Why some cannabis activists do not want an end to prohibition.

I’ve been thinking about the world of cannabis activism and campaigning and how I became increasingly perplexed by the discord between different people and groups. If the over-riding motivation is the abolition of prohibition and the creation of a just, legally regulated system for the production, supply and consumption of cannabis why the lack of cohesiveness?
Well, it does occur to me that there are many in the “movement” who make a living out of the current circumstances producing and selling cannabis in its various forms. From their perspective a legally regulated market could put them out of business, unless they could be sure of retaining their market share. As any legally regulated market would inevitably involve commercial organisations, with their sophisticated marketing and sales expertise, it presents a real threat. Also a market where home-growing is allowed will further erode their market share.
It seems, therefore, that it is actually in the interests of some activists not to change the status quo.  This would also explain the extreme hostility to the commercialisation of the industry (as would a left-wing political perspective) and the condemnation of those who are willing to explore opportunities to develop new approaches with politicians of all persuasions and engage with potential commercial interests.
This stance, of effectively supporting prohibition while in fact subverting efforts to abolish it, is difficult to carry off while maintaining progressive credentials.  Difficult, yes, but not impossible if the strategy adopted is openly to support legal regulation but in fact to counter any progressive strategies and tactics by promoting marginal, or even more direct, objections. It is easy to find some aspect of any proposal with which you can take issue to ensure that the whole proposal fails to gain collective support.  This amounts to a disingenuous pursuit of the perfect at the expense of the achievable good.
I think that this is why there has been a dearth of really effective campaigning and a reliance on a smoke screen of ineffective activism such as open air events and rallies. They provide a show of activity without ever really effecting change.
I refer to some activists, not all, so let’s try and continue this discussion without rancour, eschew personal ambitions and ensure that we all focus on our mission:
“Legal access to cannabis for all adults and legal access to cannabis as a medicine for all”
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Cannabis for medical purposes first – a winning strategy?

One of the many things I have learned in my time as a drug policy adviser is that there is considerable room for improvement in the way in which we campaign for change.  I could ponder the effectiveness of different tactics such as public demonstrations in the form of picnics, public consumption of cannabis to commemorate key dates and signing petitions. I could, but I won’t.   Instead I want to look at the aims of drug law reform with particular reference to cannabis and how best we can focus the campaign.

I’m pretty sure that we all want legal access to cannabis for adults and legal access to cannabis for medical purposes for all.  Of course, while closely linked, there are two clear and separate aims articulated in that vision for a better future. That presents us with options for developing a successful strategic approach; do we concentrate on both, or one at the expense of the other or do we time our efforts to deliver consecutive rather that concurrent impact?  How best should we shape our campaigning strategy so that we achieve maximum change in minimum time?

Years ago, when sat for academic exams (with some success I modestly add!), I followed the wise advice from my father to read through all the questions, choose which ones to answer and then do the easiest ones first as your brain, subconsciously, got to grips with the harder ones.  That system also meant that you didn’t run out of time, and lose certain marks, to write down the answers that you knew.  In other words concentrate on the “easy” wins as a priority.

I see a real parallel in the campaign for cannabis law reform.  In my view, and following the example of significant progress in the US, achieving legal access to cannabis for medical purposes for all is much more likely to be achieved sooner than legal access to cannabis for “recreational” purposes.  I do not say that one is more important than the other, although that could be argued, as both are about unjust restrictions on human behaviour, but I do say that aiming for an “easier” target makes sense provided it does not harm the chances of succeeding in the more challenging quest.

Although there is a growing body of evidence to show that prohibition is a hugely costly, counter-productive and harmful failure facts alone are not enough to deliver change; successive governments have operated in an evidence-free zone. We need to go further and engage with people’s imaginations, arouse their emotions and empathy through telling compelling stories about real people.  Of course we have to marshal the facts to challenge the lies, myths and distortions of the past 40 or so years of media coverage but our approach should also appeal to emotion and compassion in order to deliver change. Frankly, it’s easier to arouse public empathy for a suffering child or disabled adult being helped by cannabis than it is for someone who “simply” wants to get stoned. That may not be fair, but it’s reality.

I know there will be some (many?) who will feel that a narrow strategy focusing on medical use alone would be a betrayal of the many millions who do not consume cannabis for medical reasons.  My argument is that this approach will hasten, not slow, the opportunity for legal enjoyment of cannabis for the full range of reasons: enhanced spirituality, creativity and enjoyment of music for example, as well as for relaxation and calm.  Think of it, perhaps, as a wedge driven into the wall of prohibition at its weakest point; bringing the whole edifice down with the minimum effort, maximum impact and in the shortest time.

