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Deirdre Boyd: Why did I refuse next week’s Commons drugs conference speaking invitation? Because of its pro-pot bias

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To go or not to go? That is the question when invited to take part in supposedly objective drugs conferences and television investigations, behind which  looms the constant presence of one Sir Richard Branson.

Two seemingly flattering invitations to drugs policy events came my way this month. The first was to be invited to a Home Affairs Select Committee event at the University of Cambridge’s Homerton College on March 12th.  At first sight, it felt a welcome recognition of my longstanding work in the field of drug addiction, and of my new recovery solutions service (DB Recovery Resources). Moreover, it seemed like an opportunity to guide and inform public opinion – even as far as the United Nations.

But I was torn for days on whether to accept or not. Finally, I regretfully declined. Why?

The Home Affairs Select Committee’s invitation was entitled “The International Conference on Drugs Policy” and its findings at the end of the day were to be fed into the influential UNGASS, the United Nations General Assembly’s Special Session on world drug problems in 2016. Tempting. But a closer look raised concerns.

What exactly was a Parliamentary select committee doing hosting a drugs policy conference? Why had they chosen deputy prime minister Nick Clegg who, at the time of my invitation, was scheduled to chair it? He is a recognised proponent of drugs legalisation, going so far as to include it in his election pledge.  So I was aware of the agenda and bias of the conference before I was invited.  The list of speakers spoke for itself. Every single speaker bar one  – Sarah Graham, an addiction therapist – turned out to be  a high-profile legalisation campaigner, several from organisations funded by the convicted insider trader and fomenter  George Soros.

Only after I had publicised the biased agenda on my daily newsletter did HASC kindly invited me to attend. They also at the same time added a second ‘non-legalisation’ speaker to their invite list: Professor Neil McKeganey. But I could see it was still skewed. We would be the minority underdog against high-profile and well-funded legalisation campaigners, like Dr Julian Huppert MP, Baroness Molly Meacher, Roberto Dondisch from Mexico, Danny Kushlick of Transform, Professor David Nutt, who famously said taking ecstasy was less risky than horse riding, former policeman and cannabis activist Tom Lloyd, and last but not least Mike Trace, who was forced to resign his UN role when the Daily Mail revealed him to be the driving force behind an effort to disband the world’s anti-drug laws by stealth.

What chance would I have to support my colleagues?

Would this be like National Treatment Agency meetings I had attended too many times in the past (before it was abolished)  where vested-interest findings and recommendations were written before the meeting and then presented as an impartial consensus of all those present – and absent? Would it be like the self-styled United Kingdom Drug Policy Commission meetings (before it closed) which exploited the names of attendees as supporting its predetermined ‘consensus agreement’, when in reality there was a dearth of support?

Was I confident that any anti-legalisation points would be included in the final report to UNGASS? That I sadly declined the invitation gives you the answer. No.

The worry is now that UNGASS may believe this Home Affairs Select Committee report, that UK taxpayers are unwittingly funding, to be impartial.  Better to blog, I thought, and hopefully open their eyes to the truth.

The second ‘flattering’  invitation was to appear on Channel 4’s Cannabis Live programme on 3 March. Although warned in advance about its inherent bias – it was funded by both C4 and Soros-supported organisations, and known legalisation proponents were booked as its speakers – I decided to accept in the hope I would be able to capture some airtime for anti-legalisation views. (Declaration: my view is informed by the basic laws of supply and demand: increased availability leads to increased consumption. In addition there is, to my very real knowledge, so much disinformation about pot in the public domain that few people can make an informed choice).

It was the right decision; although it was questionable whether there was a need for a programme experimenting ‘live’ with substances that are already known to have significant and very negative side effects. It was also worrying that Professor Nutt was  an “independent” scientific expert on it, given his obsession with cannabis legalisation and his well known insistence that it is less harmful than alcohol.

A plus turned out to be Jon Snow’s and Andrew Marr’s very negative experiences when skunk was tested on them. Perhaps that’s why presenter Snow carefully inched my neighbour off his seat to interview me, allowing time for me to make some pivotal points.  These were particularly in response to Branson’s call for regulation [legalisation] of cannabis as a solution to the world’s drug problems. I pointed out  that tobacco is regulated yet kills  more people than any other drug in the world;   that alcohol, benzos and methadone are all regulated but follow tobacco in killing more people each than illicit drugs.

I also pointed out that the first paper linking cannabis and psychosis was published 170 years ago –  in 1845  – so this is not new. All my points were transmitted unedited.

A number of ‘silent’ audience members in Narcotics Anonymous introduced themselves and thanked me as we were leaving the studio.  It reminded  me of  US drug czar Michael Botticelli’s recent comment: “I do wish the recovery community was much more involved in anti-legalisation efforts.

However the trouble with Cannabis Live – posing as science when it was exhibitionist entertainment, as one distinguished former Professor of pharmacology commented to me afterwards  – is that it provided a launchpad for the differences between “beneficent” hash and “nightmarish” skunk to be exploited by the legalisation lobbyists. Their hidden agenda.

It was worrying that the programme ignored the harms from hash (as opposed to skunk) : yet these include the risk of psychosis, behavioural changes, lack of motivation, lowering of IQ, lung cancer, mouth cancer, motor crashes, lowering of fertility (a mixed blessing) – and the fact that pregnant women using hash can give birth to addicted babies with a range of mental-health problems and medical problems, including leukaemia.

At a press conference the next day, billionaire legalisation campaigner Branson was still calling for regulation (legalisation of cannabis) as a solution despite all the downsides he’d witnessed at Cannabis Live. Of course he did not mention that tobacco is regulated and it kills more people than any other drug in the world, for the simple reason that it is the most widely used drug in the world.

In his cloud cuckoo land, the 80 per cent of cannabis users who use skunk would downgrade to the milder version if they were both legal. I don’t think so. It’s against human nature.

Finally, it was left to David Nutt to round up the programme – with his extraordinary recommendation that skunk should remain low in the index of drug harms, in cannabis’s current place, while hash should plummet to the lowest ranking. Maybe he was too close to the skunk factory set up beside his artificial brain in the studio.

Had anyone in the audience changed their mind about being pro- or anti-legalisation, asked Snow at the end of the programme? Not one hand went up. I leave you to decide whether this infotainment fulfilled Channel 4’s mission to “keep public service values to the fore”.

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Deirdre Boydhttp://www.dbrecoveryresources.com/category/news
Among other projects, Deirdre Boyd heads up DBRecoveryResources, a free daily news service for the addiction-recovery field

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