The government’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction

Mark Thompson reveals new evidence that the government is focusing on dogma over harm reduction, as they explicitly reject a campaign which would reduce harm.

 

Mark Thompson is a Liberal Democrat blogger who blogs at the Mark Reckons blog

In engaging with the debate about drugs policy with politicians and ministers you regularly find that they will claim there is no contradiction between encouraging abstinence of substances and reducing harm. They insist that their policies are compatible with harm reduction.

I have come across evidence that this simply is not true.

The UK Cannabis Internet Activist website has been trying to engage the Department of Health in a discussion about running a campaign designed to reduce harm caused currently by the propensity of those taking cannabis to smoke it with tobacco. They have launched a campaign called Tokepure which encourages people to not do this and is trying to educate people about the issue.

Predictably though, the government is not interested in helping with this campaign.

Derek Williams of UKCIA wrote to Anne Milton the responsible minister via his MP and received the standard templated reply explaining the government’s position on drugs and explaining that there is not to be a campaign run from government along these lines.

Mr Williams replied, explaining in his own words:

“…The very obvious reasons why getting cannabis users to drop the tobacco would be a good idea, supporting my case with reference not only to population studies of cannabis users, but also to information put out by her own department.”

The reply Mr Williams received from Ms Milton included this snippet which is instructive:

If, as Mr Williams suggests, we were to advocate that people smoke cannabis without tobacco, we would be … putting people at risk of harm.

This seems quite bizarre. Mr Williams went out of his way in his correspondence to make it clear that he would be happy with a campaign that simply told people not to mix tobacco with cannabis, not a change in government policy to cannabis use itself which Mr Williams fully accepts can itself be harmful. His point is, it is more harmful still to use cannabis with tobacco.

Further correspondence yielded a further reply from Ms Milton:

Cannabis can damage both physical and mental health and it would be irresponsible for anyone to suggest there is a “safe” way to smoke cannabis.

This would appear to completely miss the point. Mr Williams is not saying smoking cannabis without tobacco is safe. He is saying it is safer. Surely this is a trivial and obvious point?

The thinking behind her position becomes clear later in this second reply though:

The Tokepure argument is clear – that people should be advised that smoking cannabis and tobacco together is more harmful than smoking cannabis without tobacco – as is the government’s position – that cannabis and tobacco, whether smoked together or separately are dangerous and should not be used.

The thinking however is hopelessly muddled. The two things are not contradictory. Both cannabis and tobacco can be harmful (or in the minister’s words “dangerous”). That does not negate the fact that smoking them together is more harmful.

Sadly what this reveals about government drug policy and its approach to harm reduction is that it is driven by dogma.

For all the claims that its policies are compatible with harm reduction this is shown to be untrue here. Smoking cannabis with tobacco is more harmful than just taking cannabis. That is a fact. Yet because of the “just say no” approach the government takes it refuses to acknowledge this for fear of “the message it would send out”.

It is worth bearing this in mind the next time a minister claims they are in favour of reducing harms caused by drugs. Their record suggests that in practice this is not the case.

You can read Mr Williams’s full exchange with Ms Milton and his thoughts on it here.

See also:

The current approach to drugs has gone to pot – Mike Morgan-Giles, November 19th 2011

Legalising drugs would help reduce the deficit – Stuart Rodger, August 6th 2011

On drugs policy, the government should do what the evidence tells them – Dr Michael Shiner, June 5th 2011

Johnson defends Government drugs policy – Shamik Das, November 2nd 2009

Government should listen to its advisers on drugs policy – Mark Thompson, September 14th 2009

24 Responses to “The government’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction”

  1. Thomas Hobbes

    Do you not understand how ‘denormalisation’ works yet? It has never been about facts, statistical evidence or health reduction. It is always and everywhere about control.

    For any of the prohibitionists to admit to any weakness, as “not safe, but safer” would be viewed, would be a retrograde step in the relentless march towards a British Standard Human.

    You only notice now it applies to something you approve of, but smokers, drinkers, the slightly overweight have all cottoned on to the process. The madness of salt denormalisation is that it might actually succeed and people will start dying from the consequences of not consuming salt. Health reduction in the extreme.

  2. Propensity

    Govt like bunny in spotlight of drug data @leftfootfwd: Government’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/qZucadHq

  3. rvnfthr8

    #UK : The government ’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/LXJggnCL

  4. BevR

    The government's drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction, writes @markreckons: http://t.co/aoIiX6ZD

  5. weed

    Govt like bunny in spotlight of drug data @leftfootfwd: Government’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/qZucadHq

  6. laura

    Govt like bunny in spotlight of drug data @leftfootfwd: Government’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/qZucadHq

  7. Ash

    How strange. What’s the principled difference between this advice on safer ways to smoke cannabis, and advice on safer ways to inject heroin (say) – e.g. ‘don’t share needles’ – which the government surely *does* support?

  8. Canadian Drug Policy

    UK government’s #drugpolicy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/p2k8NzRR

  9. Amy Coulterman

    RT @CANdrugpolicy: UK government’s #drugpolicy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/tkRjKktB

  10. Wellington, NZ

    UK government’s #drugpolicy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/p2k8NzRR

  11. Token Ma Weed

    Thats the best point ive read on this yet Ash ! Maybe that question should be put to her to we see the bullsh1t reason she comes back with . I wouldnt be surprised if she contacted the Daily Mail before making her decision to check if they agreed or disagreed and based her decision on that .

  12. chris paling

    UK government’s #drugpolicy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/p2k8NzRR

  13. Chris & Debz

    UK government’s #drugpolicy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/p2k8NzRR

  14. H. O.

    RT @leftfootfwd: The government’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/o4bUnVEe

  15. Mark Baker

    RT @leftfootfwd: Our government’s drug policy is ridiculous!!! http://t.co/Uk5MUEvY

  16. drugsight

    The government’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/16QYTcgK

  17. SMMGP

    RT @leftfootfwd: The government’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/98MzY5Fn

  18. chris paling

    RT @leftfootfwd: The government’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/98MzY5Fn

  19. Chris & Debz

    RT @leftfootfwd: The government’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/98MzY5Fn

  20. Anonymous

    If they are worried about ‘giving the wrong message’ why do they have needle exchange programmes for heroin users? Surely that’s exactly the same principle???

  21. Anonymous

    Oh bugger. Ash has already pointed out that anomaly. No harm in saying it again

  22. Adam Corlett

    Good post from @markreckons RT @leftfootfwd: The government’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/2Dxx2K0H

  23. Remo Pompei

    RT @leftfootfwd: The government’s drug policy favours dogma over harm reduction http://t.co/FdgS3bew

  24. Tim Gluckman

    UK govt actively maximises harms to pot smokers who use tobacco (& not eg vapourisers/ herbal t'bcco. Lib-Dem blog http://t.co/TBIAfw8i

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