28/11/2003

Big Conversation @ 4:39 pm

The government today launched their Big Conversation an initiative to try and engage people more in the political process (or at least to be seen to be doing so) by basically asking people what they thing the governments policies should be and in what direction the country should move in.

Feeling in a soapbox mood I’ve decided to write on one of my pet arguments the legalisation of all drugs, their open availability on prescription from ALL doctors and the decriminalisation of possession. A few of you who have heard me talk about this will know the basics of this argument.

There is a crisis in this countries drugs policy which has been precipitated by a number of issues:
1. The ?deregulation? of the drugs market through prohibition
2. The increase in use of prohibited drugs
3. The high price of prohibited drugs
4. The exposure to scrutiny of UK drug policy through the application of performance indicators
5. Government unwillingness to terminate prohibition in light of changes in external conditions

I would like to suggest that the control and regulation of currently prohibited drugs through legal methods is the only way of reducing the harms associated with high levels of drug use.

A few statistics…
This year an estimated 2.5million people in this country will take an illegal substance.

An estimated 500,000 of those are class A drug users.

About 250,000 of those are considered `problem` users who fund their addiction through crime.

Home office statistics show that 50% of crime is commited by drug addicts related wheras 80% of all burglary/theft is drugs is commited by drug addicts.

The medical associations of every western country consider addiction to be an illness – and as such addicts should be treated and not criminalised.

In 1970 there were 1000 registered heroin addicts in the UK. By 2000 this had risen to an estimated 250 000. When demand reaches this level prohibition?s effects become overwhelmingly negative. Resources are spent on criminal justice measures rather than treatment, leading to illness and death for thousands every year.

The majority of the health effects due to drug uses are due not to the drugs themselves but to how the drug is taken and what the drugs is taken with. For example the majority of deaths and hospitalisations arising from ecstasy use are due to dehydration / mixing with alcohol and over heating. With intravenous drugs use there are the inherent risks of HIV/AIDS. Add to that the fact that many drugs are cut with substances which can themselves be harmful drugs could be cut with any old crap a dealer had sitting about the house, from baking soda to rat poison and we easily see that No substance is made safe by putting its manufacture and distribution in the hands of criminal gangs – which would automatically suggest that the manufacture of drugs should be controlled by the pharmaceutical industry and not clandestine labs throughout the world.

What should the aims of an effective drug policy be?

1. To increase regulation and control of the drugs trade

2. To reduce drug related ill health

3. To reduce drug related crime

4. To extend provision of honest and effective drug education and information

5. To maximise effectiveness of drug-related expenditure and taxation of drug trade

6. To protect civil rights of drug users and non-users

7. To encourage inclusion of civil society in drug policy formation

What benefits could removal of current legilistation have?

Firstly, the health impacts are many fold – drug users would be able to trust the quality and dosage they were recieving, by puting it under prescription users are already on the first step to getting help in overcoming their addiction (i.e. actually having contact with helthcare providers) thirdly you eliminate the risks of needle sharing, fourthly users can be eductated in the safe taking of the drug. All in all these would improve the quality of life of all addicts and drug users.

Secondly, the social and legal impacts. If 50% of crime is due to addicts trying to fund their addiction then by putting drugs on precription then you could concievable see up to 50% reduction in crime (they don’t have to mug or rob to get the money for their dose as a standard prescription fee would cover it) – although this is unlikely this could be attainable. The government would then be able to take the money used to maintain the prohibition of drugs to fund rehabilitation programmes (it costs £3000 per addict with a 1 in 3 success rate). Dealers would automatically be freezed out of the market (which does raise the question of what an unemployed Drug Dealer does?) – and which would mean an automatic reduction in new addicts (as there would be fewer dealers introducing new users).

To sumarise I would like to quote the Transform Drug Policy Institute

What are the benefits and costs for producer countries of moving to a legalised system?

Benefits:

? Organised crime leaves trade

? Government controls trade

? Expenditure spent on fighting the war freed up for more creative purposes

? Creation of regulatory body for drugs

? The removal of prohibition enables countries such as Colombia to legitimately grow and trade in coca. No more fumigation and alternative crop efforts.

? Production of coca is taxed and regulated by Colombian authorities no longer at the mercy of interference by US under the auspices of the drug war.

? Cartels pay tax and become entrepreneurs or leave the business,

? Employment rights for farmers

? ?Traffickers? become traders and pay tax

? No more drug money going to paramilitary forces.

? More stable economy and government

? Money freed for treatment

? Colombians rejoin international community

? Environmental damage reduced

? Human rights adhered to

Benefits to UK:

? Revenue raised

? Responsibility for drugs strategy will continue to be overseen by HMT but their role becomes managerial.

