Sunday 17 June 2012

Open Letter to Nigel Farndale

On Wednesday 12th June the Telegraph published this article by journalist Nigel Fletcher entitled 'Why do some people want drugs to be legal?' 

The piece noted that the public debate advocating drug law reforms had escalated over the last twelve months, and was welcomed by many for bringing the issue to national attention at a time when issues such as the Eurozone crisis or Jubilee dominated headlines. However, the board felt there was an obligation to write to the Telegraph to knock back some of the spurious anti-reform arguments it put forward - the letter wasn't published on the paper's letters' page, but is shared here:

Dear Sirs, 

We write as some of the people who want drugs to be 'legal' given that the illegality of using certain drugs neither prevents their use, nor protects wider society. 

While we welcome an article looking at the 'sea-change' taking place in the minds of policy makers about reform, it is still important to refute the straw men Mr Fletcher seems tiringly obliged to put forward.

Cannabis available today is only about 2 and a half times stronger that that sold 40 years ago, as reported by the current Chair of the the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2008 in a Home Office Technical Committee report. Dr Les Iverson then compated the difference in strength as 'that between beer and wine'; we believe most people are capable of recognising that ordering a pint of Merlot is a bad idea and acting accordingly. 

We find bizzare that prohibition should be defended on the basis addicts cannot make better choices for themselves, when the bald facts are the majority of recreational drugs users are not addicts, and that a black market for drugs does nothing to protect those made vulnerable by addiction. It is even more bizzare to mention the success of decriminalisation in Portugal in the same article that later suggests drug use would go up if drug use is decriminalised. 

Anne Widdecombe needs to look at research of use versus harsher penalties elsewhere in the world - there is no compelling evidence that this effectively reduces use. Her conclusions seem to stem from her concerns about what she feels are appropriate behaviour - which we feel she has a right to express but not irrationally enshrine in law to the cost of the taxpayer and our already creaking legal and penal systems. 

Finally, the quotes from Theodore Dalrymple reveal the lack of research on the part of the writer, as Dalrymple's central conclusion is that Opiates are relatively difficult to become addicted too, fatally undermining the article's conclusion that moderate heroin use cannot exist. Mr Fletcher needs to speak with fellow journalist Ben Goldacre who has written substantially and convincingly about both the increase in opiate addicted populations as a direct consequence of making Heroin a Class A drug, and how in post-WW1 era opiate addictions were successfully managed as a health problem between doctor and patient. 

In conclusion, we speak on behalf of young people whose faith in government and the press to legislate for their safety or speak truthfully about these issues is undermined every time yet another piece like this hits the news-stands.

The Executive Board
Students for Sensible Drugs Policy UK

If you would be interested in getting involved in SSDP UK's formal public responses to articles and Government inquiries please email

Thursday 3 May 2012

London Mayoral Candidates' Policies on Stop and Search.

Today Londoners are going to the polls to elect a new Mayor. This May, the powers and responsibilities of the Mayoral office are going to greatly increase. One of the more influential roles to be given to the next Mayor of London will be that of the Police and Crime Commissioner. The rest of England and Wales will be directly electing Police Commissioners on the 15th of November. 
The role of the Police and Crime commissioner is going to be very powerful. Whoever is elected will be responsible for setting policing priorities in their district and for holding the chief constable to account. 
The possibility to campaign locally on policing issues provides an unprecedented opportunity for drug policy reformers and all other activists who are concerned about policing to influence the implementation of the law in this country. 
This is an opportunity citizens and residents to directly influence the implementation of drugs policy on a regional basis. 
We are under no illusions that there is the danger of authoritarian and populist commissioners getting elected and we should be prepared to hold them to account.
As a non-partisan organisation, we do not favour one political party over another. However we will hold representatives who support repressive drug policies to account and praise those who take a more pragmatic approach. Whether the next Mayor of London is in favour of retaining or reducing stop and search, we will work with the London assembly to hold them to account.
According to the Guardian/LSE Reading the Riots study. There was widespread anger and frustration at the way police interact with communities. Those involved in the London riots were already 8 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. Of the half a million ‘reasonable stop and searches carried out by Metropolitan Police last year, around 50% were for drugs, less than 10% for weapons...
Indeed the policing policy of the next Mayor of London will greatly impact on community cohesion in the capital and set the tone for which crimes are prioritised by the Met. 
We have researched the Stop and Search policies of the various Mayoral candidates and here they are:
Boris Johnson, Conservative Candidate.
We also need to look at stop and search. It is well known that this form-filling is time consuming and keeps police officers off the streets.  Stop and searches should still be recorded by an officer, who will radio in essential details of the search – thereby allowing them to be recorded without the extra burden of having to fill in a form at the scene and a further form back at the station.
No mention of reducing stop and search. He wants to reduce paper work involved in recording stop and search.

