Fixing drugs


Forty years ago, Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs with the intention of creating a drug-free world. Despite the time and money spent enforcing this prohibition, drugs are still readily available all around the globe. In fact, with an estimated value of around 321 billion dollars a year, the illegal drug trade is considered by the UN to be the third biggest market in the world, trailing only the arms and oil industries. An increasing number of high-profile activists, including former presidents and UN officials, are now calling for an alternative for the War on Drugs.  And, of course, on the sixth of November [2012] two American states – Washington and Colorado – voted to legalise the recreational use of marijuana. Coming from the country that has advocated and policed the drug war internationally, this development is being held by some to be a turning point in our attitude towards drug policy.

Sue Pryce’s book Fixing Drugs: the Politics of Drug Prohibition, assesses the arguments that prop up the drug war. In this podcast, Sue talks to Roger Howard, chief executive of the UK Drug Policy Commission about the political and personal aspects of the drug problem.

Roger Howard: So, your book ‘Fixing Drugs: The Politics of Drug Prohibition’ – can you tell us what led you to researching and writing the book?

Sue Pryce: Well, I was a lecturer in politics anyway, but this was not a particular area of interest even to me. Then my son became a heroin addict. He got picked up by the police one night. He did not see a solicitor but he did ask them to phone home and say he got picked up. Well, I knew that meant that he got picked up for drugs, because I knew he was using ecstasy – cannabis too. We searched his room before the police arrived to do it and found green liquid which tasted okay but I had no idea what it was then. Of course, it was methadone. And lots and lots of tin foil with lines on it, which meant absolutely nothing to me. I was that ignorant of drugs. But my husband, who was in the air force, knew instantly because they had been told about drugs. So, we discovered  he  was a heroin addict, and I just thought ‘Oh, that is okay. We will get him treatment and it will all be sorted.’ How wrong I was.

First of all, ten years ago the treatment was not available. The national treatment agency gets slammed for lots of things but actually the availability of treatment did increase.  It does not mean the quality was always good, but the availability.

But not just that, he was involved in selling E’s to friends and that was funding his drugs. So, everything went from bad to worse. He went to prison, he went to various detoxes and rehabs. Phoenix House, the Clouds House, a place in Norfolk, there was the Priory in Nottingham, the Nottingham Clinic, various things. Some we funded, some the state funded. But he is still using heroin.

So, during the time he was in prison I trained to be a substance misuse councillor, and when he came out I was sure he would be off drugs but the first thing he did with the money the prison gave him was score. So, we went through all these things again. We paid for lots of things for him like courses in web design – he is very talented in that direction – but he still uses heroin. I had been confident that it would be sort-able’ but he said [04.10] ‘I do not think I will ever become not addicted.’ I said ‘Nonnsense’, but now I am beginning to think like that.

And that led me into reading about drugs, into thinking about drug laws and thinking about politics, and thinking about all this evidence out there and all the things people said publicly but did not mean. And the discrepancies between what politicians said about drugs and what they really thought about drug laws, drug policy. There seems to be such a gap.  And I suppose I just got interested in reading about it.

Then I had an interview for a job in prison as a prison drug councillor. And, very near to the time of the interview I met an external examiner and he said: ‘Why not create a course on politics and drugs and drug policy, and teach it?’ And I thought ‘Ah, I suppose so. I could do that.’ And that is what I did. And I teach narco-terrorism as well, which is a post-graduate course on the link between drug funding of terrorism.  It is a hugely popular course. Students are very interested in this subject.  You might think ‘Oh well,  drugs are a sexy subject. Yes, students are going to be interested.’ But, it is amazing how many of them had not realised the impact of the drugs and the drug war on Third World countries, developing nations, the producers of drugs. They had not realised the discrepancies between what is a legal drug and what is an illegal drug being so flimsy. I take a daffodil and dandelion and I say ‘Okay, what is the difference?’. They are both yellow, and they could both be described as flowers and a botanist will probably say there isn’t a difference but convention says one is a weed, and one is a flower -we treasure one and we pull the others up and cut them down and everything. In a way, the difference between legal and illegal drugs is the same. It is a social convention not pharmacologically determined.

RH: We will explore more of the international stuff as we go along, and with some of that the links and how society views drugs like alcohol. But, if I go back to your own personal experiences and just reflect on that, you have obviously been on a painful journey.

SP: Very, I am still on it.

