The drugs nightmare and why politicians want to be peddlers
By Graham Grant
FROM one of the former giants of New Labour, and an ex-flatmate of Tony Blair, comes an unexpected – and apparently sincere – ‘mea culpa’.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton has confessed he regrets presiding over a system that locked up drug offenders, which he said was tantamount to an ‘attack on the working class’.
Only working-class people take drugs, of course – or at least that’s the implication – and Lord Falconer also says he believes the war on drugs was ‘pernicious’ and counterproductive.
Bear in mind that this was the minister who was in charge of the Millennium Dome fiasco, so he has some pedigree when it comes to owning up to blunders.
The former Labour justice secretary is now calling for the legalisation of all drugs, including cocaine and ecstasy, to be replaced with ‘medically safe versions’, in a bid to deprive gangsters of their massive profits from peddling impure products.
Set aside for a moment the rather naïve claim that organised crime groups wouldn’t simply diversify into other areas of nefarious money-making (something of a speciality of theirs for many decades) if they were robbed of drug money.
It’s also a remarkable assertion that ‘medically safe’ products exist which wouldn’t merely manage the addiction, rather than help conquer it: this is a nightmare vision of a society hooked up to a permanent drip-feed of state-provided narcotics.
Strange also how politicians tend to call for drug legalisation only after they’ve left office – Kenny MacAskill has admitted he kept quiet about his backing for decriminalisation of some illegal drugs while Justice Secretary at Holyrood, in case it damaged the campaign for independence.
There is a moral surrender at the heart of Lord Falconer’s position, but one that is widely shared among a political elite that advocates effectively throwing in the towel as drug deaths spiral.
In Scotland, there is a growing consensus that a heroin ‘shooting gallery’ should be established where addicts could inject in safety – a consensus, at any rate, among council and NHS bosses, and indeed Scottish Government ministers.
Nearly £5,000 was spent on hiring a QC to draw up a legal opinion explaining how such a centre could be set up without breaching the law, a plan that was later thwarted by the Lord Advocate.
Incidentally, if you’d like to peruse that no doubt learned document, tough luck – freedom of information requests are denied on the basis that legal opinions are exempt from public disclosure.
Money left to the NHS in wills was also spent on the so far abortive plans for the Glasgow heroin clinic, with around £100,000 taken from an endowment fund. Well, it’s not as if the NHS needs the cash…
The interim proposal, while the SNP lobbies the UK Government to change the law, is for a facility where addicts would get medical-grade heroin, rather than one where they would bring in their own drugs.
All of which exposes the hypocrisy of law-makers who one day are railing against alcohol, smoking and even lap-dancing bars, and the next are calling for heroin to be dished out to addicts – clearly there is a hierarchy of vices.
Perhaps all the lapdancing bars could be converted into shooting galleries…
The SNP has been jolted into action by figures earlier this year revealing a record 934 people died after taking illegal substances in 2017, meaning Scotland’s drug death rate is now the highest of any EU country.
Methadone was present in nearly half of all the deaths linked to drug abuse, despite the fact that when it came to power the SNP promised a radical new approach which would focus less on ‘parking’ people on the heroin substitute.
Now in many areas few trips to the local chemist are complete without a customer standing at the counter and sipping from a little cup of the green liquid; indeed, spending on methadone soared in the years after the Nationalists came to power.
The so-called safer consumption facilities, which in other countries have become magnets for drug-pushers, are really just a way of shifting the location of the problem, and hiding it from public view, rather than dealing with its root causes.
Doubtless there is something comforting for politicians and drug workers in ploughing thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money into warm, well-lit sanctuaries, complete with crèches for the addicts’ children.
But it has taken the SNP many years to get to grips with the issue (Mr MacAskill’s description of it as a ‘no-win’ area for politicians is telling in this context).
Arguably, it only became seriously interested in the subject when it saw an opportunity to pick a fight with the Tories (who remain implacably opposed to the heroin clinics).
Since heroin addiction became a major problem in the 1980s, it is estimated that there have been more than 11,000 drug deaths north of the Border.
One failed drugs strategy has followed another, and the latest is a move towards not only drug-injecting rooms but also a scheme where alcoholics are given wine, beer and spirits under supervision.
The move emerged in a Scottish Government plan published earlier this month, which pledged addicts will be ‘supported and respected’.
More drug-users caught with small amounts will be warned instead of prosecuted, but ministers say they have also looked at evidence of ‘Managed Alcohol Programmes’.
These are centres across Canada where homeless alcoholics are given doses of wine, beer or spirits in measured amounts throughout the day.
It takes a certain twisted logic to believe that endlessly stoking an addiction is the best way to vanquish it, and an even more twisted logic for that philosophy to be turned into concrete policy proposals.
This is through-the-looking-glass politics, paving the way for a dystopian society – a Brave New World that would in fact represent a cowardly submission in that supposedly ‘pernicious’ war that Lord Falconer now deplores.
More fundamentally, how can we take seriously a justice system that already lets people off with meaningless warnings and fines for possession of cannabis, a drug linked to mental illness?
Prosecutors are also allowing some people found in possession of ecstasy to be spared court appearances and criminal records.
In 2016, it emerged that the length of prison terms for drug offences has fallen to a record low: another illustration of the charade that counts as tough justice, but in reality is anything but.
The days of the state facilitating drug abuse should be numbered under any new approach, and addicts – working-class or otherwise – should be helped to kick the habit entirely.
How many thousands more will succumb to the hell of addiction before that simple fact is accepted is unknowable – but in the meantime communities across Scotland will continue to pay a heavy price for the failure of our political class to reverse a social catastrophe.