Letters: Drug laws

Legalise drugs and end this waste of young lives
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The Independent Online

Sir: Congratulations to The Independent for giving such intensive coverage to the legalisation of all drugs, and in particular to the Chief Constable of North Wales, Richard Brunstrom, for the courageous but pragmatic stance that he has taken. It is refreshing to see someone of such stature, working within the criminal justice system, at last recognising that there has to be a new approach.

In the last six of 25 years of general practice in a rural community in Wiltshire four young patients of mine died as a result of heroin use. They would be alive today if they had had legal and safe access to their heroin. Many more young lives that I was aware of as chairman of a Drugs Advisory Service were made intolerable by the custodial sentences they were given for possession, for shooting themselves up or for the criminal activities they indulged in to support their habit. What they really wanted was legal, safe and controlled access to the drugs they were taking so that they could over time decide to kick the habit with the care and support of properly trained people in the community.

It is criminal that we continue to take a punitive rather than a public health attitude to drug use and as a result cause so much death and destruction among young drug-users and such despair among the victims of the crimes which are committed to support their drug use.

Dr Nick Maurice

Marlborough, Wiltshire

Sir: There is a middle ground between drug prohibition and blanket legalisation. Switzerland's heroin maintenance programme has been shown to reduce disease, death and crime among chronic users. Providing addicts with standardised doses in a clinical setting eliminates many of the problems associated with illicit heroin use.

Heroin maintenance pilot projects are under way in Canada, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. If expanded, prescription heroin maintenance would deprive organised crime of a core client base. This would render illegal heroin trafficking unprofitable and spare future generations addiction.

Cannabis should be taxed and regulated like alcohol, only without the ubiquitous advertising. Separating the hard and soft drug markets is critical. As long as cannabis distribution remains in the hands of organised crime, consumers of the most popular illicit drug will continue to come into contact with sellers of cocaine and heroin. Given that cannabis is arguably safer than alcohol, it makes no sense to waste scarce resources on failed drug policies that finance organised crime and facilitate the use of hard drugs

Robert Sharpe

Policy Analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Washington, DC

Intelligence and a row about race

Sir: On 16 October you reported the "black Baftas" – awards for black British actors – and I couldn't help reflecting that, although quite harmless, the event could be deemed racist and was one of a number of similar events I have come across celebrating "black" talent. Just imagine what the reaction would be if there were similar awards restricted to "white" performers.

Consequently, when I read of James Watson's remarks (17 October) regarding the relative "intelligence" of black and white people, I was astonished by the furore that this seems to have generated, despite the fact that he was clearly basing his views on the science as he knew it.

Jeremy Laurance referred to "efforts to prove the superiority or inferiority of different races", implying this is what Watson was attempting. Watson has said nothing of the sort.

I don't know whether or not there are differences in mental ability of the sort Watson mentioned, but there are certainly physical differences, some of which are visibly obvious and some, such as the prevalence of sickle-cell disease in people from sub-Sahara Africa, which are not. It is a valid scientific question to examine the genetic variation resulting from the different evolutionary paths taken by different peoples.

All sorts of mental and physical capabilities could be subject to such variation and, if the science tells us that there are differences, this means absolutely nothing in terms of supposed "racial" superiority or otherwise. Let's just stick to the science.

Ian Quayle

Fownhope, Herefordshire

Sir: Interesting that a bunch of white guys and gals, who claim to be among the planet's most intelligent beings, would postulate that there are genetic differences in levels of intelligence between races. Last I read, the planet's coastlines and most major population centres could be inundated in a few decades because of the global economic and energy engines largely invented and implemented by white guys and gals.

Now their thinkers are proclaiming that, after they and their progenitors have successfully beaten the cultural tar out of darker cultures and peoples the world over for centuries, that the people they steam-rollered are genetically inferior. Hm.

Kind of like torturing someone for days and then turning on "The Blue Danube", and demanding they participate in a waltz contest with the graduates of an Arthur Murray dance studio. "Dance the way we do or be condemned to inferior. I don't care how much it hurts. Up on your feet!"

This is superior intelligence?

Bob Vance

Petoskey Michigan, USA

Sir: Why is it that, while it is widely accepted that people of certain races often perform better in certain sports, whenever the question of "race and intelligence" is raised it arouses such vehement responses?

If some nationalities perform well in athletics, does it not follow that some others are "not as good"? Each of us has their own contribution to make; does it matter if I'm not as clever as Stephen Hawking? I have learned far more about what it means to be a human being from people like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King than I ever did from Albert Einstein. (Not that there's anything wrong with being smart either.)

Mike Day

Faversham, Kent

Sir: It is always sad to see a clever man brought down by his own stupidity. James Watson has managed to appear a little weird before, in his comments on women and male homosexuality. Could I suggest that a short note be added in the Science Museum display of his exemplary achievements for science: "These stunning achievements have been shown to be all the more substantial, when measured by Dr Watson's own failures of intelligence. Unfortunately, science has no way of knowing yet why some men make such fools of themselves by so unexpectedly pronouncing that the world may well be flat."

Dave Feickert


Sir: How ironic that James Watson should be quoted as saying that black people are less intelligent than white people in the same week that the Science Museum hosted a discussion on the history of scientific racism.

Not only is the claim outrageous, but all the evidence, at the very least from the life of Ignatius Sancho onwards, shows us that Watson's claim is completely unfounded. If he were to see life outside the test-tube and engage with human beings per se, he would be less inclined to make such appalling judgements

Paul Clift

London SE6

Sir: The front-page headline "Africans are less intelligent than Westerners, says DNA pioneer" (17 October) is extremely irresponsible. Whether intended or not, it foments and reinforces racism. Some people who read it may not even read the article inside and it will fan their racist views, while others of African origin will be angered and alienated.