RH: Indeed, but you are not alone in that. There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of parents and family members in the United Kingdom, who have gone through not a dissimilar experience. Everyone, every family is different, we all know that.  But your book is very much a challenge to policy makers to say we cannot go on in the same way we have gone on before.   However, this field is littered with very polarised views. On one hand we have people who we might call euphemistically liberal – and I class you in that – but you may challenge that. On the other end we have, the caricature is very hard-line – people who take a very hard-line approach.  So can you explain how you as a family (and you as an individual and an academic) have reached the conclusion that the way things have been going is not sustainable.   Yet there are other parents who have reached a very different conclusion. Who think ‘We must ban these substances. We must make it really tough. We must lock people up’.  These are two caricature positions. Yet, you and other families may have gone through the same experience.

SP:  It is very difficult to explain that. If you look at some of the support services a lot of people, if you are a parent, would advise you to throw the addict out. Tough love. And, some of the support groups like Narcotics Anonymous, say ‘Do not fund the habit’. I can accept what they are saying but I guess you cannot divorce your child. If your child fell off a horse – now, I am sure there will be parents who if they hear this would say ‘You have got no idea’-  but if your child fell of a horse you do not just walk away from them. And, to me, somebody like my son is a drug user, he is not a rapist, he is not a murderer, he is just somebody – there were a lot of drugs around. I cannot blame his friends, he took it himself, he moved from one drug to another. I am not saying there is a scale that everybody who uses cannabis will use heroin because some people go straight to heroin, and some people use cannabis all their life and never use any other drug. It is just it was there and he used the stuff.

I have heard parents say the government must do something. I remember after the big methadrone scare just over eighteen months ago listening to one of the mums of one of the young people who died saying, the government must do something, they should ban this. And, I had enormous sympathy for this mother, she had lost her son. And she was a nurse, so she had some idea of the medical implications of everything. But I thought ‘Why would banning it stop it?’. My son is a heroin addict, it has been banned for years.  Has it stopped it? No.

It is not going to stop it, so you have to face up to the fact and find other ways of living with it, dealing with it and not ostracising people who use drugs.

RH:  So, would you describe yourself as an arch pragmatist in policy terms, whereas some other people  are idealists. And this might account for why there is this polarity in some way and it is trying to get underneath the skin of why some people think the solution is crack-downs and others think there is a different way to approach this.

SP: Part of me want to say people’s instinct is to crack down. It would be anybody’s instinct.  But they are not familiar with the field. And I think that I am – not just on my academic side and reading,  but from my personal experience. I cannot extrapolate my experience to everybody else, but I can say my personal experience led me to read everything, and I thought there is a lot wrong here.

RH: Let’s go into your book then, and lets jump right to what struck me, as somebody who has worked around this field for a number of years.  I think it is the first time I have ever seen it articulated as such but one core conclusion is there is no solution to the drugs problem. Tell us what you mean by that?

SP:  A lot of government is about managing problems. It is not about solving problems.  But when politicians stand for election, they promise to solve things.  They do not come in without  policies that will ‘solve the country’s problems’.   And drugs are a problem. But, they are a problem to be managed rather than solved, just as individual drug use has to be managed – sometimes more effectively, sometimes less effectively.

We have to look at different ways of managing them.  Nothing will convince me that the  ‘drug war’ is managing anything.  Indeed,  I think it has made things a whole lot worse.   I am not looking at people in this country when I say that. I am looking at abroad, everywhere. Who would want to be living in Mexico or Guatemala?

RH: Lets break down some of that. You talk about there is multiple harms that come from the UK and international global approaches to tackling drugs. Could you just elaborate on what you see those particular harms as being?

SP: There are quite a lot of them, I try to categorise them because I think it makes them more readable and understandable – but  categorising them, suggest they are separable.  Whereas they are not. They all interconnect.

Let’s take social harm as a starter. Socially, what harm do drugs do?  Firstly, they have an impact on families  – and by that I do not mean mums and dads like me who are coping with a heroin addict son – I mean children who are coping with addicted parents. Secondly, they harm communities where people are dealing drugs, stealing to support drug habits that they cannot afford, prostituting themselves.  And there are health issues. This all comes under what I call social harms in communities.