? Legalisation means that customs and excise change their role to regulators and the Treasury charges tax and excise on previously illegal drugs, thereby raising revenue. A legalised system ought to raise more than it spends. HMT determines price of retailed drugs. Pharmaceutical price regulation scheme determines price of prescribed drugs.

? ?Dealers? become retailers and pay tax

? Drugs are retailed from licensed premises with an age limit

? Drugs are sold with ingredients list, health warning and safe use info

? More treatment and education as money is freed up

? Prisons empty, court time freed up, police time freed

? Property crime, robberies and prostitution committed to support habit all but disappear

? Drug deaths decrease

? Drug-related corruption disappears

? Young people increase faith in ?The System?

? Human rights respected

? Street dealing and turf wars disappear

? Community safety increases ? inner cities transformed

? Goverment can address causes of problematic drug use and crime

? Civil society involvement in drug policy formation

Costs to Producer countries:

? Re-arrangement of economy

? Invasion of multi-nationals ? farmers priced out of the market

Costs to UK:
? Prevalence of use may increase

Historically government policy formation around drugs has been driven by politics rather than science, a trend that continues today. I believe taht has to change is we are to tackle drugs effectively.

Much of information found in this post is derived from BBC, Gaurdian, United Nations,
Home Office and Transform Drug Policy Institute

26/11/2003

God and Queen @ 10:02 pm

Well its been a slow day, but I’ve managed to finish American Gods by Neil Gaiman which Ricky gave me last week.

Shadow (the main character) gets out of prison early when his wife is killed in a car crash. At a loss, he takes up with a mysterious character called Wednesday, who is much more than he appears. In fact, Wednesday is an old god, once known as Odin the All-father, who is roaming America rounding up his forgotten fellows in preparation for an epic battle against the upstart deities of the Internet, credit cards, television, and all that is wired. Shadow agrees to help Wednesday, and they whirl through a psycho-spiritual storm that becomes all too real in its manifestations. For instance, Shadow’s dead wife Laura keeps showing up, and not just as a ghost – the difficulty of their continuing relationship is by turns grim and tries to be funny … just like the rest of the book.

Armed only with some coin tricks and a sense of purpose, Shadow travels through, around, and underneath the visible surface of things, digging up all the powerful myths Americans brought with them in their journeys to this land as well as the ones that were already here. Shadow’s road story is the heart of the novel, and it’s here that Gaiman offers up the details that make this such a cinematic book–the distinctly American foods and diversions, the bizarre roadside attractions, the decrepit gods reduced to shell games and prostitution. “This is a bad land for Gods,” says Shadow.

Sadly its a good concept that starts really well but somewhere near the middle it goes way way off track ruining itself in the way only an author trying too hard can do. Everythings sub text and image, but shallow and unreal – the context is that its talking about gods so you can be in the middle of nowhere then the next line reaching into a fridge to pull out a beer – this proves to be too confusing for my poor little brain….:-( and all Gaiman manages to do is to lose credibility in the characters and in the end we lose the ability to actually empathise with them…and I can’t enjoy a book whose charcters I don’t give a damn about.

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The Queens speech today outlined the governments plans for the coming year. Top of the list was university tuition fees.

Responding to the Queens Speech, Phil Willis MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary, said:

Labour makes access to higher education dependent on the ability to pay, not on the ability to learn.

This Bill will widen the social divide and makes it less likely that students from poorer backgrounds will access Britain?s top universities.

The Government seeks to burden students with mortgage style debts of up to £33,000, which many students will still be paying back when they retire. It transfers the cost from the state to the student moving us nearer to the USA model but without the corporate or alumni giving that is the norm in America.

This Bill fails to meet the financial needs of our universities and does little to reverse two decades of underfunding by successive Governments.

I would incourage anyone interested to read an article I posted here a few months back prompted by comments made by the Professor Crewe, Vice Chancellor of Essex University Education for a couple of beers

20/11/2003

666 @ 9:47 am

The sixth goal in the sixty sixth minute of play summed up what can only be described as like having a rectal exam by a big hungarian customs officer. In what became an absurd scoreline the Scots were ill tempered and gave away silly fouls etc. with the first three goals alone coming from set pieces.

Some of the talk has since turned to should Bertie continue in the Scotland Job. Personally I’m torn – he’s taken an old and not very good squad (which wasn’t really going anywhere) and turned it into a young and not very good squad which may go somewhere in the next four years. But in doing so he’s removed all the experience from the squad, has endeded up with the worst managerial record in Scottish history and has watched scotland drop from about 30ish in the world rankings to the 60ish place we find ourselves in now.

