Posts

50mg/l blood Alcohol

One of the consistently dissapointing things about the Tories is the attitude towards alchohol. Cameron and Co have thoroughly bought into the Daily Mail “Binge Britain” hysteria. Many will say that this means that Britain is still Governed by Authoratarians and Cameron’s no better than Labour. These people are of course idiots.


However criticism where criticism’s due. The Con-Lib plan to drop the blood alchohol level from 80mg/L to 50mg is stupid. Britain has the safest roads in Europe despite being one of the booziest nations. This is because Briain has (believe it or not) decent roads, a regime of car inspections which takes many unsafe vehicles off the road, a high standard of driving (drive in Spain, then disagree…), and few people drink and drive. In the 60’s when accident rates were looked at, alcohol consumption played less of a part than Car mechanical safety, road standards, and driver experience. Clearly DRUNK driving is stupid, but there are few people who do that.

The law is reasonable at the moment. It is possible to have a glass of wine or two with a meal, and drive home. You are not remotely drunk, and if you’re sensible, you’re not posing a risk to anyone. If you’ve been out the night before, 80mg allows hungover people (who’re not taking the piss) to get to work. It is not the 50-80mg/l drivers who are causing the crashes. It’s people like this.

…the high levels of alcohol and sedatives could have impaired her driving ability, judgement and perception. Mrs Morley had 256 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood…

COULD have imparied her driving ability? Someone who gets into a car blotto is not going to be deterred by a lower limit. And it is the seriously drunk driver who causes crashes, not the ‘one glass of wine with a meal’ driver.

I am aware that ANY level of alcohol impairs driving performance, but this has to be put in perspective. Tiredness is FAR more dangerous than driving with a blood alchohol of 80mg/l. How many of us have driven after a red-eye flight? How many of us still use a Mobile occasionally when driving? And 80mg of Alchohol is less than the difference in safety than that between a good driver and a bad one: A middle-aged person in a well maintained car, obeying the speed limit with 80mg/l of alcohol in their blood is safer than an 18 year-old stone cold sober, who’s got 3 weeks of driving experience and is showing off to his mates. Frankly I’d rather have George Best on the road with me than anyone in a BMW.

Statistics say that “alcohol is a factor” in just 20-30% of Road Traffic incidents. (if anyone can point me at some real data, rather than paragraphs from alcohol prohibitionist charities, I would be grateful). Given that the police breathalyse EVERYONE and record alcohol as a factor when there is ANY alcohol present, I suspect the real figure is lower: a Tiny percentage of Drunk Drivers are causing a disproportionate number of accidents, and the majority of reasonable drives who may have had a lunchtime pint have accidents at a similar rate to everyone else.

Driving is risky; it cannot be made totally safe. But part of the reason for the success of the British anti drink-drive laws in reducing the social acceptability of drink driving, not in reducing the blood alcohol of drink drivers. And part of this is the fact that the system has broad support. And the support stems from the fact that the draconian enforcement (police waiting outside pubs armed with breathalysers), and severe punishment, is allied to a reasonable “allowance” for a pint on the way home or having a bit in the tank on the drive to work in the morning after.

The risk of dropping the drink drive level to 50mg/l will be that this broad consent is lost. Before the law is made harsher, I would like to see evidence that people falling into the 50-80mg/l range are causing a lot of accidents. I suspect that MOST of the drink related accidents are in the 160mg/l plus range: ie people who have already ignored the existing law, and will ignore the new one. Focus on the people disobeying the existing law. Don’t try to catch those who broadly agree with the legislation by changing the goal-posts, and don’t pretend that someone with 51mg/l blood alchohol is as bad as someone with 160 mg, which is what purse-lipped “road safety campaigners” seem to want.

The Conservatives are also worryingly similar to Labour on the Binge-drinking hysteria and are proposing the profoundly stupid minimum unit price for alcohol. I would like to see some research which puts the ludicrous 21 unit/week limit to the test before punishing sensible drinkers. But a reasonable government which doesn’t seek to blame SOMEONE (else) for society’s ills? Does ANY democracy have one?

Cameron & Co are profoundly wrong on Alcohol. But they were profoundly wrong before the election. Please don’t say they’re breaking any promises, nor are they as bad (this issue aside) as the last lot.

Phew, What a Nutter!