So, health harms. By having an attitude of ‘don’t do drugs’, ‘just say no’, ‘they are bad for you’, we do not actually explore the degrees of how harmful some substances might be. We do not say: ‘Well, actually if you use them in these kind of circumstances, they are going to be considerably less harmful if you use them in this way’. For example, if you smoke heroin rather than inject it, it is considerably less dangerous. You are not likely to get all these diseases from impure substances, you are not likely to have an overdose. So there are ways of doing these things. That is not saying go out and be a heroin addict, it is saying there are harms, it is being honest.   And there are other health harms – the spread of HIV from injecting, users sharing equipment, spread of Hepatitis C. The very fact you do not know what you are injecting or taking, ingesting in any way. In terms of its strength, you do not know in terms of its purity, its quality, what is has been mixed with. All of those are harms.

And the fear of being burgled, fear of being mugged – crime is a social harm.

RH: You are talking  about being honest (you were saying that is absolutely critical), and managing the problem rather than solving it. But as one politician said, somebody very famous, I cannot remember which politician, ‘We know what to do, we just do not know how to get re-elected’.

SP: Yes, but I would say it is the job of politicians – and I actually think this is happening, we can look back probably in thirty years’ time– and we can say: ‘Yes, the climate of opinion was changing.’ What happens if you want to change a policy? Particularly a policy where you have spent a hundred years telling people that these substances are more harmful than anything else they can possibly take. When you spend a hundred year doing that, you have got to change the climate of opinion. You cannot just say: ‘Okay, lets legalise all drugs’. To do these things incrementally, you have to get people used to the idea, maybe de-criminalising cannabis? Maybe de-criminalising by stealth.  Indeed I think decriminalisation of possession, by stealth, is creeping in the backdoor at the moment here. You do not do it all at one go.

Your organisation [the UKDPC, UK Drug Policy Commission] has produced a recent report looking back over the past six years of your research, that is an opinion-forming piece. Reports like this are all contributing towards a changing climate of opinion.

Then, the leaders of the countries in South America, the countries that we call ‘producer countries’, ie they are net producers of drugs. (They do use the drugs themselves and they have drug problems too. But they are net-exporters of drugs).  Some of their leaders are now saying: ‘We have got to change.’

And then you have a generation of people growing up who have used drugs, who know that they are not more dangerous than alcohol. Alcohol is dangerous, but people use it. Tobacco is dangerous, but people use it. Everything is dangerous. People like danger. We are human, that is what we want.

RH: But I have come across a lot of people: younger people, middle-aged with families, and in fact they are incredibly protective of their children.  Even though those these people used drugs themselves, as you say, casually with no particular repercussions, or no observable repercussions, they are quite tight on this, it’s: ‘Do not do as I do, do as I say.’  

SP: Parents have always had a prerogative on hypocrisy.

RH: Indeed, indeed.

SP: I have tried not to do that with my children and people would say ‘Well, that is why you have an heroin addict.’ But I also have a son who is married, has a perfectly normal life and he is brought up the same way.

RH: Conventional?

SP: Yes!

RH: But one thing, if I can. Part of the problem in this debate, and what has been put back to me by a number of very senior politicians who have been home secretaries over the years, is that we do not have the counterfactual.

SP: Of course, yes.

RH: This is a real problem if we think about evidence.    If we do not have the counterfactual.  What would happen if we did not do something, or we did it differently.

 How are policy makers meant to act in this situation where the cost of doing the wrong thing could be very, very substantial. Not just to them politically, but it could mean lives, it could mean the economy’s wrecked, it could mean communities wrecked, etcetera. They could argue – again, as I have heard them say: ‘We have kept a lid on the problem.’  They have managed it, they would argue.

SP: Yes, and I do not entirely reject that argument. You cannot measure what has not happened and any discussion of change involves a degree of speculation what is it going to be like.

I think there is genuine fear that everybody will suddenly become drug addicts. I think that is wrong. I think probably more people will use drugs, and a percentage will become addicted. But actually, if you said to politicians what is the drug problem in this country. I do not think they will be talking about ecstasy or cannabis. They would be talking about crack users, heroin users, who deal and steal to support their habit. Because they tend to be the people for whom addiction becomes a major illness and they opt out of the system, they do not work. And then, if everybody became like that there would not be enough worker bees!  Clearly, that is a problem society might face. But you can say that with alcohol.

RH: Do you think the precautionary principal is wrong then, to be applied here?

You raise the issue of alcohol, but it’s like ships coming in different directions. For example, if you look at what health officials and lots of politicians, if you look at Scotland and Ireland, Australia  – they are wanting much, much stricter regulation and controls over alcohol and tobacco.

People could say: ‘hang on a minute. If drugs were found now, we may not have started from the position we’re in now.’ But, there is lots of controls coming in from the alcohol side. And people are saying: ‘Lets hold the precautionary principle line on drugs, because it could get empathically worse.’

