Wednesday, 14 March 2012

War On Drugs - part 4

Another email that I received and from Ben, who gave me permission to print in full.

 At last someone who shares my concerns about legalising. And I have to agree totally with the last 2 paragraphs. My sentiments exactly.

 Nadia, just a thought based on the last paragraph of Ali's contribution, and some statistics I vaguely remember Oliver Letwin spouting in Bournemouth when he was Shadow Home Sec. 
 90% or so of acquisitive crime is drug related.
In the UK, at the retail end of the drug supply, we have a nightmarishly bad system. People are locked up, given little help if any, then pushed straight back out onto the same streets.
Talking to those agencies like Focus 12, where Chip Somers will tell you that the key to staying straight is learning how to break that cycle, you can certainly see the argument for legalisation (an argument he was absolutely against when last we spoke).

 The argument for legalisation is a sensible one, based on cost/benefit analysis. If you legalise and regulate the use of many of the illegal drugs on the market today, you would be able to raise revenue through duty, and remove a huge amount of the work the police would have to provide, reducing their workload and saving a couple of billion pounds from the Home Office budget. However. All that saving would go straight onto the NHS budget. Treatment is hard. There is nowhere near enough treatment available. Illegal drugs are illegal based on scientific evidence criteria.

Drugs like Heroin and Crack Cocaine, or Crystal Methamphetamine, are harmful to use. They are highly addictive, and are designed to become more addictive. There are chemists out there working for organised crime who are designing synthetic forms of these drugs to boost the addictive qualities (just like tobacco manufacturers used to do) and the problem is that the need to feed the habit will eventually become all consuming to the user.
 I have used recreational drugs in the past. Alcohol and tobacco mainly. I also tried cannabis but it did nothing for me so I didn't bother.

I know others who regularly used recreational drugs and I have seen them destroy their lives. A maths teacher who smoked cannabis on a regular basis and ended up sounding like Ozzy Osbourne and unable to work a till in a pub because he couldn't add up. A school friend who smoked just one spliff of cannabis with a high THC content and went on to suffer from panic attacks for the next 10 years. Another school friend who was so disturbed by his use of cannabis that he hung himself in his bedroom. An acquaintance from my younger days who tried every drug under the sun and dropped dead at 29 from heart failure. Another friend whose fiancee dropped dead at 26 whilst asleep, following years of drug abuse.

 These drugs kill. Using them will kill you eventually. Or it might not. You might be lucky.

But it really is Russian roulette. The country needs to spend far more budget on dealing with the organised crime (narco-terrorists) who bring the stuff in, or increasingly produce it here. The cannabis growing trade in Ipswich is controlled by the Vietnamese for instance. Crack and heroin comes up from London as well as across from Liverpool. Ectasy comes from Holland via Harwich and Felixstowe. Cocaine mostly comes up from London or down from Glasgow and Manchester. All of it is easily available. Far too easily available. 

Drug pushers are bad people when they are selling drugs to addicts. Whether that be the landlord of the pub serving a known alcoholic, or the doctor who continues to prescribe Vicodin to a patient who is addicted, or the street level dealer pushing to kids on bikes.

 We need to have a serious think about how we are going to approach drugs policy in the UK. I can understand the legalisation approach but to me that is abrogating responsibility. We cannot just give up because it is hard. We have to redouble our efforts to tackle supply, whilst simultaneously providing help and support to victims so as to reduce demand. 

 The same arguments were made five years ago about street prostitution. I remember quite senior people telling me that the strategy wouldn't work, that it would push prostitutes to different areas of town but they'd come back, that it would push it to other towns, etc. To some minor extent there has been some of that, but you won the battle against street prostitution. Why not win the one against drugs as well?


Sunday, 11 March 2012

News about Chantry high School - Stoke Park Ward

From his newsletter, this is Ben Gummer MP's latest news for a new school at

Chantry High, Ipswich

You may remember that just over a year ago Ipswich Academy, formerly Holywells High School, received £15 million towards the cost of new buildings by Gainsborough Sports Centre. I fought hard for the money and was pleased - and, if I am honest, a little surprised - to get it, given how few other schools were getting funds.

Immediately afterwards I started a similar campaign for Chantry School, which desperately needs new buildings to replace the knackered old blocks that are fifty years old this year. Chantry's rebuilding project was one of the casualties of the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme by the new government in July 2010 - cancelled because the whole scheme had become a scam for consultants, meaning that each school was costing taxpayers two to four times what it should have done.