Professor Nutt’s sensible and measured description of the harm that various recreational drugs do has caused an entirely predictable storm of indignation from the knee-jerk prohibitionists. This is just as last time he questioned Government policy. Except for one crucial factor. The press is starting to see through the prohibitionists’ case, based as it is on willful prejudice and habit and is broadly supportive of the sacked scientist. Obviously there is no sense from the ususal suspects, but Just as the Tabloids were still (and still are) puff bashing long after homosexuality was made legal, they will lag society and the law on this issue too. Now that even the Daily Mail carries an article supporting Professor Nutt, it is clear which way the wind is blowing.

Drug policy is my political weathervane. Anyone who cannot see the logic of freedom on this issue where the limits of state power over the individual are so starkly demonstrated, is an idiot who shouldn’t be listened to on anything else.

The scientists who advise the Government, not just on this issue, but on others too are considering their positions, and a raft of resignations may yet follow, as professor Nutt was not criticising Government policy but setting out the Harm done by various drugs. Legal drugs were included, to put the harm in perspective. This is something the British people can see, and the press coverage is backing him up. Guido’s post is worth reading in full:

The sacked Professor David Nutt has turned the tables on Alan Johnson. Johnson keeps repeating angrily that the professor should stay out of politics, the professor is squarely saying that politicians should stay out of the science.

Professor Nutt opposed the re-up-grading of Cannabis to class B, and opposed the ‘clarification’ of the law which saw Magic mushrooms in their fresh state classified as class A, as neither move reflected the harm to individuals and society from their use, and brought the law into disrepute. I would like to see the Conservatives make some party political capital out of this, but I suspect they’re still afraid of the Daily Mail tendency, even though most of the public (though not, crucially, the majority of Conservative voters) are in favour of some relaxation of the law. Chris Dillow sums it up beautifully:

It seems that when public opinion is wrong – for example on immigration – politicians pander to it, but when it is right they ignore it. The function of representatives in representative democracy, it seems, is take all the idiocies of public opinion, and when these are insufficient, to then add some of their own.

More Drug Law Lunacy.

In 2005, the sale and possession of fresh mushrooms containing Psilocybin became an offence – the fresh shrooms are now a Class A drug. Before the “clarification” of the law, only dried or otherwise prepared mushrooms were outlawed. This was in response to the “problem” of an increase in the number of shops selling these mushrooms: usually Psilocybe cubensis. Did anyone notice an increase in the number of hippies wandering around, giggling during 2004? Was there a rush of admissions to hospital with magic mushroom poisoning in that year? Were shroomed-up thugs raping grannies, and stealing their pension-books to get their next fix of fungus?

No.

There was no reason for these mushrooms to be made illegal, except the Government wanted to be seen to be “tough on drugs”, and to send a message.

Naturally, there are a number of exceptions. Psilocybe semilancea grows on most sports pitches and sheep ‘fertilised’ farmland, and is extremely common in the UK. Possession is legal if it is merely growing in your garden. It is also legal if you can “prove” your ignorance and can argue that you were looking for edible mushrooms. As a result of these exceptions, there has never been a successful prosecution for possession of this mushroom: Frankly the police have better things to do than arrest people for a crime that has almost no chance of reaching a positive result and is as close to victimless as it is possible to get.

Amanita muscaria

The other main effect is that it is now impossible to buy Psilocybe genus mushrooms, but Amanita species remain legal, the most popular of these is Amanita muscaria. These are mildly psychotropic but are also mildly poisonous, and there have been several admissions to hospital, though no deaths… yet. People are still trying to get high, but are doing so with more poisonous species. Whilst the Fly Agaric pictured above is unlikely to kill you, it does have some much, much more dangerous cousins, with which it shares a number of characteristics, especially in early stages of fruiting. It is only a matter of time before some young psychonaut mistakes an immature A. muscaria for A. phalloides a species also appropriately known as the death cap.

Nice one, Government.

The War on Drugs


I’m a libertarian. That means I believe in freedom of choice is for the individual and not the state. With that principle underlying most of my political beliefs, I find a dilemma with drugs. Cannabis should be legalised from a personal freedom point of view, and there is no need to go through the arguments. It’s “hard drugs” which pose the greatest problem for society and lawmakers.