SP: I guess it could. I think that is obviously going to be a risk. That is probably why I think incremental change might be the way forward to decriminalise.

I have never been terribly in favour of decriminalising possession, I am only in favour of it as a sort of incremental step because I think it only would solve the going-into-prison-because-you-have-got-drugs side of it. But incremental change will not solve the problem of violence, the systemic violence associated with the drug trade. It will not solve the problem of the impurities of drugs and it will not solve the problem of not knowing the strength of a drug.

RH: You are talking about incremental change. What sort of steps do you think are going to help begin to get a different response?

SP: I do not have immediate answers for this because I do not think legalisation will fix the drug problem either. That is what I am trying to say in the book. I think that nothing will fix it, it might manage some of it better. But when I see what alcohol has done to people and the violence it causes to families. I am just horrified that actually, you can walk in and buy alcohol. I have seen what alcohol does to people is both astonishing and hugely depressing. And when we talk about children being brought up with heroin addict parents, we do not talk much about children brought up with alcoholic parents. I feel the alcohol problem is out of control but I think it can be managed.

RH: But there are fewer people… I mean the level of alcohol use has been going down. Total sales have been going down, haven’t they? And in fact drug use – to be clear to the listeners – drug use has been going down in the past few years.

SP: Yes, it has been going down, which suggests that by giving information, people have seen the effects – the poor effects, the bad effects, the harm these things do.  People step back and think: ‘Perhaps I ought to control my use of this a bit more.’

RH: Okay, let’s go global a bit now. Because, it is obviously something you’ve studied here. Many countries have banned various substances in their history but they allow the use of others. Try to help us understand how we went from that situation where certain drugs are virtually universally banned and other are not. And we could contrast Islamic societies and the West.  Just talk us through how you think we have got where we are today.

SP: It is an interesting history. All drugs were semi-controlled, semi-legal shall we say, with some restrictions gradually developing towards the end of the nineteenth century. But countries did have their own pet drugs, the drugs that had customary use –  like alcohol and tobacco smoking in the West.  But once upon a time tobacco smoking was a capital offence in Germany and in the Soviet Union. And similarly, alcohol was a capital offence in some countries – Mexico, I think at one point.

So, why is it then that by 1909 everybody starts to buy into a particular menu of drugs?

Well, it would seem that it is partly determined by economics, which is no surprise.  At the time, China was a very closed society, still very closed to exchange, to trade, and Britain had… the first drug wars of course fought by us trying to force the Chinese to buy opium: the Opium Wars. And they would become a change round. China eventually allowed us to sell opium after we fought two wars and they lost. We won, we sold the opium. They started producing their own opium. America, which has always had this puritanical strand, as much as it is also one of the biggest drug using nations, America was keen to maybe suck up and become friendly and trade with China. America also inherited at that time after the Spanish-American War the Philippines, and the Philippines had a major problem with opium addiction and opium dens. So, America becomes very anti-opiates. It is seen as foreign, it is seen as something that immigrants bring into the country.

So, what you have is Western powers beginning to turn against opiates, products of the cocoa, cocaine variety and derivatives and cannabis or marijuana as it is called in America [28.03]. You get a turning against these products. Now, these products were seen by America – and to some extent the rest of us – as external, alien. They came from other countries into our country, whereas alcohol can be brewed anywhere from plants to weed and grain and so. It is a substance that occurs everywhere. So, the menu of substances that became that became controlled was the menu of substances that the powers that were the dominant powers, the hegemonic powers at the time – and that was America and Western European countries. And so, the drugs that we produced, tobacco and alcohol, were accepted – although America did subsequently go on to prohibit alcohol – and other drugs were prohibited. It is partly also that at that time democracy is spreading, particularly in the West.  People’s awareness of the impact of drugs is growing. It is useless to pretend that there are not adverse impacts of drugs [29.18]. People would be getting more aware of addiction, more aware of it. Pressure groups were developing amongst the professions: the medical profession, pharmacy was developing as a profession, seeking to control people’s access to drugs. So a particular menu of drugs that suited our economic interests –  by ours, I mean Western capitalist countries – was the end product. It is not because these drugs are more dangerous.

RH: In your book, you quote Milton Friedman, that well-known Chicago School economist, beloved of certain ideologues. But you quote him as describing the prohibition as the drug dealer’s best friend. Just tell a little bit about how you see that stacking up.

