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HomeCulture WarMadness of the universities going soft on hard drugs

Madness of the universities going soft on hard drugs


I DOUBT if drug dealers read the news much, but if they do they will be celebrating this week, particularly if their clientele includes students: good times are about to become better for peddlers of illegal substances. The Times reports that British universities are softening their stance on drug possession after pressure from an activist group who want drugs decriminalised.

Following a report from Students for Sensible Drugs Policy UK (SSDP), Universities UK (UUK), which represents vice-chancellors and 140 universities, is advocating so-called ‘harm reduction’ drug strategies. As the Times reports, the University of Manchester has axed its ‘zero tolerance’ policy of random drug checks using dogs and expelling students found in possession. This change in approach was adopted in response to campaigning by SSDP. The students’ union now offers drug-testing kits so instead of writing essays you can ingest powerful illegal drugs – that can still kill you – which a machine has verified are what they have been claimed to be.

The University of Bristol has followed suit and other universities, including Keele and the West of England, are now focusing on ‘support’. The former home secretary Priti Patel has called the new strategy ‘a disgrace’ and has called for an investigation.

UUK said: ‘The taskforce’s report . . . will not be condoning the use of drugs or supporting decriminalisation, but will be developing a proactive and consistent approach to student safety and health.’ 

This approach, which they claim is based on ‘welfare’, looks very much like one which removes all issues of legality, morality, ethics and campus regulations from drug-taking and helps students consume drugs, supposedly ‘safely’, through such measures as taking narcotics accompanied by a friend who remains sober so they can call an ambulance if it goes horribly wrong.

And it does go horribly wrong. The Times investigation has a list of young people who met appalling deaths due to drug toxicity. It focused on ketamine – a drug used by vets to immobilise horses – which is cheap and widely used by students. It is highly damaging, particularly to the bladder and kidneys, and can cause temporary paralysis as well has having severe mental effects. NHS cases number in the thousands every year and cases have trebled in six years. It is not just ketamine. All sorts of drugs are circulating around universities, including cannabis, ecstasy, LSD and cocaine, all of which are scientifically proven to be physically and psychologically injurious and potentially lethal. The ‘county lines’ trade moving drugs from London to smaller centres – worth an estimated £1billion – has recruited students as couriers, and the Times reports that dealers infiltrate campuses posing as students. These hawkers of dodgy substances will find life a great deal easier under the new ‘harm reduction’ policy.

(The growth of drug abuse among students coincides with 60 per cent of the top British universities sliding down the global league of educational institutions as revealed by Centre for World University Rankings this week. I wonder if the two issues are related?)

The SSDP maintains a pose of disinterestedness about drug use, claiming it does not condone or condemn, but a closer look at its website is revealing. A board member, one Hanna Head, advised UUK on its new policies. Head, a PhD student of ‘drugs policing’ at Birmingham University, announces on her Twitter account that she is ‘chronically poorly’ and all her tweets are hidden from public view. Chronically poorly she may be, but she appears to have wielded quite some influence over universities.

The recommended links on the SSDP website lead to organisations that clearly want to legalise street drugs.  One group featured, the International Drugs Policy Consortium – ‘a global network of NGOs and professional networks’ ­– has a director who is also secretary of something called the St Catherine Ganja Growers and Producers Association (ganja being a West Indian synonym for cannabis). Another member of its advisory council is a senior adviser of the Myanmar Opium Farmers’ Forum. 

The background to the latest developments is an unpleasant alliance of commerce and the la-la-land left, who are now implying that drug abuse is a branch of human rights policy, that the prohibition of cultivation and sale of drugs is a form of peasant oppression, and that the only answer is to legalise.

Drug abuse affects the least advantaged in society the most. That alone makes the social justice warriors’ de facto promotion of drug-taking absurd. Sending out a message that they are fine to ingest as long as you take precautions is not just factually wrong, it is also one of the most destructive things you could say to a young person facing all the challenges of life with few of its advantages. That British universities are now adopting this stance shows how intellectually and morally bankrupt the ‘educated elite’ have become.

But there is another basic stupidity in the ‘harm reduction’ policy: it consents for harm to continue. UUK’s stance is another instance of official defeatism over drugs, coming after many chief constables have in effect decriminalised cannabis and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has set up a working group to consider legalising cannabis, while the capital sinks in a morass of knife crime and disorder. Some action was taken against county lines drugs gangs under Patel, but a decision to soften drugs possession policy at universities will only increase the gangs’ trade.

Standard liberal left dogma has it that ‘the war on drugs has failed’. That assertion strongly reminds me of the eco-zealot mantra ‘the science is settled’ about climate change, when it is in fact far from settled. Likewise, if you delve into law enforcement of illegal narcotics in Britain you soon find that the so-called war on drugs has been qualified for years, with traffickers and dealers pursued while users are increasingly left alone to consume their ‘personal use’ quotas. When you criminalise supply but not demand that is not a war, so it is not surprising that it has been ineffective. Without fear of arrest, disgrace and potential ruin, many people will continue to break the law – and keep the illegal traders in business.

The liberal left is also apt to indulge in ‘what about’ arguments equating alcohol with drugs. There is no doubt that alcohol abuse can be risky, destructive and in some cases lethal. But there is a vast gulf between alcohol, which is steeped in history and tradition and which can be enjoyed safely by people of all ages, and mysterious chemicals that can kill you more or less instantly in small amounts, or proscribed herbs with a track record of precipitating psychotic episodes and paranoid schizophrenia

In looking at material about deaths from drugs, one is struck time and again by the horrific price paid by a very young person for an error of judgement made in haste; also the sometimes squalid and demoralised aftermath when blame appears to be shifted around to suit the survivors’ legal prospects; and finally the ruined lives of those left behind. In the case of campus deaths, adult authority and law should be working towards the eradication of circumstances where those fateful judgement calls have to be made by the young. ‘Harm reduction’ will fail to do that, meaning the chemical version of Russian roulette will continue.

With publication of UUK’s report and the softening of drugs policy, it must be faced that the promoters and legalisers of illegal drugs have now made great inroads into British universities. Parents, make no mistake, they’re coming for your children.

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Robert James
Robert James
Robert James is a national newspaper journalist.

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