DRCNet Interview: Member of the British Parliament Paul Flynn 12/17/04

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Vice-chair of the British House of Commons' all-parties drugs group, Labor MP Paul Flynn (http://www.paulflynnmp.co.uk) has been a tireless campaigner for real drug law reform in Great Britain. Flynn, a pharmacist by trade, has championed medical marijuana bills in parliament, spoken out at rallies championing cannabis legalization, and has been a voice of reason in an often overheated British drug discourse.

In the wake of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Queens Day speech late last month, where he set out a tough new drug bill as part of a "tough on crime" political package designed to ensure his reelection (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/364/blair.shtml), DRCNet checked in with Flynn to get a better sense of current British political realities. This interview was conducted by e-mail last week. In the meantime, however, Flynn has continued to speak out trenchantly -- for example, being widely quoted as ridiculing the British government's effort to suppress a previously open trade in psychedelic mushrooms. The law must have been written "by someone on hallucinogenic drugs," he said.

Drug War Chronicle: Reclassification of cannabis was supposed to reduce the number of pot busts, but the London Metropolitan Police Authority recently reported a 33% increase in the number of people caught with cannabis from April to August this year compared to the same period last year, before reclassification. What kind of progress is this?

Paul Flynn
Member of Parliament Paul Flynn: But the Met said the number of actual arrests fell by 53% since downgrading. While more people were caught with cannabis, the number of people arrested was nearly halved. The force says this has saved almost £425,000 ($825,000 US). But that report also adds that the reclassification had sent out a mixed message to members of the public. Also, frontline officers found people with cannabis on them more confrontational because they believed they would not face arrest. The answer is that the situation is confused because of the half retreat on reclassification. But it is still two-thirds of a step forward and a third of a step back.

Chronicle: What are the prospects of moving beyond reclassification or decriminalization of cannabis toward a regulated market?

MP Flynn: None before the election, even though the case for cannabis prohibition is in tatters. Politicians were shaken by the tabloid hysteria on David Blunkett's courageous move to rationalize cannabis laws. The prohibition industry exaggerated the perils of cannabis and foretold Armageddon. All drugs are dangerous. The debate should have been whether the risks of cannabis use are multiplied or cut by reducing the dominance of irresponsible criminals in the cannabis market. The Home Secretary is the first British politician to halt and reverse slightly the repeated folly of answering prohibition's failures with new prohibition.

Chronicle: The Independent Drug Monitoring Unit recently reported that despite stepped-up enforcement efforts, hard drugs are widely available and cheaper than ever. Is there any sign that news like this will make the British political class more receptive to moving away from prohibition and toward regulated drug markets?

MP Flynn: Few privately defend prohibition. At some point common sense and rationality must break through.

Chronicle: Prime Minister Blair recently announced a serious crackdown on drug users as part of his "tough on crime" strategy. What will this accomplish, provided the bills are passed?

MP Flynn: Oh, for intelligent policies that work rather than tough policies that increase the problem! But politicians are addicted to self-delusion; they cling to the comfort blanket canard that tough policies work. They never have. The lure of political gratification and tabloid approval has made cowards of all British governments since 1971. Then, Britain embraced prohibition in support of the naive United Nations crusade to eliminate all illegal drug use. Perversely, prohibition is the direct cause of UK's 3,000% increase in heroin use and our disgrace of topping the European league tables of drug deaths and drug prisoners. The hapless Drug Czar's [Keith Helliwell] brief reign promised drug heaven and delivered a deepening drug hell. Now, drugs here are cheaper and more widely available than ever before. It's the same in the USA. Aping their policies condemn us to suffer their consequences.

Chronicle: To what extent is Blair's promised crackdown a political ploy designed to appeal to voters concerned about drug-related crime? And is the concern about drug-related crime overstated?

MP Flynn: Entirely. That is the answer to both questions. In the general election manifestos of both main parties the word "drugs" will be closely followed by the word "tough." None will promise intelligent policies based on outcomes. "It's not working so we won't fix it." With luck, the new government's vote glutton hyperbole may allow them some wriggle-room for change."

