A speaker at yesterday’s drugs conference has accused its organisers of being biased in favour of those who want to legalise all drugs.
Speaking at Homerton College yesterday, Neil McKeganey told those at the Home Affairs Select Committee’s drugs conference that too many of the selected speakers were those who wanted to push forward drug law reform. Mr McKeganey, of the centre for drug misuse research, asserted the conference programme was “overwhelmingly skewed” in favour of those who hope to see drugs legalised, particularly for medicinal purposes.
He said: “Their programme is so overwhelmingly skewed in favour of those in favourof drug law reform it has to be a fundamental compromise of that principle of the select committee.
“There’s no way with any justification whatsoever that the range of speakers overwhelmingly in favour of legalisation should stand as a contribution of the select committee’s discussion of drug misuse. The case for drug policy reform is based on the drug laws having failed. In actual fact drug policies in the UK have not failed.
“We have witnessed the most substantial reduction in the prevalence of illegal drug use since records began. The statistics here are very clear. It’s completely dishonest to present that situation as indicative of government failure.”
Mr McKeganey continued that it was “preposterous” to suggest that existing drug policies were doing more harm than illegal drugs themselves. He added: “It is said it is more effective to set up a regulated market. That is said by people who are not considering the evidence of the impact of a regulated market.
“How on earth do you propose to regulate an unregulated market? There will still be illegal suppliers of drugs – how do you propose to regulate those individuals?”
However opinion at the drugs conference remained divided, with several speakers giving whole-hearted support to drug law reform. The safety of drug users was one of the key reasons cited, with claims that regulating drug use would help prevent people from taking drugs which had been mixed with harmful cutting agents.
Health problems are also caused by cutting agents used to make the drug more profitable – including levamisole used to worm sheep – which can lower blood cell numbers and phenacetin which can cause kidney problems.
Imperial College London academic Prof David Nutt, who is also the chair and founder of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, was one of those who spoke out in favour of drug law reform. Prof Nutt told the conference that almost everything which had been done in the past 30 years to tackle drugs had led to greater problems.
He said: “Prohibition of cannabis has driven us into much more dangerous drugs.
“It’s the same with MDMA. The prohibition of MDMA has led to the massive rise in deaths from PMA. The perverse consequences of the laws must be taken account of. You cannot think there is a simple solution.
“I am very sympathetic to the idea of recovery but the abstinence recovery programme will lead to more deaths. A policy which focuses simply on reducing use but does not take account of deaths is missing the key element of drugs policy.”
Sarah Graham, an addictions therapist and member of the advisory council on the misuse of drugs, also lent her support to the government regulating drugs. Ms Graham said she agreed with the argument that drug users should not be criminalised.
The support for drug law reform comes after the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in a report into the use of powdered cocaine in the UK and its impacts on society.
The report suggests powdered cocaine use remains most common among 20 to 29-year-olds.