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News (Media Awareness Project) - UK: Column: Our Flawed Drugs Policy Puts The Young In Danger
Title:UK: Column: Our Flawed Drugs Policy Puts The Young In Danger
Published On:2011-11-18
Source:Evening Standard (London, UK)
Fetched On:2011-11-23 06:00:43
OUR FLAWED DRUGS POLICY PUTS THE YOUNG IN DANGER

Here's The Toss-Up: Take an Illegal Drug Such As Ketamine, Cannabis
or MDMA. We Know Their Effects and the Potential Health Risks - and
You Risk Two to Seven Years in Prison, a Ruined Career, a Hopeless Future.

Or, as an alternative, take a "legal high" - sold on the internet,
easily available. It's a gamble. There's no research on the drugs and
they could be harmful - but get caught with the pills in your pocket
and you'll walk free. Which sounds less risky?

Yesterday we heard that former MI5 chief Baroness Manningham-Buller,
a member of an all-party group on drugs policy, will recommend the
decriminalisation of cannabis in a speech to a drugs policy
conference.This would mean that for taking and possessing the drug,
users would not be prosecuted. The group brandishes the example of
Portugal where the decriminalisation of drug possession 10 years ago
has halved drug abuse in the country.

It's a valiant battle, yet the Home Office made its standpoint on
decriminalisation clear last month when the Government's official
drugs advisers, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD),
made a similar suggestion. It said that "drugs are illegal because
they are harmful".

This is not only unhelpfully blinkered. It is also inaccurate.

In April last year, a rush ban on mephedrone (or meow-meow) turned
what had been a so-called "legal high", widely sold over the internet
labelled as plant food, into a Class B drug. Since little scientific
research had ever been done on the drug and its harms, it was surely
a moral, not a scientific, decision.

Our drugs classification system remains deeply flawed. Penalties bear
little relation to the relative harm of substances.

Magic mushrooms were made Class A in 2005, another snap decision,
despite it being almost impossible to overdose on them. Cannabis,
which doesn't cause death but has shown some links to psychotic
disorders, returned to being Class B from Class C in 2009, against
scientific advice. Tobacco, however, more harmful than both, is legal.

Tellingly, usage of MDMA - currently a Class A drug, although
research ranks it as one of the least harmful club drugs - has dipped
since 2002 when "legal highs" became readily available and
recreational drug users swapped the risk of a seven-year jail
sentence for potentially lethal but legal substances we know nothing about.

Why Baroness Manningham-Buller has not chosen MDMA rather than
cannabis as her focus is not clear. But compare the potential harm of
the criminal record MDMA carries for possession to the damage it
might (or might not) do to your body and it seems the most logical
place to start.

Despite its classification, young people continue to take mephedrone
- - with some studies showing that it is now the most popular illegal
club drug. Now that it is controlled, there is little incentive to
carry out further research on the substance (a recent ACMD report
puts the death toll at 42, yet these were not related only to
mephedrone.) But one danger is clear: the maximum five-year jail term
for carrying it, with that ruined future.

For those who don't want to take that particular risk, the solution
is simple, if terrifying. They head back to those "legal high"
websites, find a newly synthesised compound and play guinea pig.
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