By James Collins
If you are interested in cannabis, or just drug issues in general in the United Kingdom, you should be familiar with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
They are a committee formed by the government comprised of experts in the field. There are social workers, former law enforcement professionals, and medical advisors. It is their job to engage in fact-finding concerning the impact of drug misuse (a nebulous bit of terminology, but that’s another discussion entirely), then report back to the Home Office with recommendations presumably geared to protecting the public health and safety.
Since the collective sound of every cannabis user’s eyes rolling was just heard across the globe, let’s get to the point. You don’t have to agree that the ACMD provides useful advice, engages in effective fact finding, or even serves a genuine purpose to give a damn about what has happened. This isn’t a question of their motives or efficacy anymore; because where cannabis is concerned the facts just got swept right off the table.
Council Chair Professor Les Iversen said in a public meeting on April 11th that cannabis was no longer an issue for the ACMD because the issue had become “politicized” and thus was out of their hands. This is a very disturbing statement, but it is also a tacit admission of what is really going on in the United Kingdom regarding drug policy. They are stating, albeit in bureaucratic doubletalk, that the government is motivated entirely by politics and will not be accepting fact-based advice from the council. It’s actually a very bold admission, and has garnered surprisingly little press.
I contacted Jason Reed, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, for their take on this declaration. I wanted to make sure my usual level of outrage was justified here, and it seems that they were as unsettled by this development as I was.
“It seems utterly incredulous that the official advisory body which provides a necessary barrier against politicking and intransigence has, for whatever reason, been stifled into an oblique submission.
The mandate of the ACMD is clear: to act as the nonpartisan arbitrator of drug policy. The segregation between an independent advisory panel and the political class is a deliberate one; it was conceived so as to prevent political muscles from trying out flex one another. With a glimpse into the inner core of policy making, we should at the very least raise eyebrows with a required and foreboding concern.”
They obviously share my concern that this ostensibly non-partisan independent body is now being mired in the political game that prevents progress on so many different fronts.
The attempt to address prohibition on the basis of the facts rather than the politics has been responsible for progress in many jurisdictions. It is hard to frame the War on Drugs as anything but an abysmal failure. Stuffing people into overcrowded prisons just for getting high isn’t making society any safer. It isn’t even stopping people from getting high, which seems like a total waste of public resources at a time of austerity and budget crisis. It isn’t protecting public health because whatever damage drug use is going to do it is already doing. If the facts aren’t on the table in the first place then all bets are off.
There is something else to point out about this: Cannabis seems to be uniquely politicized as compared to other drugs. The ACMD isn’t throwing their hands in the air regarding the discussion of heroin or cocaine. They’re willing to address the impact of so-called “legal highs” (complex molecules which are psychoactive but as of yet unregulated by law) or other intoxicating substances, but cannabis is outside of their prevue now.
This speaks volumes.
Apparently Parliament, or the Home Office, or perhaps the PMO have passed the word down to the ACMD that their mind is made up on the subject and there is no need to waste time finding useless facts. This suggests some backroom dealings going on regarding cannabis laws, ones which are not subject to professional consultation or public interference. Something is afoot, it’s hard to be sure what, but this decision wasn’t made in a vacuum.
On the ACMD page is the following statement:
“In addition, the ACMD has a duty to consider any matter relating to drug dependence or misuse that may be referred to them by ministers. The Home Secretary is obliged by law to consult the ACMD before laying orders or making regulations.”
While they are stating that the Home Office is obligated by law to take advice from the council, they are also saying that this advice is no longer welcome on political grounds and so they will not be offering it. So what is the point of a legal obligation if the Home Office can simply instruct the Council to stop advising on political grounds? Does this not render the entire process moot?
Release, LEAP-UK and other NGOs have been engaging the fact-finding process in government concerning drug laws. By making rational arguments about the harms done by prohibition, and providing documented facts about the success of engagement programs concerning drug use, they were making real inroads. Now the Council itself has kicked the entire subject into a far field out of reach, essentially admitting that the entire rational process is window dressing.
Something has changed within the Home Office recently and it isn’t being made public. If they are just outright tossing the facts on cannabis into the dustbin they must have foregone conclusions on the subject and are not interested in accepting further input. This puts the voice of reason right out of the room. A government willing to dismiss the facts from its own fact-finding organization is completely out-of-touch with the changing tides in society regarding drug use.
The good news is that an election is looming. The coalition has almost used up their limited time in office and the time to cast ballots is approaching quickly. This is the time to find out where your local candidates stand on this subject. You won’t find out except by asking. Yes, you’re probably going to get a boilerplate response, but that just means you’re knocking at the wrong door. Somebody in this upcoming election is going to have something to say to the public on the subject, and it is better to find out far in advance who that person is and hold their feet to the fire.
The ACMD wants to hear from you as well, their website says as much. You should ask them how it is possible that their entire function is trumped by political issues when they exist to gather facts outside of the prevailing political climate. That is the purpose of an independent body like the ACMD, and refusing to address a subject on political grounds is contrary to their mission entirely.
2 Marsham Street
Contrary to that, we can assume the Home Office doesn’t want to hear from you, so getting all up in their Kool-Aid is even more important. One letter would be annoying, and require them to release a boilerplate response. Ten would take more time. A flood of letters, emails and phone calls tying up resources demanding an explanation would be even better. It costs you nothing to send a fax from your computer, but it costs them paper and ink to receive it. They have limited budgets and getting drained dry engaging a lot of questions genuinely irritates them. This coalition government does its best work in the dark, so an angry mob running up on them with an army of flashlights is precisely what they do not want to happen. Somebody owes an explanation for this crap, and they owe it to you.
Direct Communications Unit
2 Marsham Street
Telephone 020 7035 4848
Fax 020 7035 4745
Minicom 020 7035 4742
Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm. The minicom service is for members of the public with impaired hearing.
Contacts provided are valid as of April 15th, if they get enough complaining they might change their phone number. Let’s see if that can be made to happen, shall we? This is where the rank and file of the activist movement must shine, by being a unified and deafening voice of opposition to the kind of sneaky backroom slime that has led to this latest development. It could take as little as ten minutes; you could do it while you smoke a spliff or do some dabs. If you want to be a monstrous pain in the ass and you’re feeling ambitious you could contact all the numbers and email addresses provided, possibly more than once.
The question is simple: How can the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs possibly say that cannabis is no longer an issue for them to address because it is “politicized”? Is this an admission that they are putting the political considerations of the sitting coalition ahead of the facts, contrary to their mission as fact finders?
Each of us is like a mosquito. One of us cannot bring down The Man by ourselves. If you have ever sat in a jungle around sundown you understand just how quickly millions of tiny bugs can overwhelm you as the apex predator on this planet and send you running for cover. Be a mosquito, encourage your friends to take a prick of their own at the beast, and with enough tiny pricks they’ll go on the run like a camper frantically waving a newspaper and a can of bug repellant.
To be completely transparent here, I don’t expect the ACMD to reverse their statement, or the Home Office to do anything but offer more weapons grade bullshit on the topic. It is a slow wearing-away process. Ultimately the government thinks it is getting away with things if people don’t express outrage. Throwing your hands in the air and accepting it seems like consent to Tories, so if they’re going to ignore the facts you have to kick and scream about it. Every time something like this happens there needs to be a response. It takes a handful of people to notice things like this declaration by Les Iversen, but it takes a million voices to cry out in protest. You just have to be one voice. It won’t take long, and you might get a sense of satisfaction in at least having an opportunity to call shenanigans when you see them. Nobody will know you object if you keep it to yourself, so give them an earful for their trouble.
James Collins is a Canadian blogger, author and activist.