The question for me is whether we want Bertie as our manager going into the next world cup and if we think he can turn these young lads around? Sadly I don’t think he can – I think he’s done the hard thing – actually taking the dive into bringing in young fresh talent – but I don’t think he has the calibre to take that side to success at international level and we may be best looking for a new manager quite soon.

19/11/2003

MyEdinburgh and Curry @ 11:12 am

Well I haven’t been posting any main articles lately as I seem to have got drawn into a not so healthy debate on the Craigmillar Partnership.

Monday saw me off to the Launch of the new .myEdinburgh at the national museum of scotland- yes i was wined and dined (well if you can call those silly little salmon things dined). MyEdinburgh is a public information portal for Edinburgh based on the old CityConnect model.

The actual launch was okay (nice wine) – sadly Ewan Aitken can still talk the back end off a donkey. I knew him years ago when he was a trainee minister at South Leith Parish Church and he could talk for hours then – now he’s moved up in the world as Councillor on the City Council.

Bizarrely I bumped into ex-Slough housemate Vicky Logue at the Launch which was fantastic catching up – I need to give her a call soon and arrange a few lemonades with her.

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In case you missed it Sharwoods new range of Curry sauces are called Bundh – sadly thats punjabi for “arse” – nice going ohhh marketing genius’

12/11/2003

Craigmillar Partnership Questions @ 1:42 pm

Having just recieved various comments to my stance on the Craigmillar Partnership and accusing me of being manipulated into an anti-Craigmillar Partnership stance I felt I should put my position clearly.

Firstly I haven’t been, nor do I need to be, “manipulated” as you put it into questioning the Partnership – the partnerships annual report and annual review prompt a number of important questions which, forgive me if you think I’m wrong, that the people of Craigmillar have the right, NO an obligation to ask.

To ask these questions is not to be against the partnership It is to challenge the whole idea that the partnership can do and say whatever it wants without the people of craigmillar saying “hang on a minute why have you done that?” and “what benefit does it bring the people of craigmillar?”

Let us look at the questions that i’ve asked and why i’ve asked them.

Firstly, SIP funding for Craigmillar…

Edinburgh council website reports the the Policy And Resources Committee/Urban Regeneration Subcommittee which states that the partnership would recieve 1.765million in SIP funding for the perion of 2002/2003 , whereas in the Annual Report we are told that the Parnetship recieved £1,805,000.

From the SIP funding we are told in their annual Reveiw that in 2002/2003 they allocated £164,000 to the Craigmillar Partnership (i.e. themselves) on page 18 of their accounts it lists this figure as £227,038

On page 9 of their annual accounts the Total Income for the partnership is listed as £517,417 on page 13 in the detailed financial breakdown this same value is listed as £519,081.

In the executive summary to the annual report we are told “This year we distributed £1.765m in funding to 20 local projects,” in the annual review we are told that total SIP funding allocation is 1,754,275.

I have asked them which of these values is correct? How dare I be so insolent!

The partnerships reply is that the Auditors have signed off on the accounts and therfore I should be happy and not worry my pretty little head.

Secondly, I’ve asked where the funding came from for the Brussels trip? to be honest thats a simple enough question which the Partnership has tried to twist into “well why shouldn’t people from craigmillar go to brussels?” Inherently I don’t have a problem with it they’ve not even bothered to tell us how much it cost – if we assume £500 for each person (which i think is conservative considering cost of flights, subsistance and accomodation in one of Europes most expensive cities for one week) that amounts to £10000 pounds – now, is it more important to craigmillar that 20 people go to Brussels than the £8000 allocated to the Adult Student Link?, or the 5,125 allocated to the Edinburgh community food initiative? or the £250 for travel and meal cost for a childrens holiday? or £500 to the Heart to Heart group .. personally I don’t. Do you?

Finally there is an inherent problem with the QUANGO situation in Scotland (which has been criticised by the European Union Commissioner for democracy (or whatever their title is)) thats says that non govermental organisations shouldn’t have so many goverment people on their board and committies. If you look at the Partnerships Report you have to go 6pages before you find an ordinary member of the local community (the first 5pages having photo’s of Jack O’Donnell, Susan Deacon and Margaret Curran) and in fact Cllr O’Donnell (labour) sits as Chairman of this NON GOVERNMENTAL organisation. This is not merley a problem with the partnership alone but, just because it isn’t unique to the partnership doesn’t mean its okay.

The partnership Annual Review states the the total funding for Craigmillar amounted to about 5.4million of which 10% wen’t to merely funding the agency thats sole aim is to allocate it to the groups that actually do the work in the community? and we aren’t suppossed to raise an eyebrow?

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