The UK government’s misguided War On Drugs

(also bonus opinion of today)

We all know how these work out, don’t we?

They’re trying too much to be the new cool US of A, with their hard stance towards drugs. It’s all just pandering to the tabloid-reading right-wing conservative old fart crowd. Which unfortunately makes up a large enough proportion of the voters to make this behaviour rewarding.

Well that, and they are still just stupid politicians who suffer from the usual lethal combination of delusions of knowing-everything-without-science-ism and actually-not-having-a-fucking-cluitis.

Banning a designer drug? Really?

After the much-criticised (and, frankly, stupid) decision to move cannabis up into the higher echelons of Dangerous Drugs™ – never mind the fact that not a single reported death has ever resulted from cannabis use, or that the perfectly legal alcohol and tobacco claim hundreds (thousands?) of deaths each year – the government has now decided to ban a designer drug – again despite criticism from drug experts.

What is most striking is that the government already decided to ban the drug before its supposedly independent advisory council had even recommended anything. So far for advice.

Clueless government v informed scientists – yeah we know who wins that

Read here for the dirty details of the government’s stupidity and arrogance. Fuck. Shameful.

Here are some backgrounds on how it normally works, and why it doesn’t this time.

Stop press, just in: this report from New Scientist (eery timing, suspect they had the story waiting on the shelf. Interesting nonetheless).

Some random relevant quotes to provide background if you don’t want to read these articles:

advice [should not be] subjected to a desire to please ministers or the mood of the day’s press (from the resignation letter of one of the (now former) scientists on the advisory council; emphasis mine)

David Nutt [former head of the council, MV] was sacked by the home secretary last year after criticising the government for rejecting recommendations from the ACMD on the classification of cannabis and ecstasy. Two members, Les King and Marion Walker, resigned immediately in protest.

And a lengthy quote to explain the disdain with which the government treats the scientists, and seems to think that science is simply there to provide the justification for what you want to do. That’s a very religious/totalitarian view of science that has no place in a modern democracy (… hmm and therefore maybe it does have a place in this country :( ).

The latest departure follows the publication of guidelines that set out the terms of engagement between ministers and their expert advisers. The guidelines were drawn up by scientists, but later amended by ministers and published as formal “principles of scientific advice to government” last week.

The revised guidelines have outraged critics, who claim they compromise scientists’ independence and could discourage experts from giving objective advice on sensitive matters if it clashes with existing government policy.

(…)

A major point of contention in the revised guidelines concerns a requirement that ministers and their advisers “should not act to undermine mutual trust”, a phrase some scientists believe could pressurise scientists into adjusting their advice to match ministers’ views.

In her resignation letter, Taylor wrote: ‘The government’s first response [to the guidelines] was highly unsatisfactory and appeared to justify ministers appointing and dismissing independent scientific advisers according to trust, which is an arbitrary and subjective matter.’

Briefly why it won’t work

I saw this explained once in an excellent TV program on ‘legal highs’. The problem is in the way the law on drugs bans substances. It bans only one specific chemical structure. In the case of natural drugs, that works, because you can’t change the plant (yet!) to make a different active substance.

With designer drugs, this is different; they’re made in a lab. As soon as one specific compound is banned, all that is needed to evade this ban is to simply slightly modify the compound; say by adding a non-functional methyl group to some side chain. Voilà – a new compound, perfectly legal, until the government bans it. Repeat ad infinitum.

So, to the UK government:

Science is independent; it does not tell you what you want to hear, just because you want to hear it really really badly. Get that into your thick heads.

Oh, and as a last rant – face up to the hypocrisy that makes tobacco and alcohol legal whilst banning far less dangerous drugs, or even activities in general. It makes no sense.

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