A focused, determined campaign to achieve legal access to cannabis for medical purposes could unite the cannabis law reform movement, harness tremendous energy, expertise and commitment and, after decades of lack of progress, deliver the change we all want and need.

Once medical use of cannabis becomes widespread I’m sure that the resistance to consumption for all other purposes will fade much more quickly.

I’ll now stand back to await the cries of protest that I’m sure to have provoked…

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Are they frit?

Many of us working for drug law reform are becomingly increasingly frustrated at the government’s refusal to enter into a debate on the subject.  We present sound arguments, backed by credible evidence, that our current policy isn’t working and make coherent proposals for how a more effective, harm reduction approach would work.  These approaches (even when supported by over 200,000 signatures on an official petition, and substantial numbers of citizens wanting change ) are summarily dismissed with a pre-prepared statement that says, in effect, “we will not change our policy because everything is working well”.

You would have thought that a responsive government, committed to the democratic process, would at least support a proper discussion (and I don’t mean a non-binding Westminster Hall debate, without the Home Secretary or Prime Minister present) rather than ignoring the views of a huge number of citizens.

Well, if the government is impervious to evidence and reason will it be similarly unresponsive to accusations of being anti-democratic?

Why will they not engage in a public debate?

Are they frit?

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The work of WhistleblowersUK

WBUK talk, Houses of Parliament, Westminster 23rd June 2015

I was invited to speak at the White Flowers Whistleblower event in Committe Room 11 of the Houses of Parliament at 1.30 p.m. on Tuesday 23rd June 2015.  I was, somewhat to my surprise, heckled during my speech and, unfortunately, the chair of the meeting decided that I was not to continue to the end.

Here is the full text of my speech.

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today. I’m very grateful to the White Flowers organisation and everybody else involved in organising this event, and to the MPs Jess Philips, John Mann and Sarah Champion for sponsoring the room and supporting the cause.

I’m Tom Lloyd a retired Chief Constable and I now volunteer with a few other colleagues in an organisation called Whistleblowers UK. We have a simple, if ambitious, vision for the future of this country which is an environment where whistleblowers feel confident that they can expose wrongdoing without fear of personal loss or detriment. And we want to play our part in achieving this by encouraging, supporting and protecting whistleblowers and to promote the need for changes to organisational practices, national policy decisions and the law.

Now, that is some task; but the reason we have set ourselves this task is because there are wrongdoings and crimes that could have been prevented, or if not prevented, properly investigated, if only somebody had come forward and spoken out. And, when you think about it, it seems really strange that people don’t automatically speak up as soon as they see something that’s wrong; it may be organised criminal abuse of children, financial malpractice, mistreatment of patients, wrongful arrest by a police officer or suppression of evidence, it could be anything – but people are often very reluctant to speak out because they fear the consequences if they do, or don’t believe that they will be taken seriously

We in WBUK have engaged over the last few years with hundreds of whistleblowers who have contacted us because they wanted to speak out or had spoken out – and suffered grievous consequences. They needed encouragement, support and protection, and we’ve tried to provide it. WE receive calls and emails and refer people to appropriate support and legal advice, in short we “hold hands” with whistleblowers as their story unfolds. Perhaps most importantly we believe them. Happily we have had some success, but also, sadly, there are many occasions when we have been powerless to help given the current unhelpful environment – which we intend to change. We are all only too aware of the failures that have led to the shocking levels of child abuse that have started to be exposed, and why those who must have known and can corroborate the survivors’ stories have still not come forward.

Whistleblowers usually face extreme hostility and severe personal loss and detriment across all sectors. They are ostracised and abused at work, accused of disloyalty, suffer false allegations of wrongdoing, are accused of mental instability and can actually suffer from that as a result of their treatment. They are often sacked, and are subjected to continued and extensive personal attack, taken before employment tribunals who are ill equipped to deal properly with exposure of criminal activity. There are also trumped up allegations made by vindictive employers that can lead to whistleblowers being barred from ever working again in their chosen profession.

Financial hardship can lead to people losing their homes, their dignity and, sadly, sometimes their families or even their lives.