Ken Livingstone, Labour Party Candidate.
p12 Crime and policing manifesto
Community led policing and a force that looks like London
I will work with the Police Commissioner,  Bernard Hogan-Howe, to continue his good work and that of his predecessors in creating a police force that looks more like London and is open to all of the Capital’s talents.
In the aftermath of the long-overdue conviction of two of Stephen Lawrence’s murderers we can reflect that policing has come a long way since the MacPherson report identified institutionalised racism. But as Doreen Lawrence observed after the trial: “The fact is that racism and racist attacks are still happening in this country and the police should not use my son’s name to say that we can move on”. That is why I particularly welcome the  review into stop-and-search announced  by the Commissioner. Current practice is wasteful and counterproductive, with an arrest rate of only six in one hundred people stopped, and an even lower conviction rate. It has disproportionately targeted young black and Asian men, most of whom were not engaged in criminal activity and, therefore, risked alienating entire communities.


In favour of ending blanket stop and search.

Earlier on in the campaign, SSDP London Member Theo Scheiner asked Ken a question about Stop and Search for Drug Offences at the ULU Hustings.
Here is his answer:


Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrat Candidate.

High standards for police 
Better stop and search. 
We will stop police targeting innocent people and accurately target the power on criminals.
Stopping people just because they are from minority ethnic communities destroys trust and wastes time that could be better spent targeting real criminals 
A new independent public commissioner for standards. We will create a policing ombudsman for London to enforce tough and clear standards of conduct over behaviours that have brought the police into disrepute, such as abusing stop and search, racist attitudes and corrupt relations with the media

Around half a million stop and searches are carried out in London each year. Taking into account the relative ethnic populations, Black people are 4.4 times more likely to be stopped than White people and Asian people twice as likely
Driving out racism
The police must focus on criminals and avoid targeting innocent people. Brian Paddick will take away the power to stop and search from any officers who misuse it. They will face re-training and disciplinary action.  Stopping and searching people just because they are black or from minority ethnic communities destroys trust and wastes time that could be better spent targeting real criminals

In favour of ending blanket stop and search. Will take away stop and search powers from officers who misuse it.

Jenny Jones, Green Party Candidate.
End the arbitrary, race-based, blanket use of stop and search and other tactics that alienate the communities the police most need to work with, and introduce independent oversight of stop and search powers.

In favour of ending blanket stop and search. Supports independent review of implementation.

Siobhan Benita, Independent.
Live London Mayoral Q&A Transcript: Independent candidate Siobhan Benita
Siobhan Benita: I have said that I would have the external, independent review of the Met Police that so many people have been calling for for a long time. It would address efficiency issues (the Met will need to do more with less over coming years so must get smarter in the way they use their officers and staff) but, crucially, it would also examine the cultural issues that need urgent consideration, including allegations of racism, relationship with the press, use of stop and search and treatment of people in custody. All of these issues must be looked at by an independent team, to include representatives from the public and communities, and I would act on the recommendations of the review.
Supports independent, external review of the Metropolitan Police.  

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Decriminalisation is a step in the right direction, but is it the destination?

Yesterday's evidence by Russell Brand was a welcome shot in the arm in a public debate about drug law reform played out in the ongoing inquiry conducted by the Commons home affairs select committee.

It was useful to hear from a former addict who has successfully completely rehabilitation, as too often the voices of those who are or have been directly affected by current laws aren't highly prioritised by decision makers.