SP: In my mind I am writing another essay or article called Prohibition and its Discontents. And so I thought: ‘Who are its contents? Who is happy with prohibition?’ And of course, it’s the people who make big money out of it. If you were a terrorist and you wanted money to fund your activities why go and rob a bank? It is so easy to sell drugs, it is so easy because there is a big market of people out there who want to use drugs. So you turn to drug production. If you are of criminal intent and want to make easy money, why rob a bank, why rob a jewellery shop? Why not just sell drugs, because it is so easy. And that is why it is the drug dealer’s best friend. It is easy, the chances of getting caught are very slim – as we know. About ten per cent is interdicted. And, it is just easy money because you and your customer both want to commit a crime.

RH: Let move on then and think the United States has been on the vanguard of international prohibition since years, it is decades ago. The global power positions are now… the tectonic plates are re-aligning to some degree. Economically and politically, we are seeing Brazil, we are seeing China and India and places like that beginning to become more stronger economically, stronger politically. And in South America we are seeing change in drug policy. Talk us through about why you think that might be happening now and where you might see that going in this international dialogue. Because we are dealing with a global phenomenon.

SP: Take South America, one of the changes that are taking place is the growing strength of their economies. Countries like Columbia, Brazil – not so much central America – but Mexico. Their growing economies mean they are able answer back. When you have things like certification over aid from the United States, Columbia is being de-certificated for not towing the line with drug policy. Countries were dependent on the United States, some of them are becoming less so now. That is one thing. Second reason is that they are beginning to say: ‘Hang on a minute, we are fighting in a drug war on our territory. We are the ones actually getting shot, we are the ones with corrupt states and corrupt forces, corrupt police and so on. But it is your people who are using the drugs. Perhaps you should take a little look and have a rethink.’ I remember watching a program about David Sands, and I quote him in my book. He is saying: ‘The whole world regards drugs as noxious.’ And I thought: ‘Actually, an awful lot of your countrymen clearly do not, because they are snorting coke like it is going out of fashion.’ And okay, the market has levelled off in America, but the fact is that people use drugs all over the world and it is not necessary the producing countries that have the major problem. It is the consumer countries.

RH: Picking on that, just focusing on that group who have become dependent – in the popular par answer – become addicts. Going back to your ‘managing the problem’, I could hear Mr. Angry from Tunbridge Wells saying: ‘Well, that is their problem. They got themselves into this, don’t do the crime if they don’t want to the time. And, we have to manage that. They are not going to get a job. And this is the way how we manage it.’ This would not be an unfamiliar argument.

SP:  I agree. I was reading something by Peter Hitchins on the way up, saying we have not really fought the drug war, and that is the problem. And I can see there is an argument. I think you can make an argument that we have never really been serious about it and, if you see a successfully fought drug war, okay, go to China, under communist China. Yes, you can fight drugs, you can kill people who use drugs, you can kill people who sell drugs, you can wipe out enough people and people will stop using them. Sure, you can do that.

But, you have to balance that. Do you want an autocratic society where you wipe every kind of weakness? Or do you want a liberal society, were you say some people are really crap, they do not manage their lives, they are going to take drugs, does it really matter? Well, perhaps it does not, if we are prepared to pay for it.

RH: You are talking about changing culture. Do you think society is shifting to see drugs and drug use more as a health challenge, a public health challenge then perhaps in the past?

SP: Yes, I think they are. That is all part of what I mean by a changing climate of opinion. I decided in that book when somebody, one of the readers of it, said it was very polemical for legalisation I wanted to say: ‘It is not polemical for legalisation.’ I would never fit with transform, for instance.  I am much more tentative, pragmatic. Try a little bit of this, try a little bit of that and certainly I am strongly down the public health. Let’s deal with addicts as a public health problem. If we channelled more money into addiction I am fairly confident that, if we provided the right kind of analytical behavioural therapy support for addicts that it would have a much greater effect on being able to treat addiction. But it is very expensive, and if you are a politician, how do you sell training lots of really, really good drug workers who can work individually, who can work with a client very, very regularly and do writing therapy and all this kind of thing. How do you sell that to people who have got relatives with cancer who want front line medical treatment? Politicians have to sell a policy to a taxpayer. I remember being at a conference where the then Minister for Drugs – I forgotten his name but I mention him in the book.[37.09] He is the one who came out in favour of changing everything after he was not a Minister anymore. People kept asking him why is going all the treatment to the prison service? It should be outside. And I thought ‘Because he can sell it as a law and order issue. He cannot sell it as a public health issue.’ You have got to understand politicians. They have not got money. We have got money, they have to sell it to us. They have to make us buy into that policy.