Recently we have noticed that there seems to be a trend towards malicious prosecutions as a way to silence or gag whistleblowers, to prevent them from exposing the truth of the evil of what is really happening.

Now this cannot be right.

We in Whistleblowers UK are working as hard as we can to work with whistleblowers to help them and to encourage others to come forward. But it’s not just about each individual case; it’s about changing the culture in all organisations, indeed in the whole of society, so that people can feel confident to speak up.

Why? Not only is it morally right that we should all be able to speak out without fear of detriment but also because it is clear that whistleblowers are one of the most effective ways of exposing and preventing wrong-doing. They have unique inside knowledge and access to crucial evidence. And that evidence will be much more compelling, and effective in securing convictions in CSA cases for example, if the whistle blowing happened at the point that child abuse was suspected, not years down the line when the evidence is inevitably weaker.

We strongly believe that whistleblowers can help prevent and, should offences be committed, successfully prosecute offenders for child abuse. We must do all we can to encourage people to speak out now.

Statutory guidance and the Public Interest Disclosure Act have been repeatedly exposed as failing both victims of abuse and the whistleblowers – who become a second tier of victims. We call for new legislation that will remove the barriers to speaking out, that will prevent harassment of whistleblowers and compensates them should that be appropriate. Abuse, dismissal and attempts to silence whistleblowers should be a matter for the criminal courts not employment tribunals.

We envisage a national Office of the Whistleblower dedicated to encouraging, supporting and protecting whistleblowers so that we can all live in a world where our natural instincts to speak out against evil are not punished but rewarded and celebrated.

Thank you.

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Why drug prohibition is bad for policing

This is the text of the talk I gave at the Home Affairs Select Committee Drugs Policy Seminar in Cambridge, 12 March 2015.

“Why drug prohibition is bad for policing”

Thank you for the invitation to participate today. Let me make it clear from the outset that I believe that our current policy of drug prohibition is a hugely costly, counter-productive and harmful failure.

I have not come to that conclusion lightly and not without considerable practical experience and through learning from others during 30 years policing in London and Cambridgeshire and ten years since then of engaging with politicians, law enforcement officials, NGOs, social workers, people who consume drugs, people who sell drugs and victims of crime of all types from all over the world.

There is a consistent and compelling feature that runs through what I have seen and heard: and it is that we are not fighting a war on drugs, we are fighting a war on people. What has happened, as identified as one of the five unintended harmful consequences of prohibition by the previous Executive Director of UNODC, is that human beings have suffered all over the world by, for example, losing their livelihoods as peasant farmers, losing their liberty and lives as drug takers and dealers, and being subjected to humiliation, degradation, ostracism and criminalisation.

And who is it who wages this war on people? The police. That is a key reason why I believe we must change our approach. Our police should not be waging a war on people, here or anywhere in the world.

Charging police with the duty to enforce drug prohibition alienates a huge number of people, thereby damaging the legitimacy of policing, compromises the role of the police by causing more harm than good.

It is simple economics to know that banning something for which there is a demand raises its price; in the case of drugs massively. So what we’ve done is hand a hugely profitably trade to criminals who use their vast wealth to ensure they will always triumph over law enforcement, as we have seen. The consequences for police? Dealing with the violence, shootings and murders committed by feuding gangs, and the huge increases in crime as drug takers burgle and rob to fund their drug consumption.

Prohibition also degrades the capacity of police to prevent and detect crime, particularly serious and organised crime.

I joined the police service to help people and catch criminals, to serve and protect if you like. But how does prosecuting someone, desperately trying to blot out the trauma of childhood physical, emotional, sexual abuse with heroin, either serve or protect them? They’d get support if they were using alcohol, for example.

How many 10 year-olds decide that their life’s ambition is to become a crack and heroin addict by the time they’re 25? None.

Something has gone badly wrong in their lives and they have made bad, but understandable, choices in trying to cope. How can it be right for the police to make their lives even worse by criminalising them and forcing them into riskier, more harmful behaviour? We should support, not punish.

And what sense does it make to kick down the door of a person taking cannabis as the only effective treatment for their MS, for example, to take away their medicine, a few plants, and prosecute them. What sense does it make to hold the threat of criminalisation over millions for enjoying cannabis, a plant that is many times safer than alcohol? It’s a world that’s turned upside down because of a misguided focus on a futile attempt to control access to the inanimate objects called drugs instead of on the supporting the rights, needs and frailties of human beings and concentrating on improving their lives. Support, don’t punish.

