The Royal Baby and Drug Policy

So, the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant. While I worried about the 15% possibility that she might miscarry and suffer the deflation of a nation, Nick Clegg announced that the Succession of the Crown Bill (which would make the first child of William the heir to the throne, rather than the first boy), which requires letters of assent from all 16 Commonwealth Realms, would be put to Parliament next week. Next week! How remarkably quick for an issue that has a 50% chance of even being an issue at all and would not need to be address for at least two years if it were.

So, while Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the UK got their act together for the sake of the soon-to-be third in line to the monarchy, here’s some of the drug laws they have in place:

Country Notes
Saint Kitts and Nevis A Brick Kiln man will have to come up with $15,000 for various drug charges or serve time in Her Majesty’s Prison.Additional Magistrate Janine Harris handed down the stiff fine on Aldre Maynard on Tuesday (July 17) when he appeared before the court and pleaded guilty to three marijuana charges.Maynard was charged with possession of cannabis, cultivation of cannabis, and possession with intent to supply cannabis.”
 Australia “See also: Cannabis in Australia

Decriminalized for personal use in small amounts in the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. It is a criminal offence in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. Enforcement varies from state to state,[4] though a criminal conviction for possession of a small amount is unlikely and diversion programs in these states aim to divert offenders into education, assessment and treatment programs.[5] With the rapid expansion in hydroponically grown cannabis cultivation, the Australian Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act (1985) was amended in 2006, reducing the amount of cannabis grown indoors under hydroponic conditions that qualifies as a ‘commercial quantity’ or as a ‘large quantity’[5]

Bermuda “The maximum penalty for drug dealing is ten years in jail and/or a $500,000 fine.”
Canada “see Legislation: “Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” [14]
 Jamaica “Cultivation, retail and consumption is illegal. However this is often overlooked and cannabis is sold openly.[50]
 New Zealand “Cultivation, possession or sale of cannabis is illegal.[65] The fruit, seeds, and any other part of the plant are scheduled as Class C substances.Hashish, hash oil, THC, and any other preparations containing THC made by processing the plant are scheduled as Class B substances. In July 2009, a bill promoted by Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei amending the law to permit the use of medicinal cannabis was defeated 84-34 at its first reading, with all members of the ruling National Party voting against it[66].[68][69]
Belize “On July 16, the government of Belize released a press statement announcing the appointment of a committee to evaluate a proposal to decriminalize marijuana possession. The committee – to be headed by a former police minister – was appointed by the Minister of National Security. The proposal in question seeks to remove criminal sanctions for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana and instead impose fines and mandatory drug education. Currently, possession of less than 60 grams of marijuana is punishable by a fine of up to US$26,000 and/or up to three years in prison.”
 United Kingdom “Cannabis is a Class B drug (moderate risk) in the UK. Possession of less than 3 grams however, is likely to result in mere confiscation and a written warning.”
Solomon Islands “Drug use is illegal in Solomon Islands, and can lead to prison sentences. Swearing is a crime and can lead to large compensation claims and even jail.”
Grenada “Law enforcement agencies in Grenada cooperate well on drug control. They meet regularly to plan joint operations, thereby maximizing available assets. The government opened its National Coordination Center for law enforcement in 2001. Through August 2003, Grenadian authorities reported seizing approximately 40 kilograms of cocaine and 155 kilograms of marijuana. During that period, they arrested 456 persons (21 non-nationals) on drug-related charges and eradicated 3,434 marijuana plants. Grenadian law enforcement authorities seized nearly ECD 300,000 ($115,000) in connection with drug-related cases. The police drug squad has collaborated closely with DEA officials in the targeting and investigation of a local cocaine trafficking organization, which has associations with South American and other Caribbean traffickers.”

So, if it’s going to take a week for the entire constitutional fabric of sixteen states to be rewritten, how long do you think it would take for decriminalise drugs if any politician really wanted to? How many people would that benefit?

Something to think about.

Drug Decriminalisation: a Good Idea, but not Enough

The big story today is the UK Drug Policy Commission report calling for the decriminalisation of small amounts of cannabis and, later, other drugs. The full report, which you can read here, talks about “supporting responsible behaviour”, and “promoting recovery from drug dependence”, and working with local communities and drug users to “take a problem solving approach”.

Which is great. That is definitely so, so much better an idea than the £3 billion we spend every year on prosecuting the drug war. But the number of organisations saying nice things like this is growing by the day. Simply decriminalising users  will not have much effect on the £13 billion lost through drug-related crime each year. And look at the harms table they list!

How many of these harms will be done away with simply by fining drug users instead of jailing them? If we agree that criminalising drug users is a bad idea, why should we civilise (?) them instead?

Nonetheless, I think this report really adds something to the debate. It’s definitely one of the first I’ve seen that says we need to face up to the face that many people use drugs for sane, rational reasons:

[W]e have to recognise that, for many users, drugs bring something to their lives that they value, be it pleasure, relief from pain, enhanced perceptions or performance. This perspective challenges the prevailing wisdom that all drugs are inherently ‘bad’ if used for non-medically authorised purposes.

If the government were to simply admit that actually, nice people take drugs, I imagine a tsunami in drug policy would ensue.

To my mind, though, arguing for decriminalisation in today’s hurrah-for-Uruguay climate is liking arguing for civil unions for gay people. It made sense when we were first talking about gay rights. But with so many nations with full same-sex marriage, and many who originally brought in civil unions “upgrading”, many LGBT activists views them as so 2008. Civil unions are now just a sop. So it is with decriminalisation.

The UKDPC admit that the case for regulation is already being made by others, but states that the evidence is lacking for its efficacy:

We appreciate that some will argue that the risks of the commercialisation of controlled drugs could be contained with careful regulation and that our position does nothing to deal with the negative consequences of the current system in places such as South or Central America, Central and South-East Asia or increasingly parts of Africa. It also would not address existing problems with drug contamination and unpredictable dosage levels. But our assessment is that such a change could lead to some hugely negative unintended consequences, and
should be treated with caution.


It is mildly disappointing that a commission which makes such points as

…there can be no serious challenge to the fact that we have inconsistent control and regulatory frameworks governing the availability of different psychoactive substances. The separation between these drugs and the illicit ones is entirely artificial and historical. In a world where policy could be made without reference to current behaviour and past decisions, that separation would probably not exist.

can then go on to deny that leaving that framework in place poses a major obstacle to effective regulation of drugs, “soft” or otherwise.

But it is true that we don’t yet know concretely what effect the legalisation of drugs would really have on states. It is this which makes the fact that Washington, Colorado and Oregon are holding referenda on the outright legalisation of cannabis after successful experiments with medical marijuana, which stand a reasonable chance of winning, so exciting. Because maybe if one area, somewhere, will just take that step, and prove that the world won’t end, we can stop discussing “minimal civil penalties” and “drug treatment referral panels”, and start talking serious drug law reform.