon and other outlets. The book has a dedicated webpage here which includes a downloadable pdf of the full book, and pdfs of each of its four sections. It can also be read online.

Follow SSDP UK on twitter and facebook.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Breaking the Taboo (video)

'Breaking the Taboo' - A film in search of solutions for the failure of the war on drugs.

"If you can't control drug use in a maximum security prison, how can you control drug use in a free society?" - Tony Papa

Add SSDP UK on twitter and facebook

Friday, 5 August 2011

Petition the Government to Discuss Drug Law Reform!

The UK government launched its new e-petition site this week to give citizens and residents a chance to petition the government to discuss certain issues. If a petition reaches 100,000 or more signatures, parliament will then discuss the issue.

We remain skeptical of whether the government will respond positively to sensible proposals for reforming drug policies through an online petition. Meanwhile, there is much media fanfare about a petition calling for the return of capital punishment, although another petition against such proposals currently has more signers.

Nonetheless, we feel that drug policy reformers should make use of this opportunity to show the government and media that the public does indeed have an appetite for reform.
We have identified two drug policy reform petitions that seem to be doing well, one calls for the legalisation and regulation of cannabis, the other calls for the decriminalisation of drug possession and supply. We hope that both will be interpreted as calling for control and regulation.

Please sign these petitions and urge others to do the same!

Legalise Cannabis

Decriminalise Recreational Drugs

Follow SSDP UK on Twitter and become a Fan on Facebook.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Greek Government to move towards Decriminalisation

Proposals have been made by the Greek Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou to the Greek Committee on Social Affairs which notably include decriminalisation of personal drug use, as long as the drug use only impacts the behavior and condition of the individual drug user.

Under the reforms possession of drugs personal consumption will be classed as only misconduct so long as it is used for only private use, and the cultivation of cannabis will be tolerated if only for personal use. The bill also proposes to guarantee the right for drugs treatment to all who request it, including drug users incarcerated. The reforms will not legalise the supply or trafficking of drugs, these actions will still be considered offences under Greek law.

Currently 40% of all Greek prisoners are incarcerated in drug related offences.

See also: Bolivia to withdraw from the UN single convention

Add SSDP UK on twitter and subscribe to our blog on the right.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Release launch new ThinkingDrugs Website

A new website aimed at exploring and developing opinions on the international drugs trade has recently been launched. ThinkingDrugs, a collaboration between our friends at Release and the New Economics Foundation, utilizes statistics, personal perspectives and arguments from both sides of the debate as tools to help the user develop opinions on specific aspects of the international drugs trade.

Users of the website can create argument "pathways" for 4 specific areas of interest: drug policy in the UK, the impacts of the transnational drugs trade in the US and Mexico, public health support for drug users in Russian and the effects of tolerating drugs sales in Dutch coffee houses.

Rupert George from Release said "we are really excited about ThinkingDrugs, it offers us a whole new way of engaging the public with the issues. We have really enjoyed working with the New Economics Foundation on this project, they bought something really interesting to the project with their existing work around argument maps and some fresh eyes on the issues”

Add SSDP UK on twitter