Chronicle: What is your position on the drug question? Should illicit drugs be legalized? If yes, what does that mean? Medicalization (heroin by prescription)? Regulation (like alcohol and tobacco)? The free market (crack in vending machines)?

MP Flynn: I largely agree with the Home Affairs Committee's splendid recommendations (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmselect/cmhaff/318/31802.htm) and the drugs charity Transform's new road map of post-prohibition practical reforms (http://www.tdpf.org.uk/Policy_General_AftertheWaronDrugsReport.htm). Both urge the provision of safe establishments for consuming heroin. Prolonged experience in Australia, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands prove that providing a clean supply of heroin in controlled conditions improves the health of users, cuts crime and drains the lifeblood out of the criminal market. Regulated, licensed decriminalization collapses the criminal market and puts the manufacture and sale of dangerous drugs into the hands of legitimate responsible businesses.

Drug treatment and education are convenient alternatives to radical thinking. If anti-drug education worked, teenage smoking would have declined. Treatment is better than prison and an element of reform. But it's not the answer. Internationally, the ballooning power, wealth and malign influence of drugs cartels and the Colombianization of large tracts of the planet will convince the world that prohibition is the problem not the solution. A realization will dawn that it's lethal folly to try to restrict the supply from developing countries when the problem is the demand from the streets of Chicago or Birmingham.

The realization of drugs policy failure is spreading worldwide. It will lead to divisions between reforming and prohibitionists nations. Exposure to the overwhelming evidence of lives destroyed not by drugs but by drug laws will win the arguments for the reformers. Britain is edging towards pragmatism. The highest hope is that the new government will be blessed with a good measure of courage, that rarest political commodity.

Chronicle: What about the UN and the anti-drug conventions? Do you see any signs of progress on that front?

MP Flynn: The UN campaigns under the deluded battle-cry 'A drug-free world, we can do it.' They claim to be 'on target' to eliminate all coca, cannabis and opium cultivation by 2008 -- a delusion of Olympic proportions. Happily other international bodies, in touch with sanity, have swapped prohibition for the realism of harm reduction. The World Health Organization and UNAIDS now routinely place achievable remedies at the heart of their programs and show increasing resistance to the prohibition industry.

-- END --
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Issue #367 -- 12/17/04

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items


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Editorial: He Would Not Torture | Dr. Hurwitz Convicted on 50 Counts, Faces Life in Prison | DEA Blocks Private Marijuana Research Grow, Path to FDA Approval | DRCNet Interview: Member of the British Parliament Paul Flynn | Investigative Journalist, "Dark Alliance" Author Gary Webb Dead at Age 49 | DRCNet Joins the Blogosphere With New "Prohibition and the Media" Critique | Ayahuasca Church Wins Temporary Victory in Supreme Court | Newsbrief: New Jersey Lawmakers to Ask Court to Stop Needle Exchange Programs | Newsbrief: Reefer Madness Threatens Hawkeye State, Iowa Drug Czar Warns | Newsbrief: Family Files $100 Million Lawsuit in Kenneth Walker Killing | Newsbrief: Alaska District Attorney to Challenge 1975 Court Decision Protecting Marijuana Possession by Adults | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Newsbrief: British Government Tripping on Magic Mushroom Policy | Newsbrief: World's First Random Drug Test of Drivers Results in World's First Random Drugged Driver Bust and Threat of World's First Lawsuit Against the Practice | Newsbrief: Efforts to Suppress Swaziland Marijuana Crop Founder on Poverty, Medical Need, UN Says | Newsbrief: Islamic Militants Kill Russian Drug Cops, Claim They Were Dealers | Web Scan: Afghan Poppies, European Hep C | Apply Now to Intern at DRCNet! | Internship Opportunities at MPP | DrugWarMarket.com Seeking Information, Affiliates, Link Exchanges | The Reformer's Calendar

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