Whatever the faults with BSF, the decision was bitterly disappointing for Chantry parents, teachers - and for me. I told the government that whilst I understood their reasons, I could not support the decision until a replacement programme, which provided both a new school for Chantry and better value for taxpayers, was in place.

So since then I have been fighting for precisely that: a new school for Chantry - one they have been promised on several occasions and at every turn so far have been let down.

I've camped on ministers' doorsteps, written letters and lobbied the chancellor. When the cabinet visited Ipswich before Christmas the secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, visited the school to see for himself what needs to be done. So the government is well aware of what I want - and I will make sure that I keep the pressure on until the right decision is made.

The not so good news is that the decision, which we expected about now, has just been delayed. The upside of this is that I now have more time to lobby for the right outcome.

I can tell you, I intend Chantry to be imprinted on ministers' memory.

Friday, 9 March 2012

War on Drugs - part 3

This is an unedited email from Ali Jackson who gave me permission to print.

I thought it was a thoughtful post and again is on the side of legalising.

 I am amazed at how many people have taken the time out to write in length so it deserved to be shown. 

Here it is|

 Even in Afghanistan, a country occupied by the armies of Europe and the USA for a decade the production of opium has not been stopped. The countries of south and central America have been torn apart by violence and the billions of dollars spent by successive administrations in the USA has failed to stop the production of cocaine, marijuana etc. Why is this? It's for the simple reason that when there is a commodity worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year, if there is no legal framework to regulate its supply and distribution then the market is driven into the hands of people who have to use violence and destruction in order to protect and expand their business. They can hardly rely on the law to come to their aid if being intimidated by a rival for example and so an arms race and increasing levels of violence prevail.

The retail end of the market is even more seriously affected by the lack of a legal framework, from the barely existent quality control with substances being cut and the arrival of unknown compounds in the case of so called designer drugs, to the marketing of drugs to young people by retailers who want them as their customers, again totally unregulated.

Think about the ban on advertising junk food during children's tv, an example of a market regulator (ofcom) stepping in to control an aspect of the retailers behaviour because of the perceived potential damage it may cause to public health. On a personal note i think its high time all visual alcohol advertising were banned, it's really not acceptable to advertise an addictive drug on footballers shirts. Try thinking about it this way. The current drug laws are a one size fits all approach, an approach that has been proven not to work in pretty much every aspect of life involving humans because we're all different.

What rounds your day off or gets you looking forward to the weekend will no doubt be different to mine and if you want to jump out of an aeroplane or have a flutter on the horses I won't judge, each to their own. You see, although many would have you believe otherwise the vast majority of people who use drugs use them in the same way as most use alcohol. For pleasure, back to work on Monday, no harm done. Sure, some succumb to the horrors of addiction, we've lost family members to heroin and we've lost family members to alcohol. Deaths that in my view could have been prevented had the resources been available to provide residential care for them along with the appropriate psychological services to deal with their underlying problems. But the money isn't there is it, because it's spent incarcerating people, it's spent on massive police operations and none of the billions of available tax revenue from production and sale is taken by the state. It's simply ploughed into arms, people smuggling and many other criminal enterprises that damage the fabric of our society.

 By legalising and regulating the production and supply of narcotic substances, government agencies would be able to exert much greater control over the market simply because the businesses that operate within it, as with any other business would be able to rely on the law to protect them as long as they adhere to the regulations that relate to their business like paying tax, not selling to minors, quality controls etc. I'm certainly not saying that if all drugs were legalised today all our problems would go away.

Commodities that valuable will take time to be wrested from the hands that currently reap the billions in revenue from them. But in a free society it cannot be morally wrong to use a narcotic substance for pleasure, be it alcohol, cannabis, MDMA, cocaine and yes even heroin. Our governments therefore have a duty of care to we citizens, to educate us about the risks associated with using various substances, to protect us by properly regulating the marketplace and help us when we need by being open and honest and none judgemental enough for people to seek help when they need it and by providing the appropriate services for their recovery.

The vast majority of heroin addicts start their journey because of naivety, peer and social pressures and availability. (The addicts that i know certainly did). When the bloke round the corner who got you into it in the first place is available 24/7 then the steep decent into addiction is inevitable. Armed with knowledge gained from honest and truthful information delivered in an open and non judgemental environment, most would consider even trying heroin to be madness and the few that do would be able to seek treatment early, safe in the knowledge that the will not be judged or stigmatised, just helped.

