Letters: Drug laws

Utter failure of our drug laws
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The Independent Online

It’s welcome news that ex-minister Bob Ainsworth now sees the utter failure of drug criminalisation (report, 17 December), but why could he not have said it when in power, and presumably with more influence?

Is it fear of denigration by the Daily Mail and such-like moralistic forces? Thus an outraged comment from a middle-class housewife, angrily (but wrongly in my view) attributing her son’s schizophrenia to cannabis, and confusing cause and effect, will be used to disgrace and vilify sensible comment.

As a psychiatrist working for 20 years in Hackney, I have never seen a psychosis due to cannabis, but have seen some patients made relaxed and mellow by it, since it is the only thing they find helpful in dealing with a very distressing state of being. Legalisation would make the milder, more relaxing forms of the drug widely available.

The whole scenario at present is reminiscent of the debate in the 1950s and 1960s about legalising homosexuality, when those wanting to keep it illegal went on about health risks, threats to teenage innocence and the likelihood of the “habit” spreading and undermining society’s family values.

This puritan intolerance, hiding behind “health risk”, criminalises millions worldwide, at an awful cost financially and socially. Is it time to “out” a few more politicians?

Dr Trevor Turner

London E8

I suffer from multiple sclerosis and for the past 19 years I have been successfully using cannabis to control the pain of the symptomatic spasticity. Like most sufferers, I use a vapouriser to administer my medication. I consulted my doctor and requested a prescription for the cannabis-based Sativex but was refused. This is happening to sufferers throughout the UK. What am I to do? When I asked that question of my doctor I got the response “Well, if it works, I’d carry on using cannabis”. So I wrap up well, get on my buggy and go out to look for my medication. Fortunately, I don’t have to go far.

Is this the desired consequence of UK drugs policy? I hope not. Surely it cannot be just or in the public interest that I should be at risk of criminal prosecution as a consequence of my illness?

Hamish Crisp


Once again the press gets it all wrong: legalisation of controlled drugs misrepresents what is needed. It is the regulatory control of the supply that is needed: control through prescription only and pharmacy sales.

Mr Ainsworth has hit the nail on the head. If only a government was intelligent enough to tackle this issue, at once we would lessen crime, help users and control quality through manufacture in regulated sites.

I have heard no sensible reasons for not regulating these drugs.

D P Mogg

Petersfield, Hampshire

One of the most depressing aspects of society’s reaction to drug reform is the idea that the state must prevent the individual from obtaining and using drugs. It doesn’t and won’t succeed.

As with that accepted drug alcohol, we should not prevent its usage but come down hard on any resulting crime, be it driving offences, public-order offences, or violence. No one suggests that alcohol should revisit prohibition or become a drug on prescription. Similarly, were these banned substances legal their production and distribution would be low-cost and no one would be able to make a criminal profit out of their importation or use.

I cannot believe that anyone presently wishing to use drugs is deterred by their price, nor that the vast majority of us would be tempted by any future reduction in cost.

P J Parkins


Views of locals blatantly ignored

Mr Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, published his Localism Bill on 13 December. One of the claims made for it is that it would “give local communities real control over housing and planning decisions”.

On the same day, Mr Pickles issued a decision in a planning appeal. National Grid had applied to Tewkesbury Borough Council to build a gas plant just outside Tirley in Gloucestershire. The installation would occupy more than 16 acres and was unlikely to be beautiful. The application had been opposed by more than 1,000 residents (and this in a sparsely populated rural area); by 12 parish councils and, indeed, by every single member of the planning committee of the local planning authority. Mr Pickles chose to grant permission to build the gas plant.

It might reasonably be asked what Mr Pickles has in mind when he says that he will give “real control” over planning decisions to local communities when he so blatantly ignores the views of a local community which could not have been more clearly expressed.

Joseph Gabbott

Corse Lawn, Gloucester

David Cameron’s most interesting idea before he came to power was that of the Big Society; to involve people who were disengaged from the political process in decision-making about their lives.

In the wake of the student-fee demonstrations in London, during which the tactic of “kettling” was used (probably illegally), I listened for an apology from David Cameron for the inappropriate and unreasonable detention of large numbers of law-abiding people attempting to exercise their democratic rights – but I heard none. Instead, he used words which appeared to attempt to put the blame on the protesters for the troubles.