I also think he brought a welcome dose of reality to the debate, describing the illegality of taking a given drug as 'at worse an inconvenience' rather than an effective deterrent. The perception that giving drugs a higher classification, or indeed classifying them as controlled at all, acting as any deterrent has been hugely undermined by developments in relation to the classification of 'legal highs' alone in the last 18 months, but it is still persistently argued by those who are anti-reform.

However, I personally took issue with his statement that while he would consider decriminalisation a positive change, he wouldn't welcome 'legalization' of drugs.I remain concerned that unless we address the status of drug provision, not just use, being illegal we won't actually be addressing many of the harms created by the current status quo.

If a primary aim of drug law reform is to prevent harm, then we need to ensure that those who use drugs can obtain them safely. This is ALL drug users, not just drug addicts, who need to be able to access drugs from a legal source, to prevent overdose from uncertain strength or polydrug death. Obtaining drugs legitimately would also play a vital part in users feeling able to seek accurate information and ask questions about the drugs they use without fear of judgement, losing their jobs or being kicked off their degree courses.

This is not to mention how illegality of drugs supply is funding and fuelling crime in a way that has been extraordinarily devastating in Central and South America, and indeed communities on our own doorsteps.

So, to sum up, Brand's contribution was a welcome break in what is generally a predictable public debate about more enforcement leading to less drug use. However, until we deal with a regulated supply chain we will only have half solved the problem, which is no solution at all.

Katherine Bavage is a member of the Executive Board of SSDP UK and the liaison for the External Communications Working Group. She can be reached at,uk or via @Bavage on twitte

Friday 9 March 2012

Ask not what SSDP UK can do for you...but fill in a survey!

Now is a vital time for the drug law reform movement, as increasingly we see the orthodoxy of prohibition challenged by the stark realities of drug addiction, gang violence, disproportionate policing and the erosion of human rights in myriad ways. There are thousands of reasons to be angry that this stupid state of affairs is still the status quo, but getting angry is not enough. We have to have our voices heard.

I am a passionate believer in the power of a group of people, democratically organised and dedicated to the pursuit of their cause, to effect change. I am proud to tell my family, my friends and my work colleagues that I am part of the group charged with helping run the largest UK student-led organisation campaigning to end the war on drugs. A drugs policy based on evidence and compassion should naturally come from places of education, research and learning in our society, and from the voices of young people who often bear the brunt of prohibition.

For most of us our contact with SSDP UK may have started from a chance meeting at a Freshers fayre, or perhaps through seeing an event and turning up with half an idea in mind about what drugs law reform was about. Perhaps then you came to a social, or a larger event like our day school in 2009 or two national conferences subsequently. Hopefully you're on the facebook group, and maybe perhaps you follow us on twitter.

But; how will you make sure that in years to come SSDP UK is successful in having our voices heard?

For the next two weeks you have the opportunity to fill in a members survey, and after that, to come to our conference in April and share your thoughts about how to ensure the future success of the organisation.

Filling in a survey or joining a discussion group probably doesn't sound very exciting, but out there in our membership is a teeming pool of talent, activism and enthusiasm. Taking a moment to share your thoughts now may well provide the spark lead to the organisation that delivers a fairer drug law reform in the UK within a generation.

So, take five minutes, fill out the survey; tell us what you know we can do more of, and the best way to do it. We promise that we'll be listening.

The deadline for filling in the survey is Saturday the 24th of March.

Follow SSDP UK on Twitter and add us on Facebook. If you are interested in writing for the blog, drop us a message.

Thursday 1 March 2012

Activism across Europe

SSDP UK boardmember Katherine Bavage reports back from a visit to Poland to meet with other youth and student drug law reform activists.

I'm writing this in the offices of the Polish Drug Policy Network in Warsaw, Poland. Me and Levent Akbulut, both members of SSDP UK's national executive board have been here since Tuesday morning meeting with our European counterparts.

I first met Jan Stola, Bjarke Jørgensen and Luca Stefenelli at the first European Youth and Student Drug Policy Reform Conference, held in Manchester last year by SSDP UK. At the time I was impressed with the depth of knowledge and activist organisation already present in youth groups across Europe, and as we catch up nearly a year later its clear that progress has continued.