 For 40 years the 'Drug Wars' have produced some very wealthy people and an awful lot of dead people and for what. To prevent me from acquiring substances that may harm me? Well give me an hour and a phone and can I buy pretty much anything which, paradoxically will be more harmful than if it where legal due to the lack of quality control regulation.

The spate of deaths in Canada caused by PMMA is a very good and extremely sad example of this.

Had these young people bought their party supplies from an authorised merchant they would be alive today, their families and friends would not be grieving and the economy would have not lost some of its future talent to the most sickening of all prohibitionist phrases, collateral damage.

 Come on people, the one size fits all law that we currently reside under makes the world a more dangerous place for everyone. Consider the following statement from a highly placed law enforcement officer in the USA who's name escapes me at the moment: There is no other crime, Not domestic violence, Not sexual assault, Not public corruption nor any other violent crime that we pursue with the endless stream of financial and human resources that we commit to fight the use of illegal drugs. That, frankly, is a disgrace!

 Regards Ali

The War on Drugs - Part 2

The first person to send me a link on my blog is Anonymous but I thank that person. He or she sent me a link for
which is an independant organisation that takes no funding from government. It does speak of harm reduction rather than abstension (which I prefer) but let's start with a drug that is not a class A and which seems to be mentioned the most, Cannabis. An extract from a page is here and the section is shown in its entirety.
I think the whole website gives a good balanced view and is up to date so recommend taking a look.

What are the potential harms of cannabis?
Most people consume cannabis by smoking it and most include tobacco in the mixture they smoke. The harms of tobacco smoke are well recognised but the harms of cannabis smoke are not. Analyses of the combustion products of pure tobacco and cannabis have shown them to be similar and cannabis smoke is inhaled more deeply than tobacco smoke (Iversen, 2008).

The potential harms of smoking cannabis are sometimes argued to be less than the harms of smoking tobacco cigarettes because the latter are smoked more regularly and for a longer period of a person’s life. However, cannabis joints are often mixed with significant amounts of tobacco and some regular users smoke tobacco cigarettes in the periods between smoking cannabis joints. The smoking of any tobacco-containing product can lead to dependence due to the addictive properties of nicotine.

It has long been recognised that cannabis (or more accurately THC) can cause temporary psychotic symptoms (Moreau, 1845; Weil, 1970). The risk of this is increased if the cannabis contains a high proportion of THC in relation to another ingredient of cannabis, cannabidiol, which may counteract the psychoactive effects of THC (Morgan & Curran, 2008; Bhattacharyya et al. 2010).

The THC content of cannabis has increased dramatically in recent years. Although it is well established that cannabis can cause transient psychotic symptoms in normally healthy individuals and negatively affect treatment outcome in patients with schizophrenia (Zammit et al. 2008) the idea that it can cause schizophrenia in healthy individuals is controversial (Nutt, 2009). What seems more likely is that cannabis can promote psychotic illness in individuals that are already vulnerable to this. 

Cannabis has a very low-level of toxicity and presents a relatively low risk of dependency (ACMD, 2008). For these reasons, it is typically considered a relatively safe drug (Nutt et al. 2007). This is not to say that cannabis is harmless, only that its harms are relatively less serious than those associated with other drugs.

Studies have associated long-term cannabis use with poor educational achievement and psychological health (e.g., Macleod et al. 2004) but it is difficult to determine whether cannabis is a cause or effect of this. In a survey of 620 cannabis users, 43% reported that cannabis had probably (30%) or definitely (12%) caused or made worse a physical or mental health problem but users also rated cannabis as having the least serious negative effects (Carhart-Harris & Nutt, 2008). The most prevalent negative effect of cannabis reported by users is apathy (see Iversen, 2008).   

What is the current legal status of cannabis?
Cannabis was classified in most countries in the late 1920s. In 1971, under the Misuse of Drugs Act, cannabis was made Class B. In 2002, The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) recommended that cannabis be reclassified to Class C based on an assessment of its relative harms. This was implemented in 2004.

Based on fresh fears about the increasing potency of cannabis and associated mental health risks, at the request of the government, the ACMD carried out two reviews of the evidence on cannabis, in 2005 and 2008, advising on both occasions that cannabis remain Class C. Cannabis was reclassified to Class B in January 2009. Possession of Class B drugs is punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and dealing or importation can result in 14 years imprisonment.


Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (2008) Cannabis; classification and
public health.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The War on Drugs - Part 1

I had a little flurry of tweets from several people totally opposed to my position of zero policy on drugs, and felt the need to do some research, in order to let others come in on the debate about strategy and policy. I suspect we would ALL like to see killer drugs eradicated (apart from the dealers) so it will just be a question of how we can achieve that.

I came into politics because of my concern over increasing drug use and therefore I'm not writing this on a position of proving I am right about anything I have already written. If the research and ensuing policy proved me wrong, I would be just as delighted. All I want is for us to at least be winning the war on drugs, whatever that takes.

I remember vividly the horror of the Ipswich street worker murders and the fact that we were told it was impossible to get prostitution off our streets. Well we proved them wrong with our 5 year strategy and although this long established industry has obviously not gone away, we have at least helped many girls get their life back and helped the residents of London road to have their roads free of street workers and pimps.This was done using partnership working to help them abstain from drugs, get away from the men who were pressurising them and find suitable alternative environments in which to start a new life.

And so the negative statement 'we will never get rid of drugs' just doesn't wash with me. Yes we can win the battles, but it will be a slow, arduous multi-faceted, multi-partnered approach and lessons must be learnt and adopted from best practice around the world.

I  intend to be open, honest and look for evidence that does not support my approach as well as those that do so that I give a balanced view. I invite comments from professionals in the know and people that have lived with a drug problem.

I have never taken illegal drugs but I know how hard it was to give up smoking a few years ago (apparently very comparable with heroin) so I do understand the torture involved in an addiction. I therefore come from the premise that help is needed as well as punishment for those who commit illegal acts.

I will start with a statistic that was confirmed to me at our working group meeting this week. That children whose parents take drugs are 8 times more likely to embark on this journey themselves. This alone suggests that we owe it to them to try and work on abstinence of drugs (not merely harm reduction, which was the strategy under Labour).  Many of the last govts policies were based on the premise that 'oh well, we'll never stop it so let's just educate them and tell them about the harm in the hope that we can reduce it, while they do it'.

This is clearly wrong because at best, it sends out mixed messages and, at worst, appears to condone it. Yes, we should educate but our policies must now be with abstinence in mind or the next generation will bring us even more victims, addicts, destroyed families and huge costs.All those that now find it so difficult to get off the nastier drugs must surely wish they never started it so lets make sure that going forward this regret is not felt by even more of our young people.

Would I have started smoking had I been told the dangers way back in the 70's? Of course not. Nor would a website telling me that if I am going to smoke then at least follow the harm reduction rules! That would also have been a green light to my peers and I.

So my first point is We must stop sending out messages that taking drugs is acceptable.

Some are comparing taking drugs, like cannabis, with drinking. I am not accepting this argument here for various reasons;
a) 2 wrongs don't make a right
b) Alcohol is legal and making it illegal will never happen.
c) Wine is a natural substance that is good for you in small measures. One spliff is not good for you, even if you believe it's not bad for you (to be debated later date)
d) Alcohol dependancy is an illness but other than making drinking illegal also, it has no relevance to the war on drugs which is a stand alone issue and requires a different strategy.

The conclusion in 'The Phoney War On Drugs by Kathy Gyngell, an author and researcher suggests that we must;

Reduce the supply of Drugs
Reduce recruitment to drug abuse
Encourage people with drug abuse to give it up

The Netherlands and Sweden have both adopted the approach of enforcement of their drug laws, prevention of illicit drugs and provision of addiction care with successful results. Interestingly it is the UK that has gone into the realms of normalising drug use, not the Netherlands, according to research, and I think that would surprise many.

So I will firstly use some of the information contained within her research and book before moving onto those from the side of 'legalising drugs', somthing I am deeply opposed to but will nevertheless give opportunity to it's believers here.

part 2 coming soon...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Cllr Kym Stroedt At Large

Councillor at Large by Cllr K Stroedt …February   

I’ve always been a good sport. I play hard, but whatever the result I will plant a smile on my dial and say ‘put it there’.
This month, however, it has become clear to me that if you don’t have the numbers on the council, you can do and say whatever you like – the Labour administration win. Disheartening indeed, particularly when I know - and the town will inevitably learn to its cost - that whatever economic difficulties we face, the answers will never be provided by the left.  

Tuesday 7th February   Fellow Conservative Councillor Russell Harsant’s funeral was held today at St Mary Le Tower Church in the centre of Ipswich. Members of Russell’s family, his friends, Councillors and Mayoral Party joined the congregation to provide a fitting tribute to a lovely man. The service included readings from his grandchildren and a warm testimonial from close friend Ben Gummer MP. He was a local man who cared about local people; a collection following the service for our own St Elizabeth Hospice demonstrated exactly that.  

