"We've been fighting a drugs war for 40 years, that war is lost, and completely unwinnable."
These were the eminent words of Mr James Duffy from Law Enforcement Against Prohibtion - LEAP. As a 32 year serving veteran and former Police Inspector, Mr Duffy engendered a hush in the Jubilee Room in the heart of Westminster Hall; his speech detailed the utter failure of the 'war on drugs'.
On September 14th, speakers descended on Westminster for the press conference: Taxing the UK Cannabis Market. The panel included:
Peter Reynolds - Leader of the CLEAR - Cannabis Law Reform
Matthew Atha - Independent Drug Monitoring Unit
Paul Flynn MP - Long serving Labour parliamentarian
Dr Susan Blackmore - broadcaster, writer and Visiting Professor of the University of Plymouth
James Duffy - Retired Police Inspector and former Chairman of the Strathclyde Police Federation - representing LEAP
The conference was in support of the IDMU report that was commissioned by CLEAR. Meticulously constructed by Matthew Atha - and focused on the fiscal situation and trends of cannabis use in Britain - the full report and recommendations for a regulatory framework can be seen here:
IDMU Report: Taxing the UK Cannabis Market.
CLEAR Proposals: A CLEAR Plan for the Regulation of Cannabis in Britain.
The keynote aspect of the report? The UK could gain £6.7 billion per annum if the state took control via taxation and regulation. Described as the proverbial "pot of gold" by Peter Reynolds, and reiterated by Dr Susan Blackmore, the country has to ask how long can we ignore the fiscal benefits of a change in policy.
Chairing the conference, Mr Reynolds of CLEAR said:
"Prohibition provides no control at all, and certainly doesn't provide any protection to children." He concluded, "the only ID the dealer asks for is a £20 note."
Dr Susan Blackmore provided a beautifully animated speech, complete with the laden weight of prohibition on her back.
"Prohibition is a drag on all of us and all of us are affected," Dr Balckmore continued, "if there's anything we can do in this country, and the wider world for the better, it's to change our drug laws."
Susan Blackmore has long campaigned, and the lack of science and evidence in current policy notably frustrates; speaking of the IDMU report:
"It's not opinion based, this is fact, gathering information, and facts about it. As a life long scientist, I have to remain optimistic that scientific truths will prevail over idiocy, bigotry and ignorance."
The IDMU report estimates that the UK uses nearly 1000 metric tonnes of cannabis per year. It's perhaps more surprising to learn that strict laws do not seem to deter usage, in fact, it may stimulate. Speaking about the attitudes towards drugs, the IDMU report pointed towards trends; when cannabis was declassification to class C, usage lowered, but when it went back to class B, user levels increased once more. Mr Atha from the IDMU noted:
"When fruit is slightly less forbidden, it loses much of its sweetness."
The sponsoring MP, Paul Flynn, was hopeful for the impact of the findings:
"I'm optimistic that the report will break new ground as it speaks the language of politicians - money."
With internal views on political trends and drug policy, Mr Flynn MP proclaimed:
"Policies are evidence free and prejudice rich. Almost everything that every government has said and forecast has been wrong."
Paul also did not hold back when describing policy makers' actions as:
"an irrational, cowardly approach."
In one of the most poignant parts of the afternoon, Mr Flynn recalled a young back bench MP who made strides in drug policy reform and sought radical alternatives. This pragmatic reformer is firmly on record from 2002 - in a Home Affairs Select Committee - exploring the notion of regulatory models. This fresh faced MP is now the Prime Minister. David Cameron, seemingly, now repudiates his own views, but Mr Flynn went on to say,
"I wonder what our Prime Minister thinks of that young backbencher,"
but Paul Flynn is hopeful nonetheless,
"he's one of the first Prime Ministers who gets it, and he played an impressive role in that committee."
A notable intervention came from Lady Amanda Fielding of the Beckley Foundation. Speaking on the back of Dr Susan Blackmore's point on the importance of a CBD content in cannabis, Lady Amanda concluded;
"A government regulated source would have CBD and THC ratio labelled, so people can make a conscious decision on strength and potency."
Levent Akbulut, the National Coordinator & Director for the Students For Sensible Drug Policy, made a expressive query. Detailing just how much support there is for drug law reformation, Levent asked how grassroot supporters can seek some brevity between popular opinion and that of MPs' anchored rhetoric. Mr Flynn and Peter Reynolds concurred; a face to face meeting with MPs is a good way, and of course, write to them as it has never been easier to do so.
The closing comments went to James Duffy of LEAP, his overtly powerful words were hard to ignore:
"32 years as police officer, I never remember a time we didn't have zero tolerance, asked for more powers and got them, and I never remember a time that they made the slightest bit of difference. Drugs have never been more plentiful, and they've never been cheaper."
With concluding points, Jim Duffy wrapped up the event by talking of the alarming trend in teenage use:
"It's easer to buy cannabis than alcohol due to the regulation."
And speaking further on the overlooked points of adult actions:
"We're not here to wrap you in cotton wall, this is about education, taking the message and feeding it back to the MPs, then we'll get a change."
As an enthusiastic spectator proclaimed; "A lot more people should listen to you Jim."
To view the entire press conference, click here:
Part 1 - Peter Reynolds & Matthew Atha
Part 2 - Matthew Atha & Paul Flynn MP
Part 3 - Dr Susan Blackmore & James Duffy
Part 4- Questions (including Lady Amanda Fielding)
Part 5 - Questions (including Levent Akbulut)
Part 6 - Closing