The Government’s proposals on “localism” seem to suggest that the acceptable face of involvement is interfering in the management of the local school your children attend, or nimby- style local planning for the well-heeled and organised to displace unwanted developments on to poorer, less-organised areas.

The Coalition Government is presiding over the greatest centralisation of power in living memory, wiping out or emasculating local democratic (or bureaucratic) control without putting anything coherent in its place. Yet the only response to anyone who dares to challenge this is apparently to send in the riot squad.

So, what is the Big Society? The only coherent line I can see is that we are expected to busy ourselves with fiddling with the parish pump but keep our heads down about the bonfire of our (being privatised) public services which will be accountable to no one but their (largely) overseas shareholders. And if we attempt to question the politicians, we can expect a politicised police force to bring down a baton on our heads.

Alistair Tice


Big, beautiful Birmingham

Natalie Haynes makes some observant comments as a Brummie on why Birmingham is the fattest city in Europe (Opinion, 16 December). But she forgets to mention the decline of Birmingham’s manufacturing in the past 30 years, which kept many Brummies active. Today, according to the Office for National Statistics, Birmingham has the highest proportion of the working-age population claiming unemployment benefit, at 6.9 per cent, which is nearly double the UK rate of 3.5 per cent. Is it any surprise that Brummies are larger?

Kartar Uppal

West Bromwich, West Midlands

I, too, grew up in Birmingham, but Natalie Haynes’s Birmingham is not mine. Mine had several parks within walking distance. It had buses that went around the city as well as into it; they are all still there. On a recent visit I walked from the Maypole to the centre through Cannon Hill Park just because it was a nice day. Ms Haynes needs to look elsewhere for the reasons why Birmingham citizens are fat. The glorious balti perhaps?

Farah Mendlesohn

London N15

Dumbed-down, dismal Radio 3

I totally agree with David Johnstone (letters, 10 December) regarding the presentational quality of BBC Radio 3. As a former Radio 3 continuity technical operator (1970s) I can certainly confirm that the quality of the announcers’ presentational style in that era wipes the floor with the current crop.

I have come to the conclusion that I must be a masochist, as time and again I return to the network in the hope that I might hear some improvement, only to be subjected to a dumbed-down style that is obsessed with receiving emails and texts expressing unsolicited personal opinions about the music using terms such as “brilliant”, “fantastic”, and broadcasting countless packaged programme trails. I addition, we have Radio 1-type junctions whereby recorded music is started as soon as the announcer (sic) has barely got his or her last syllable of the introductory announcement out.

And, no, I haven’t finished. Many times I have heard announcers talk about their own experiences in music college, and how they used to play such and such sonata – so what? The discerning Radio 3 listener wishes to hear complete pieces of music together with intelligent, informative announcements about the music, the composer and quotes from critics, but not off-the-cuff personal opinions and experiences from the announcers themselves.

Howard Edwards

Llandudno Junction, Conwy

Memories of rabbit dinners

When I was a child in the 1940s rabbit meat (“Wild and wonderful”, 9 December) was one of the most common foods. I was used to the sight of the poor bloodied furry corpses hanging in bundles in every butcher’s shop, and my cat had a fresh rabbit’s “scut” to play with every few days. Rabbit meat was as commonplace then as chicken is today.

The reason we are no longer familiar with them as food is that in the 1950s the terrible disease myxomatosis was deliberately introduced to reduce the rabbit population. This was so successful that the meat soon disappeared from the shops, to be replaced by cheap, factory-farmed chicken.In 30 years of marriage I have only once cooked rabbit stew for my husband. He loved it.

Sara Neill

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Stop this unfair abuse of referees

As the father of a 15-year-old referee, I would like to address the anti-referee comments that are continually made. It’s no wonder that they get so much criticism, when their decisions are scrutinised repeatedly, with the use of slow-motion/freeze-frame technology.

The referee gets one second to make one decision, from one angle; but he will be judged by people watching the incident from multiple camera angles, over and over again.

Would it not be possible to use a camera attachment to show the incident from the referee’s view-point? That would at least show the baying mob exactly how the ref saw it, and is after all how we ask referees to make their decisions.