Let me put it this way; if you have got a problem with drugs the last thing you need is to be arrested…and if you haven’t got a problem with drugs the last thing you need is to be arrested.

You see, the mistake we have made is to focus on drugs rather than on people. So in our headlong rush to try to eliminate drugs we have ridden roughshod over the lives of people, all over the world.

The really sad thing is that all the suffering inflicted by law enforcement on the vulnerable, weak and poor has been in vain. The stated aims of drug prohibition, reduced production and supply of drugs, have not been met, In fact both have increased substantially as have the associated harms – not just from drug consumption but mainly from the unintended harmful consequences of prohibition.

The recent Home Office report, thank you Norman Baker MP, showed what many already knew; that law enforcement is largely irrelevant to the level of drug use. Theresa May admitted as much when questioned by this committee a couple of years ago. She didn’t know of any evidence that supported the effectiveness of law enforcement but she “felt” that it did work. How can that be a rational basis on which to deploy massive police resources that could be so much more effectively directed at preventing real criminality?

So, even if some may not be convinced by those of my arguments based on compassion and human rights, at least stop and think why, at a time when police resources are under huge pressure, billions continue to be spent on a policy that doesn’t work? Be pragmatic, if not compassionate.

Prohibition is the worst of all possible worlds, so we must change, but I do not propose a perfect solution, there isn’t one; just one that is substantially better.

My solution? Control of access, currently absent with criminals in charge, to reduce availability to young people, control of quality to reduce avoidable death and disease and honest education unfettered by hyperbole and the need to function within the illogicality and hypocrisy of prohibition. In other words introduce a graduated regulation of all drugs, just like food and drink and other potentially harmful substances, by the government.

And, while we’re waiting for that to happen, the police should immediately change their objectives from arrest and seizure of drugs to supporting harm reduction.

This is a complex issue and I cannot cover everything now, so let me end by asking you this, and this may be the most compelling argument yet: who would dare justify the massive waste of public resources endorsed by successive governments on drug law enforcement to the formidable Margaret Hodge?

Thank you.


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“Weren’t you once a police officer? Don’t you recall the oath you swore?”

“Weren’t you once a police officer? Don’t you recall the oath you swore?”  is a tweet from Peter Hitchens posted during a discussion about drug law reform.  I assume that Mr Hitchens seeks to point out that my stance on drug law reform amounts to a breach of that oath (attestation) and is therefore not only wrong but dishonourable.

Here is that oath:

I (name) do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady the Queen in the office of Constable, without favour or affection, malice or ill will; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved, and prevent all offences against the persons and properties of Her Majesty’s subjects and that while I continue to hold the said office I will, to the best of my skill and knowledge, discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law.

I must say that when I first reflected on that oath (without reading it again) I thought that there might indeed be a conflict between it and my belief in drug law reform.  I believe that prosecuting the drug law causes more harm than good and that the law should be changed to minimise harm from drug use and from laws designed properly to control and regulate their use.  A prima facie case for the prosecution?

On further reflection, after reading the detail, I am content that I did and continue to honour that oath; for three reasons.  First, while I agree that preventing “all offences against the persons and properties of Her Majesty’s subjects” is quite proper and reflects the “malum in se” nature of those offences, the act of drug taking is not evil in itself, only declared “evil” by the choice to make it illegal (“malum prohibitum”).  The same applies to homosexuality or religious observance, for example.  It would be wrong to prosecute people based on prejudice.

Second, if you think that explanation is no more than a quibble, after all the decision to make possessing drugs illegal has been made through due process, then I would invoke a second reason; it is wrong to uphold unjust laws and it behoves us all to change them.

Last, in order “to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved, and prevent all offences against the persons and properties of Her Majesty’s subjects” my judgement, backed up by considerable evidence, is that I can best achieve this by helping to end drug prohibition and create a fairer, more effective and less harmful system that is properly controlled and regulated.

I don’t expect everybody to agree with me, for example those who think drug taking is morally wrong and nothing but illegality will right that supposed wrong, or those who disagree with my analysis, but at least I have answered the questions (including the implicit one).

My conscience is clear.