Gerald Henderson


Just a theory? No, a force for good

Sir: I do hate it when people describe something as distinguished as Darwin's explanation of the origin of species as "just a theory" as if a theory were but another piece of prejudice to be compared and contrasted with its competitors (letter, 17 October).

Explanations of events in the natural and social worlds do not get elevated from the status of hypothesis to that of theory unless they have led to practical results and have therefore been proved objectively truthful. Humans did not get to the moon on the basis of "just a theory" but Newton's theory of gravitation; and Darwin set us on the search for genes with all the practical medical and agricultural implications for humanity that that entails. Intelligent design won't be curing or feeding anybody soon.

Dan Evans


Trapped with a school dinner

Sir: My eyebrows rose as I read your report (17 October) that Prue Leith, the chairwoman of the School Food Trust, recommends that school gates should be locked at lunchtime to prevent pupils leaving to obtain food more to their taste. "If you can keep them inside, then you can begin to educate them about eating," she said.

I wonder, has she yet decided which method of force-feeding she will employ on those pupils who still resist what is provided by their school kitchens? Or perhaps this is to become yet another offence for which parental fines or jail sentences will be considered appropriate.

She fears that she may be accused of a nannyish attitude. No, Ms Leith – much more like an evil stepmother.

Tony Cullingworth

Keighley, West Yorkshire

In politics, don't act your age

Sir: Ming Campbell was not pilloried and driven to resignation by ageist political commentators, cruel cartoonists, ageist Liberal Democrat MPs, nor – least of all – by ageist voters. It is not that he is 64 years old but the fact that he looks and sounds really, really ancient. These are, unfortunately but understandably, huge disadvantages in a politician.

Contrast the impression that decent Sir Ming gives with that given by Tony Benn. Youthful appearance, lively diction, clarity of thought, quick on his feet – Tony Benn exudes energy, not senescence. Few would suggest that, at the age of 82, Mr Benn would be too old to be a political leader. It would be his politics, not his age, that would count against him.

Gerald de Lacey

London W11

Sir: Jo Grimond said that part of the job of the leader of the third party was to be a "performing seal" to attract media attention. This was one aspect of the job that Ming Campbell was ill at ease with, and for which he paid a heavy price. Let's hope that Liberal Democrat leadership candidates are already practising balancing beach balls on their noses.

Martyn P Jackson

Cramlington, Northumberland

Remedies trusted for centuries

Sir: I was disappointed to read your article "The trouble with herbs" (4 October).

According to the World Health Organisation, over 80 per cent of the world's population use herbal medicines, and Chinese, Ayur-vedic and Western remedies have an exceptional record of safety in the UK. Herbal remedies have been used and highly valued worldwide for over 6,000 years. If they were ineffective, their use would have ceased long ago. Outcome trials have consistently found that individualised herbal remedies are effective in treating common conditions, and as a result, their usage has increased steadily decade by decade.

Many patients are all too aware that not all conventional treatments are effective. In fact, 85 per cent of conventional medicines currently available in the UK have not been proven to be beneficial. The British Medical Journal's Clinical Excellence Review rates 47 per cent of the 2,500 treatments reviewed as of "unknown effectiveness"', and only 15 per cent as "beneficial".

Here in the UK, herbal products now fall into the medicines category, and are to be regulated by the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive. A recent poll found that 70 per cent of UK-based general practitioners questioned favoured the use of complementary medicine.

Jayney Goddard

President, Complementary Medical Association, London SE10


Safety gone mad

Sir: I have just bought a small fresh fruit container consisting of grapes, fresh slices of apple, melon etc, with a label warning me that they may contain pips.

Keith Nolan

Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim, Ireland

Quite an adventure

Sir: In his defence of Blair (letter, 17 October), Peter Metcalfe admits that "Iraq was a mad adventure" but invites us to remember some other policies, which he thinks were successful. Had Mr Metcalfe been around in 1865, he would doubtless have been the first to ask "Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"

Charles Scanlan

London NW8

Magical memory

Sir: I read with dismay that The Magic Roundabout is about to return to our screens, but at 8am on cable TV. How I loved that fun-filled five minutes before the 6 o'clock news on BBC. Please re-schedule it nearer my bedtime.

Gwyn Jones

(aged 72 and a half) Cardiff

Message from Munich

Sir: Our Foreign Secretary ought not to have been offended by Michael Connarty's jibe about "peace in our time". Even an atheist like me knows that this phrase comes from the Bible. Neville Chamberlain stepped from the plane from Munich, held up his piece of paper, and claimed that Hitler's signature upon it would mean "peace for our time". Along with "play it again, Sam" and "alas poor Yorick, I knew him well", this is one of the most misquoted utterances of our times.

Phil Edwards


Pacifist creed

Sir: I can assure Alastair McBay (Letters, 16 October ) that there can be no warring factions within the Pastafarian Church. It is well known that the penne is mightier than the sword.

Len Jones

Congleton, Cheshire

Whale meat again

Sir: So the Government wants us to drink UHT milk, soon to be followed no doubt by powdered egg. Dame Vera Lynn can be re-released at No 1, skipping introduced into schools and children taught how to wipe running noses on the sleeves of their jumpers. ID cards are also being re-introduced so why not a gas mask to counter traffic pollution? Oh, happy days!

Derek Hanlin

Porth, Mid Glamorgan