RH: But could I put it to you that, a bit like sheep stealing was on the statute books for many a decade before tackling it and putting people in the stocks and sending them off to Australia. And the law withered on the vine. Letting a law wither on the vine is a very, very pragmatic solution and a way to manage. And do you think that is in effect what we are seeing?

SP: I think we are gradually seeing it. I think what we are already seeing it – and this is something I do agree with Peter Hitchins over – is that we have had decriminalisation by the back door. We do not need to rush about and do what Portugal was doing, we are doing it. We have been doing it for a while. Britain created harm minimisation way back in the 1920’s with the Rolleston Report which was all about prescribing for addicts. Perhaps we need a little bit more of that.

RH: But there is a new political paradigm now on recovery in this country which, some would argue, is very ideologically driven  – abstinence. What would you say to those idealogues that champion this line of argument?

SP: I think recovery would be wonderful for anybody who can achieve it. But I do not think you can just prescribe recovery for people and it is going to happen. Recovery is the new political rhetoric, it is shaping everybody in the sense that everybody has that word now on their agenda: towards recovery. But everybody who works in the field knows that there are people for whom recovery is not going to happen. Or, if it is going to happen, it is going to happen as they mature out of it, or some other life change happens that has nothing to do with their substance misuse and they recover. And that is good. I think having recovery is a good idea. But I am not sure even politicians believe in it.

RH: Now one area we have not touched upon, and you are talking about recovery and there. These get to be conflated and confused. But most people would think an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and recovery. What role sort of formalised education about substances, about prevention efforts, what role do they play do you think from your research that you have done for this book?

SP:  Research suggests that drugs education actually has a negligible impact at all. I have talked to a lot of students who, unlike me, have gone… been a generation that had drugs education. And the problem with education – I think it is good, I think you should put it in – but it may not stop anybody who is really going to use drugs. He is probably going to use them anyway. So, I am not sure. But I think education is a good idea but it should be honest. That no, you are probably not going to die if you use these drugs. You could if you are unlucky. You could if you are unlucky and you eat peanuts, if you are that sort of person with a peanut allergy. But, drugs can really mess up your life, and the life of those around you. And, I think probably the best education is to mix it with people who used drugs and let them tell their own story. Let them just share what has happened to them, and what they would not like to see happen to you.

RH: Here we are doing this interview, the day before the American elections [6 November, 2012. Note editor]. There are a couple of things, aren’t there? One is that the global reach of the American president in this whole issue, but also this… we stand on the… there are three states, I think, that have local laws, state-wide referenda on legalising cannabis.

SP: I doubt it will get through. It did not in California in the last one. It was very, very close.

RH: But might that change much? Might that be a game changer, as they say?

SP: I think it is part of a change in game, to be honest. And I think the game changing is been going on. You could say the real game changer was perhaps the Netherlands, when it began to take a liberal policy. You can then say Portugal carried the torch now, you have got south…{42.20} It is a growing climate of opinion that feels that we might have got this drugs thing wrong and maybe we need to think again. Or, and I am happy with your ‘wither on the vine’ idea. I think that is quite good. But I think that, yes the drug laws are partly withering, certainly in this country, and have been for a long time. Perhaps we have never taken it terribly seriously. We have always regarded it as a bit of a nuisance. It is a practical thing, we are pragmatic people. We are not ideologues about it, we do not think drugs are wicked and you should not do them end of story.

RH: Let’s finish with one last pragmatic question, and you are the pragmatist. And, there you were elected to power. You certainly found yourself prime minister. What would you do about the drugs problem?

SP: If I had the resources, I would provided much, much better treatment for people who become addicted to drugs. And I would not police possession of drugs at all, and I would introduce testing of drugs. So there is a bit of a slight of hand, as in Holland, the Netherlands, where you can test drugs for purity and try minimise harm as much as possible health-wise to people.

RH: But you would still keep them controlled?

SP: I would always keep them regulated, like legal drugs. I think they do need regulation, yes. I think anything that can be harmful needs regulation, but I think putting people in prison for doing it, for using these things is nonsense. You know, we look back at Ballad in Reading Gaol, and we think: ‘Did we really used to put people in prison for homosexuality?’ We will say in twenty years time: ‘Did we really put people in prison for possession of drugs?’

RH: Sue Pryce, thank you.

Transcript by: Maarten van Schaik

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