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Neither hard nor soft but “Smart on drugs”

The drug policy debate was re-energised last week by two events. A Home Office report, Drugs: International comparators, that was unambiguous in stating that there is no relationship between the harshness of a country’s enforcement of drug possession and levels of drug use and a House of Commons debate on drug policy that aired all the reasons why we should, at minimum, conduct “an authoritative and independent cost-benefit analysis and impact assessment” of the 40 year-old Misuse of Drugs Act, a significant step towards evidence-based policy. Poignantly both took place on 30th October, the day it would have been Martha Fernback’s 17th birthday had she not tragically died of an unwitting overdose of Ecstasy supplied by the dangerously unregulated criminal market.

Let me be clear from the start; I believe that our current drug policy is a hugely costly, counter-productive and harmful failure. We do not have control of the drugs market, the criminals do, and we should move to a government-led policy of control and regulation of all drugs as soon as possible. And it’s not just me; 71% of people polled by YouGov for the Sun do not think the war on drugs has been successful in reducing drug use and in an earlier poll 60% are in favour are in favour of trialling decriminalisation.

According to the Home Office illicit drugs supply creates £10.7 billion social and economic costs (probably an underestimate) every year with the Police spending about £1.5 billion (again an underestimate?) enforcing the Misuse of Drugs Act. That is a huge lost opportunity to tackle crimes that really affect citizens; murder, rape, robbery, burglary and anti-social behaviour. The inflated price of drugs under prohibition creates a very lucrative illicit market (up to £8 billion every year in the UK) that enriches criminals, facilitates corruption, encourages crime and fosters violence and disorder. Drug users are criminalised and ostracised, punished when they should be supported, and exposed to increased risk of death and diseases because all drugs are more dangerous when their production and supply are controlled by ruthless, avaricious criminals.

If these disastrous consequences had successfully reduced harmful drug use to negligible levels it might just be possible to argue (I wouldn’t) this is a price worth paying; but they haven’t. Drug use has increased dramatically. The so-called “War on Drugs”, in fact a “War on People”, particularly the vulnerable and disadvantaged, is a pointless, damaging exercise.

The Home Office report is just the latest in a long procession of evidence that challenges the doctrine that law enforcement, prohibition, is the best way to minimise harms associated with drug use. Indeed decriminalisation doesn’t increase use; clearly other factors such as culture, social cohesion and support mechanisms are at work. But, despite that mounting evidence, the unhelpful intransigence of successive governments continues to block not just change, but the very idea of examining the evidence to consider whether change might be necessary.

Sadly, perhaps not surprisingly, David Cameron responded to the report and debate, by dismissing any thought of decriminalisation erroneously claiming that current policy is a success. The same David Cameron said in 2002 when a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee that “Drugs policy in this country has been failing for decades…I hope that our report will encourage fresh thinking and a new approach…to reduce the harm that drugs do both to users and society at large.”

As successive governments have refused to conduct impact assessments of drug law enforcement one can only conclude that they know that the results would contradict their tired dogma. Bob Ainsworth MP, when asked to support a cost benefit analysis of drug law reform, said: “Why would we want to do that unless we were going to legalise drugs?”

Many police officers are aware that their drug law enforcement efforts are futile. I would go further; those efforts are actually irresponsible in the sense of being an unjustifiable waste of scarce resources, particularly in a period of austerity. They are also counter-productive and often seen as wasteful, biased and even racist. Failed enforcement of an unjust law is likely to damage public confidence in the policy and be seen as a sad tale of promises unfulfilled. Current drug law enforcement simply cannot afford to continue as it is.

I’m not naïve about the prospects of a change sooner than later so I do know that the police face considerable difficulties in delivering effectiveness and efficiency within the constraints of the current law. What does help is the long tradition of discretion in law enforcement; adjusting priorities and shaping activities to deliver the higher goal of a safer society.

A vulnerable person, struggling to deal with the trauma of emotional, physical or sexual abuse by taking drugs need not be a threat to our safety or security. We can guide them to treatment rather than the courts, saving money and reducing crime as we do, and understand and help them to tackle their demons. Whether you do or don’t have a problem with your drug use the last thing you need is to be arrested and prosecuted.

As we wait for the inevitable change in policy the less time we spend on drug users the more we can spend tackling serious and organised criminality.

Maybe not all will agree the need to abandon failed prohibition and introduce control and regulation of all drugs, but at least I hope all will agree the need properly to assess the impact and cost effectiveness of our current drug policy and commit to creating an evidence-based policy.

Tom Lloyd QPM MA (Oxon)
Former Chief Constable
International Drug Policy Adviser

Cambridge, November 2014

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