Being addictive, especially the opiates and the highly refined chemical drugs, can freedom of choice really be said to be exercised by the individual? Does the state have a duty to protect the British subject from substances that remove freedom by encouraging addiction? That is the principal argument behind the “war on drugs”.

The state, I believe does have a duty of care, and therefore should act to limit drug use, but the prohibition of sale and interdiction of supply are doomed to failure, especially in a free society. THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A BUSINESS AS PROFITABLE AS ILLEGAL DRUGS. This morning, the Government spokesman on the subject Paul Goggins boasted about an increase in seizures of drugs at ports. Well that’s more likely to reflect greater flow than greater success in stopping the trade. Even if the supply were temporarily interrupted, the price in the market would rise, and so would the rewards to potential traffickers. In any case 60% interdiction is necessary to seriously disrupt the supply chain instead of the 20% stopped now.

The drug lords therefore operate in a Government guaranteed oligopoly, but do not have to provide any welfare for their staff or customers. Indeed the cutting of drugs with less than savoury mixers to increase profits leads to many of the health problems associated with drug use. Furthermore, there have been cases of a wave of overdoses if a batch unusually pure heroin for example hits the street. All these are symptoms of the drugs’ illigality, not the drug itself.

The crime associated with drug use is also, in part, a symptom of government policy. The policy of interdiction keeps the price artificially high, and once hooked, an addict will find it harder to get help than he otherwise would were drugs legal. Because the price is high, theft is easier than work to fund a habit. The surest way to fund a drugs habit, though, is to become a dealer yourself, and this guarantees an efficient pyramid marketing scheme that creates more users. It also puts layers in the supply chain, each further insulating the organised criminals who run the business from the law. People who like, for example a bit of pot to pass round with their friends, or a tab of MDMA for a party get exposed to this criminal marketing scheme. This is dangerous.

Drugs are bad for you. Nothing will change that, but prohibition makes the situation worse. Instead the resources (huge resources) that are currently tackling the supply should instead be directed at limiting demand through education of the dangers and rehabilitation of addicts. At present, the government is treating heroin addicts with methadone, even more addictive, which is just crass. Instead a rehabilitation program using the real thing, as has been successfully used in Switzerland would be more successful.

By removing the extreme sanctions against drug use, users would be more inclined to seek help before they lose their jobs and lives. Habits would be easier to sustain from within normal society, so the effects of a habit would be mitigated.

A state sanctioned supply of all drugs would break the criminal hold on the industry. The highly efficient pyramid marketing scheme would collapse. The price would fall and habits would become cheaper to sustain. The drugs themselves would become purer and less harmful to health. Demand for some of the really harmful drugs would recede. Why take crack or crystal meth when cocaine or heroin is freely and cheaply available?

This issue is one where a 180 degree change in policy is needed, but one where the “daily mail”* viewpoint would mean that the best solution: total legalisation of everything combined with vigorous anti-drugs propaganda and massive increase in resources for rehabilitation, would be political suicide. The daily mail arguments against such a policy “Government says drugs OK”, “Kids free to be hooked on drugs” can be safely ignored, but there are real risks to such a policy.

Arguments about the increased availability of drugs undser a legalised regime are reasonable. You are never more than a short bus ride away from your next hit, even in the leafy suburbs, but a legal supply is easier than an illegal one. It is likely however that, in the short term at least drug use will increse as people experiment. Just as with Tobacco, this will receed with time and education. Organised crime, denied its most lucrative business, will find something else to do, and that won’t be pleasant. Someone is going to make a legitimate profit from the sale of drugs, and that is difficult to stomach. It will be hard to legalise something so clearly harmful, but I feel it is the least bad option.

Whatever the objections, it is clear the current policy is failing everyone except organised crime. It is time for a radical rethink. I would really like to hear anyone’s opinion on this, so comment away!

*for American readers, the Daily Mail is a nastly little right-wing authoritarian rag with pretentions to seriousness, parodied in the BBC’s Yes Minister as “the paper read by the wives of the people who run the country”. If there is anything wrong with the Tory Party, it is the Daily Mail’s opinion that is at fault. The only paper I hate more is The Guardian, a tedious left-wing rag for sanctimonious, pretentious sociology students and Islington polenta-eaters that represents everyhig about the smug left that I loathe.