When a manager has a negative comment thrown at him about an incident he usually answers “I didn’t see it”, or “I’ve not seen the replay yet”. Doesn’t that tell us all we need to know?

Mark Holman

Northwich, Cheshire

Reasons to love wind power

Dominic Lawson’s most recent tirade against wind energy (14 December) overlooks the fact that the modern rise of wind turbines pre-dates the popular debate on climate change by at least a decade, and was driven instead by concerns over oil shortages in the late 1970s. Economic stability is probably still the underlying driver for renewable energy, as witnessed by the fact that one third of the wind energy capacity installed worldwide in 2009 was in China, and a further quarter was in the US.

Mr Lawson should talk to a wider range of intensive energy users; I could introduce him to forward-thinking businesses whose energy bills have been slashed because their own wind turbines reliably provide the bulk of their electricity. Mr Lawson seems to believe that because the wind cannot provide power all the time, the electricity it does generate is not worth having.

We should be pleased that our ancestors took a more practical view when they used wind power to grind corn, drain the land, and drive their mills. Renewable energy leads away from poverty, not towards it.

Colin Anderson


Billie lives on

Within the past year or two the voice of Billie Holiday has been used in an advertisement for a supermarket coffee. A commercial break during The X Factor finals also featured her voice endorsing a well-known perfume. I wonder how many of this year’s contestants will receive such recognition more than 50 years after their death?

Tony Lawson

Langley, Berkshire

At a loss...

You report that the Forensic Science Service has been “running at a loss” and is to be closed (14 December). I would guess that the police also run at a loss, so perhaps they should be closed too?

David Ridge

London N19

Perspectives on university fees

The disastrous effects of expansion

“Would you trust a Lib Dem politician?” No, but the bigger question concerns why you should trust any politician from any party, especially one that believes that it will benefit from such distrust. Labour’s trustworthiness was demonstrated by its refusal to consider student fees when in opposition and its introduction of them after its 1997 landslide.

I was a professor at one of the London universities until my resignation in 2004, when the erosion of academic standards had for me vitiated New Labour’s expansion of higher education. Yet this expansion is widely considered a positive achievement and is accorded progressive status. Opposition to expansion is deemed reactionary and labelled elitist. If I was part of an elite when I went to university in 1960, it was not an elite of wealth or class. I was the first in my family to go there and without a grant it could not have afforded to send me.

Two-thirds of my students when I resigned were excellent. One-third was anything but. Our high failure rate was treated as a pedagogic problem. Admissions had been taken away from academic staff, presumably to prevent our sifting of applicants by academic criteria. Any faults in the system were blamed on lecturers rather than the system.

There is a way to curb costs and even perhaps not to charge at all even in this financially straitened period: by thinking the unthinkable and reversing the process of expansion.

K MacKinnon

London NW3

Mature students will be priced out

Up to one third of students are mature students, of 25-plus. These students return to education for many reasons, but all are very committed and are always welcomed by tutors as they bring a different perspective to a topic.

But they usually have additional financial responsibilities, such as a mortgage and/or family. And they don’t get any extra financial assistance. Tripling the amount mature students pay will put any return to higher education out of their reach.

This will mean a huge number of mature students will not return and this will hit universities financially.

Furthermore, as mature students, as well as usual students, will be paying three times as much for the educational service provided by the universities they will expect a three-fold increase in the quality of service.

And if this isn’t forthcoming they’ll be eligible to prosecute – through Consumer Direct – under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

Duncan Anderson

Immingham, North Lincolnshire

No one should be put off by these sums

Julian Knight accuses the Government of using semantics to disguise the impact of the new tuition-fee regime (12 December). Yet he fails to present an accurate picture of how the system will work.

He states that someone earning just over £21,000 will have to pay 9 per cent of their salary to the Student Loans Company. In fact, they will only have to pay 9 per cent of that part of their income over £21,000. Someone earning £25,000 could expect to pay £30 a month, less than 2 per cent of their take-home pay.

It is important that no one is misled into thinking they cannot afford a university education.

Nicola Dandridge,

Chief Executive, Universities UK, London WC1