Studencka Inicjatywa Narkopolitiyki - or SIN, as my lack of Polish speaking ability prefers! - have been doing some exciting work. They've recently held a well attended activist training session in Warsaw, and are looking to work to deliver harm reduction advice during the European Football Championship as part of the 'Safer Games' campaign many organisations are involved in.

Meanwhile, Bjarke is working on developing a youth advocacy organisation in Denmark. Based in Copenhagen the intention is to build on existing meetings with danish street lawyers and activists to raise the profile of drug law reform issues in the public policy sphere - this week they've launched their website and are looking to get the word out there and get supporters on board.

Finally, Luca is based in the University of Trento and has worked to set up Dipendenza Alternativa in the area. Just this week they are too launching a website, and are really keen to raise public awareness in Italy of the problems caused by prohibition to the Italian people - including severe prison overcrowding.

It's been a fascinating few days of learning about how other organisations across Europe are striving in their different ways to achieve the same things as SSDP UK. Myself and Lev will report back to the UK board and I hope continue to learn from and support our European counterparts. Its a potentially very exciting idea to look at trying to achieve out aims on a European scale, and I am hopeful that our members will have a chance to meet and discuss the issues with European delegates at our conference in April.

- If you would like to find out more about SSDP's annual conference in london in April 2012, please visit the facebook event or take a look at the call for papers
- If you are interested in finding out more about other European groups and their work please email Katherine at

Follow SSDP on Facebook and Twitter. If you are interested in writing for the SSDP UK blog,please get in touch.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

SSDP UK conference call out

Call for Papers/Presentations: Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK annual conference 2012

Building Leadership in the Drug Policy Reform Movement”
School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

20-22nd April 2012
frequently justify the millions of pounds spent on fueling The War on Drugs as a means of protecting our youth from drug harms. For many young people, especially those from ethnic minority backgrounds, the reality of punitive drug policies mean increasing amounts of police harassment, surveillance and unnecessary criminalisation.

How does drug prohibition impact on young people today?

What role do young people have to play in fighting against drug prohibition?

How can we empower young people to become leaders of our movement?

Every year SSDP UK hold a conference to bring together activists, academics and young people from across the UK and Europe to mobilise against the drug prohibition. This year our conference will focus on practical ways to empower young people in our movement.

A non-exhaustive list of issues we are interested in:

- The impact of punitive drug laws on young people, particularly those from ethnic minorities

- The impact of discriminatory policing practices, particularly in a post-riot social landscape

- Practical and innovative ways to create a space for young people to be empowered

- How should the drug law reform movement organise?

- The role of Cannabis Social Clubs, Drug Users Unions, Students societies and community groups in mobilising against drug prohibition

We welcome proposals for papers, presentations, videos, workshops, art pieces, on a variety of subjects (be creative!). Due this year’s conference location in London, we are especially interested in hearing from London based activists, artists, academics, young people, and youth workers who can give the local angle, but don't let that put you off getting in touch if you are from elsewhere :)

Please email or with your ideas by Wednesday 7th March.

Follow SSDP on Facebook and Twitter. If you are interested in writing for the SSDP UK blog,please get in touch.

Monday 13 February 2012

Student Elections

Yes, its this time of year again - where student politicians start gearing up to convince the student body that they are the best candidate to vote for in the upcoming student elections.
At SSDP, we reckon that it can be really quite useful to get SSDP activists involved in student unions politics. Sabbatical officers can ensure students are getting unbiased and relevant harm reduction information and are well placed to advocate on behalf of students facing eviction from halls of residence for drug use.

If you are interested in standing in your union elections and you want some advice on what policies around drugs and welfare that could be good to include in your manifesto then please get in touch at education[at]

Even if you aren't interested in standing in students union elections, emailing the candidates during the campaign period and asking them what their stance on drug policy reform and providing harm reduction information within unions is a great way of ensuring that drug policy remains a relevant issue on campus. If you publicly publish the answers within your facebook group and through your mailing lists than your members can also have a better idea of which candidates to vote for.