14 November 2009

The Nutts and bolts

Dr Grumble is a jobbing doctor. Until recently he knew very little about the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. It doesn't affect jobbing doctors. If doctors like Grumble do not know the details of how individual drugs are classified it is unlikely that those who use illicit drugs take much interest either. The penalties for just being in possession of the least harmful of these substances (Class C drugs) could be 2-year imprisonment. For supply it could be 14 years. That's a long time. Many would think that would put people off taking or trading drugs. But it doesn't seem to. pdf

Patients often tell Dr Grumble they take recreational drugs. Given the penalties he thinks they are unwise. Patients think their notes are confidential. They are. We wouldn't tell the police. We wouldn't tell the patient's employers. We wouldn't even tell the patient's nearest and dearest. But we would tell others with the patient's permission.

Once Dr Grumble had a young solicitor as a patient. He told Dr Grumble's staff that he had taken cannabis. It was recorded in his notes. Which was fine until the young solicitor applied for life insurance and the life insurance company insisted on seeing his records. And then they spotted the single entry recording that he had once smoked a joint. The cat was out of the bag. The patient denied he had ever smoked cannabis and insisted on seeing the original written entry in the hospital records. There it was in black and white. Taking illicit drugs is a serious matter if you are a solicitor.

What is the point of this tale? It is to point out that what Home Secretaries admit to having done in their youth without apparently having suffered any harm can be very damaging to professionals. It is not the drug effects that cause the damage. It is the legal consequences. But whether these potential consequences actually stop the average punter is quite another matter.

What anyway is the point of locking up somebody who is found in possession of a small amount of cannabis? Who are they harming? If they are harming themselves isn't that their own affair?

There was a time when homosexual acts were illegal. Why? Those involved did no harm. The objections were moral. What are the objections when it comes to drugs? Why do we lock these people up? Does it make any sense?

Of course if these strict penalties were to prevent people using drugs that might possibly damage them or others then perhaps the penalties could have some justification. But what is the evidence that this is the case? What, for example, happened in Portugal in the five years after possession of drugs for personal use was been decriminalised? These are the facts:

  • illegal drug use by teenagers declined
  • the rate of HIV infections among drug users dropped
  • deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half
  • the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction doubled
The Nutt case has opened Dr Grumble's eyes to these issues to the extent that he is beginning to think this is a no-brainer. Many, perhaps most, will not agree. But that is not a reason for silencing those who have the relevant facts. And it is not a reason for stifling debate.

If you are interested in this topic Dr Grumble recommends this article. It is the one that lost Professor Nutt his 'job'.


Stuart Jeffery said...

Well said!

dearieme said...

Jacqui Smith also turned out to be a thief of public funds, did she not? Clearly cannabis leads to a life of crime.

Dr Grumble said...

Good point, Dearieme. But for cannabis we might have had more honest home secretaries. Or is it that dishonest people tend to smoke cannabis?

Andy Cowper said...

It is unlikely that handing the production, quality control, distribution and sale of narcotics and stimulants - oops, sorry, illegal narcotics and stimulants - to organised crime makes anything about any aspect of the situation better for anybody.

It is a stone-cold certainty that handing them over to disorganised and violent crime makes things worse for everybody.

Dr Grumble said...

Quite so, Andy. In response to your point I was beginning to wonder how society could possibly supply heroin to those that need it and then I remembered that they have been doing this with some success in Switzerland.

You can't imagine our government doing this. They would worry about the Daily Mail or the Sun. New Labour politicians do not lead the public they follow what they believe the uniformed masses want. This has been particularly so on the drugs issue.

Yet you can bring the public with you if you inform them and lead them and ignore the gutter press. That anyway is what the Swiss government managed to do.