Thursday 9th February   I am proud to be a member of the Governing Body at Broke Hall Primary School. It consistently demonstrates rigour across all areas relating to the proper management of the school. Central to the agenda at present is the need to attract another top-notch Head-teacher to the school for the start of September. We govern an ‘outstanding’ school, and whoever is appointed is going to need to support our superb staff to maintain and improve on that standard. An Ofsted inspection looms large on the horizon.  

Monday 13th February   Ipswich Borough Council’s Labour Administration has put together a ‘Corporate Plan’ and their first Budget. This provided tonight’s Conservative Group meeting with better than average entertainment as we discussed how we would go about holding them to account. I left Group Leader Cllr Carnall to digest how Labour were relaxing the tight spending controls he presided over during our years in office, and concentrated instead on Labour’s spurious list of achievements over the last 9 months. My eagle eye could just read the words ‘Conservative Achievements’ scratched out from above most of them.    

Wednesday 15th February   As Shadow Planning and Economic Development Portfolio holder, I find the Development Working Group meetings a useful way to be brought up-to-date with issues relating to Town Centre investment. I learnt, for example, that sales held up over the Christmas period – largely due to Sales, and that Mary Portas is all things to all towns. I do hope that Cllr Jones’ enthusiasm for new Town Teams doesn’t undermine the very well supported work being done by Ipswich Central. It appears that the question to be grappled with is how to bring on-line shopping into a social space. The answer may see High Street shopping completely transformed over the next few years.  

Friday 17th February   Cultural partners and stakeholders were invited to attend the launch of ‘Access All Areas’ tonight, at the Town Hall. That included me. The evening was an opportunity for networking - food and drink was provided by our brand new Waitrose and ICR took care of the music. The real focus for the evening was to discuss ideas about potential future uses for the Town Hall and Corn Exchange. These are wonderful spaces and, at present, they are under-used. Any thoughts?  

Tuesday 21st February   Tony McNulty was a Minister of State in the Home Office in the last Labour government, so it might come as something of a surprise when I tell you that I spent this evening listening to a lecture from him on the subject of Media in Politics. But then it may not. If there was ever a government that made the most of the media to get out its message, it was the Blair government. The lecture was interesting, although I was strangely left with the feeling that I had heard it all before. How Nixon was defeated by Kennedy because he ‘didn’t do make-up’. How Clegg became the nation’s ‘political centrefold for a day’ by looking into the camera during live debates. Not giving interviews when you’re in ‘a bit of a mood’. All common knowledge surely.  

Thursday 23rd February   A strong field of candidates were interviewed for the role of Head-teacher at Broke Hall Primary School. The interviews were carried out over two days and required candidates to address an assembly, meet with the staff, give a presentation and, perhaps most daunting of all, answer questions from a panel of pupils. Our search for a head-teacher was even filmed and shown on BBC’s The One Show! In the end the governing body were in total agreement about our chosen candidate, who we all felt had the experience and commitment to add significantly to the school’s development.    

Monday 27th February   Cllr Carnall provided the Conservative Group with details about an amendment to the budget, he would be presenting on Wednesday at full council. His carefully costed amendment would mean a 3% reduction in council tax for local residents. We also discussed the questions we were planning to put to the various Portfolio Holders. I have a question ready for Cllr Jones about her part in Labour’s Golden Keys debacle. Conservatives have a clear line about what should happen to the Golden Keys Pub; let local people decide. Labour have a clear line about it too; no Tesco! As a second Greene King application wings its way toward the Labour dominated planning committee, anyone like a little wager about what will happen next?  

Wednesday 29th February   Sadly, Cllr Carnall’s amendment to secure a 3% reduction in council tax was given about as much consideration as Cllr McDonald’s nomination for parliamentary candidate. I refer you back to my opening remarks about ‘having the numbers’. Cllr Ellesmere, supported by his party ‘Yes Men’ mocked, jeered and generally fell about as if cost cutting was Greek to them, then raised their hands ‘Against’ the amendment, before voting in their own budget in full. I ran into a brick wall of my own. Cllr Jones refused to admit that being a Labour and Co-operative Councillor and a member of the Planning Committee when presiding over the future of the Golden Keys Pub was scandalous, and Cllr Knowles refused to re-instate an important Bixley polling station.
Oh well, at least the daffs are out.