In The Week magazine it was fascinating to read just how different systems operate as the Italians entrust the Army to produce Marijuana. Here in the UK Cannabis (Marijuana) has no legal use, not even in medicine. Yet In Italy the Italian Army is responsible for growing the countries medical grade Marijuana. The news was they hope to be able to produce it for about €8 per gram. They have dismissed the offer of supply from the Police who would give them the seized illegal crops and feel they can produce cheaper product than buying from the Dutch.
Here what we see is Governments, both the Dutch and Italians actively involved in the production and supply of something the UK Government believes is improper based on a lack of medial evidence to support the benefits of the drug for some medical interventions. Perhaps we should look again at the evidence for medial use, because we are in danger of this argument being used to undermine the whole case for prohibition in the UK
Drug Testing The Moral Maze – this week’s controversial news that the Police were testing illegal drugs in the possession of festival goers at the Secret Garden Party music festival was the catalyst for a debate about the role of law and the legalisation of drugs.
An opening challenge to one participant confirmed the view that ‘all drugs can do harm’ it is how they are used that reduces the risk of harm. On this occasion the police strategy was reported to have been focused on harm reduction and this resulted in them testing illegal drugs to establish the level of active substance, its purity level, and what other substances had been mixed with the active ingredient as packing. The commentators spoke about the finding of large differences in purity levels and a wide range of other harmful products that were mixed in with the active ingredient without people knowing what they were taking. One might think that the Police had been successful in reducing harm and maybe in forcing home the message that buying drugs from illegal sources means you cannot trust what you are buying.
Is this the role of law? – good question, I would suggest not, the law of the land is set and whilst Police Officers have discretion about what and how they enforce the law it appears they become embroiled in a moral debate and dilute the message that the law is intended to give. If an act is illegal then the act is not considered to be appropriate for our civil society to practise. With allegedly three million people using illegal drugs per year, it is fair to say that the law is not being effective. On the other hand you may argue that with actions such as this and debates about legalisation of certain drugs we dilute the effectiveness of the Law. Having spent most of my professional career enforcing the law I do appreciate just how difficult it can be to maintain a consistent approach. Perhaps on this occasion our Public Health partners may have been better placed to conduct this type of test and preserve role of the police and the rule of the Law to the only people who can enforce it. Now I am educating young people I also appreciate just how difficult it is for their young minds to make sense of such actions. We do our young people a disservice by not being clear about the legality of drug abuse, not being clear about the harms that drug abuse can cause. One commentator was quite right to point out that we loose credibility if we tell young people “all drugs are bad and will do bad things to you”. The message is not that simple and we have examples around us all the time that show such a statement is open to challenge. Although the program finished the debate with a statement I wholly support “we as adults have a moral duty to inform young people about the risks associated with their risky behaviour”. All young people have choices and we are here to help them make safe and healthy choices which will help them to archive their potential in life and be active citizens.
It was suggested that the so called “war on drugs” has failed and that prohibition is a failure. My view is that prohibition, enforcement, treatment and education are equally essential elements of the frame work which has made this generation of young people in England and Wales less likely to abuse drugs than their predecessor and more sober than ever before, a conclusion drawn by the Health and Social Care Information Centre. Perhaps in the debate about legalisation we should not forget that no one element stands alone in combating the abuse of drugs.
Today the Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health have launched their report about changing the approach to the UK drug strategy. They argue the current Home Office strategy has not worked, claiming that enforcement costs £4bn per year. They also suggest that Portugal’s non criminalised action policies are a model of best practise. Interestingly they argue for compulsory drug education and more effective prevention approaches.
We would fully support the drive for compulsory drug education and a recent independent study into the effectiveness of D.A.R.E in the UK shows that it helps young people to make safe and healthy choices about drugs and alcohol. As a former Police Officer I know only too well the cost of enforcement and the difficulties of cutting out the illegal supply of drugs in the UK; as one group is dealt with, another appears. As a former Director commissioning Drug and Alcohol treatment systems for Public Health I also know first hand how difficult it is to ensure that access to services is there when needed by those affected.
So where do we go with UK Drug Strategy?
The reason I am now in education is that I fundamentally believe that we have to ensure that we deal with demand and enable our young people to avoid the pitfalls of addiction and abuse. Equipping them with knowledge and skills is essential in that fight agains drugs. But let us not get lulled into a belief that there is one solution. We need to enforce, we need to prevent and we need to educate; one should not be at the expense of the other, it is all necessary for it to have the longer term impact we hope for. Perhaps thus far education prevention and enforcement has just not been joined up sufficiently.
Legalisation and decriminalisation headlines are misleading. We can not make all drugs legal to produce, supply and possess, and we can not treat the gang leaders who are not addicted but just want to make money out of others misery.
Education management professionals were recently debating the future of classroom textbooks via their linked in forum. Some thought that text books were just a means of keeping publishers in business and advocated that eResources were easier to keep up to date and cheaper to distribute. Others thought they were essential alternative resources that students need and advised against their demise.
Classroom Textbooks… What About Traditional Workbooks?
Whilst the debate focused on text books what of the traditional work book? Those tools that students use to follow the path of learning though an interaction with the written word and writing in work books.
Thing of the past or essential tool, what do you think?