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HomeNewsSarah Graham: I don’t want Russell Brand and Co deciding drugs policy

Sarah Graham: I don’t want Russell Brand and Co deciding drugs policy


No-one is more surprised than me that I’m writing this blog urging the public to reject this call from celebrities to legalise drugs.

I love Russell Brand – as a comedian. But I really don’t want him deciding drugs policy. Sting? He’s a good singer and respected on the yoga-front, but here is why I think he and all the other signatories in their letter to the Prime Minister have got this issue wrong.

When I was a 14-year-old dope smoker I was desperate to have a cannabis leaf tattooed on my wrist. I was under the legal age for tattoos and the law protected me from myself. Thank God!

As one of the cool kids (in my own mind). I was a free-thinker: “It’s my body, it’s up to me what I put in it”.

My rebellion started young: I was asked to leave the Brownies for refusing to swear allegiance to the Queen (aged 8). In my early teens I appalled and shamed my poor Conservative-voting Father by having Marxism Today delivered to the house. So I can’t quite believe I’m writing this blog for The Conservative Woman.

By the time I was 15 I’d ignored drugs laws on many occasions – scoring my cannabis from a man called Hare (who looked like Dylan from the magic Roundabout on a particularly bad day).

In 1984, I took a small group of school friends to (the last) Stonehenge Free Fun Festival and, in the course of one day, persuaded my hostages to try many of the free-market cocktails of drugs that were on sale and advertised on blackboards in front of benders (the opposite of glamping).

We snorted lines of strong speed, smoked many varieties of cannabis and dropped some acid among the ancient stones (the Henge ones- in case you are wondering).

The car ride home (my dad picked us up) was a real trip. And pretty scary. Two of those friends never spoke to me again.

So how on earth did I end up on the uncool side of this debate I hear you wondering? (metaphorically, I don’t have psychosis today).

Long story short: after graduating from Goldsmiths’ College, in very good health (gym/work addiction), I became a “functioning” alcoholic/addict and through my 20s had a successful career as a radio journalist, then producer/director in TV.

I drank oceans of free booze in green rooms, used Es in clubs most weekends and snorted a sizeable area of Columbian rainforest – in the form of cocaine – in the Groucho Club toilets.

Did I ever worry about getting arrested? Nope. We know from Release’s excellent report, The Numbers in Black and White: ethnic disparities in the policing and prosecution of drug offences in England & Wales, that my chance of having the law enforced, as a middle-class white woman, was fairly remote.

The private Soho media clubs I frequented were never raided. Scoring on the premises or having drugs delivered by courier was not a problem.

My denial of addiction was based on, “I work, I am successful, therefore, I cannot be an addict”.

In 2001 my dad died and the wheels came off. I became ‘that person’ who drinks first thing in the morning and who can’t leave the house except to score.

I wanted to kill myself.

Instead I did eight months of residential rehab in the Priory. I am very lucky I could afford this private “luxury”. Left in the NHS system I would probably be dead – or on methadone and unemployed.

It wasn’t getting clean and staying clean (for over 12 years now) that made up my mind that we need drugs classification under The Misuse of Drugs Act. (This Act is often presented just as a list of prohibited drugs and of penalties linked to their possession and supply but its converse side is necessary drug licensing for establishing safe and tested legal medicines.)

It was the issue of so-called Legal Highs that really persuaded me that a) classification does work (albeit imperfectly) and that b) the alternative – freely available, heavily marketed, chemicals (that are potentially deadly) is a disaster.

Please watch this six minute video of me at the Oxford Union on June 5th speaking against the motion – This House Would End the war on Drugs.

Kathy Gyngell, Prof Neil McKeganey and I defeated the motion 60-59 (a minor miracle – but take hope politicians this debate can still be won with young people).

As I said to the Oxford Students- the two biggest killers are alcohol and tobacco. These drugs are so widely abused exactly because they are legal and so socially accepted.

Alcohol and tobacco products are marketed globally by the biggest pushers there are. This is the IMAX in London yesterday.

Imax Budweiser

Do you have any idea how hard it is to stay sober in early recovery? This kind of thing is a nightmare. Shame on you BFI & IMAX.

And these powerful industry lobbyists have derailed the PM’s sensible plan, in England, for minimum unit pricing of alcohol; and they have fought tooth & nail to prevent plain cigarette packaging.

Do we really want cocaine, meth and heroin producers to have a legitimate place in the lobby halls?

The sad fact is there will always be people like me who use drugs – no matter what the legal sanctions – because they are addicts.

I’m not going to tell you my backstory here but it contains many of the usual things I hear from my addiction clients on a daily basis – childhood trauma, sexual abuse, bullying, sexuality/identity issues, low self-worth, feeling on the outside, toxic levels of shame, etc. For people like me, in the absence of proper long-term therapeutic work and mutual aid/ 12 Step group help, alcohol and drugs feel like The Answer to our pain.

Addiction can impact any family and people affected need clinical assessment by addiction experts, proper abstinence-based addiction treatment – in a healthcare setting – and help to rejoin humanity and the opportunity to contribute.

We do need to amend laws so that those in recovery can rejoin society – without the past always blighting the future – and visit Disneyworld with the kids without fear of being sent home in disgrace.

We are really failing to tackle the demand for alcohol and drugs in the UK.

Drugs education is a national sick joke. Very few schools really do it well. The Amy Winehouse Foundation are rolling out a good programme I helped them to start.

And do you know we haven’t got a single rehab for teens in the UK. No really! Watch this.

I urge politicians to ditch plans for a juvenile super-detention centre and invest instead in teen rehab(s).

By putting this injustice right we will really tackle future demand for drugs.

Everyone reading this, please wake up- there is a billionaire-funded global push to legalise cannabis. So these unscrupulous capitalists can cash-in.

This will be a mental health disaster for our young people.

I’m proud to give my time for free to be a member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

Classification is far from a perfect system. But it does work. Please for the sake of our children – join me on the uncool bench – politicians round the world stand firm and ignore the global juggernaut to legalise drugs.

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Sarah Graham
Sarah Graham
Director, Sarah Graham Solutions. Addictions therapist, a recovering addict and a member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Sarah runs an holistic treatment programme out of the Hale Clinic in London.

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