Pubdate: Sun, 25 Nov 2001
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Melanie Phillips


Step back just a few weeks and take a deep breath. The home secretary
announced then that he intended to reclassify cannabis possession as a
non-arrestable offence in order to allow the police to concentrate on
what really mattered -- the arrest and prosecution of hard drug users
and their suppliers.

Now what do we hear? Senior Metropolitan police officers declare that
pursuing the class A drugs cocaine and ecstasy is a waste of time and
ecstasy should be reclassified as class B. So one month on it appears
that far from wanting to concentrate on hard drugs, the police don't
want to do that either. Pretty soon, no doubt, they'll be arguing that
it's a waste of their valuable time to be pursuing car theft or
burglary or indeed any crime at all.

The sheer fatheadedness of these officers' remarks is simply
terrifying. Commander Brian Paddick said weekend drug users who used
small amounts of cocaine and ecstasy were low down his priority list.
Ecstasy did not cause real harm, using cocaine or ecstasy had no
adverse effect on other people, and users went back to work on Monday
morning unaffected.

Are we really to believe that cocaine users impose a self-denying
ordinance from Sunday to Thursday night? How can drugs that are
proscribed because of their extreme risk to the brain and personality
be deemed to be safe on certain days of the week? And isn't it utterly
objectionable, not to say ridiculous, to have one law for the middle
classes, on the basis that they know how to cut a line of charlie with
no risk to society, but another law for the crack cocaine addicts on
sink estates, on the basis that the lower orders are a breed apart?
Paddick was promptly carpeted by the Met's commissioner, Sir John
Stevens. In addition, Chief Superintendent Simon Humphrey, head of the
Met's clubs and vice unit, publicly denounced Paddick's remarks as
"inaccurate", "irrelevant" and "ill-informed". But the drug spokesman
for the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Met's deputy
assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, said ecstasy should be
reclassified from class A to class B and that legal "shooting
galleries" should be established for heroin addicts.

At the root of all this is the increasingly widespread belief that
drug-taking is a "victimless" crime that in itself does not hurt
others. As yet another Met officer, Sergeant Clive Fisher, wrote to
The Guardian, the Paddick doctrine means: "If the Hoorays need to get
out of their brains on a Saturday night, let 'em."

All this shows the extent to which Met officers in particular have now
simply lost the plot, failing to display an elementary understanding
not just of the facts about drugs, but of the purpose and significance
of law itself. It also reveals the extent to which manipulative
propaganda peddled by well regarded drug charities has now captured a
number of police officers, not to mention Whitehall, politicians,
academia, the media and increasingly the unwitting public.

For the reason these drugs are proscribed by law is not just that some
of them can kill their users. It is the extreme risk they pose to
society. And the essence of that risk is the profound effect they all
have -- cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and the rest -- on the brains
of users and their relationships with other people.

Of course, some people take drugs with no immediately perceived
ill-effects. Some people with a 60-a-day cigarette habit may live to a
healthy old age. So what? Cigarette smoking is still a serious health
hazard. Drugs are a danger to all of us.

People take drugs to achieve an immediate hit of pleasure. This
progressively causes users to turn in on themselves. Instead of
seeking joy from other people, they seek it in the drug. The pursuit
of that instant hit can gradually take over the user's life, causing

And the downside of that hit becomes increasingly desperate. Research
has shown that large or repeated doses of cocaine can lead to anxiety
and panic descending into paranoia and hallucinations. With constant
use, euphoria is replaced by restlessness, over-excitability, nausea
and insomnia, sometimes descending into persecution mania. Those who
don't become psychotic may appear constantly nervous, excitable and

Ecstasy is scarcely any less horrific. Its after-effects can include
fatigue and depression lasting several days and in the long term can
include anxiety, panic, confusion, insomnia, psychosis and

Other research has shown that ecstasy destroys the brain's supply of
serotonin, which makes us happy. So pursuit of that quick hit of
chemical pleasure can sickeningly remove for ever the ecstasy user's
ability to take pleasure from life itself.

All these effects have potentially devastating implications for the
way drug users relate to other people. We're talking here about
depersonalisation and dehumanisation, with a resulting rise in
selfishness, crime, depression, suicide, aggression and violence.

That is why these drugs are prohibited. That is why the Paddick/Hayman
view is so lethally inane.The only way to fight drugs is to give an
utterly consistent set of signals that society will not tolerate them
at all -- and that means targeting users as well as dealers.

Our society is now giving precisely the opposite set of signals.
Thousands are worried sick about how to stop their children doing
drugs. Views like those expressed by Paddick and Hayman collapse the
ground under their feet. And in the wake of Blunkett's cannabis edict,
schools may now relax their message about drugs.

Far from being given the facts about the nature of the risk drugs
pose, people are being told -- preposterously -- that it's not drugs
that may harm their children, but the law. They're being told that the
war on drugs is being lost when it's not even being properly waged.

The public is being progressively duped into viewing the intolerable
as desirable by a propaganda campaign as brilliant as it is sinister.
There is virtually no drug agency with a national profile that does
not put out thinly veiled legalising propaganda.

The measure of this campaign's success is the way it has turned
scientific evidence and common sense into the unsayable. In the
absence of any other information, is it surprising that the public is
increasingly parroting arguments that were once confined to junkies on
the fringes of acceptable debate? Why does the Advisory Council for
the Misuse of Drugs have so many members who are equivocal about
illegal drugs? Why has the home affairs select committee inquiry into
drugs taken evidence so far only from legalisers? Why is the
government pumping money into DrugScope, a hugely influential drug
charity whose argument that there should be no criminal sanctions for
possessing small amounts of any drug is a short step from saying all
drugs should be legalised? David Blunkett's signal on cannabis has
created an appallingly dangerous momentum. He should wake up to just
how far the rot has spread and introduce a radical drug policy that
actually uses the law to enforce a consistent defence against harm.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake