The Drug Debate and The Wedinos Project

Photograph: Alamy

Today I’m writing about a subject which has fascinated me for years: Drugs.

When I say drugs, I am talking about any substance with the capacity to alter one’s perception and/or behaviour.

When you think of drugs in those terms, you see that the net can be cast much wider than the usual suspects, to encompass things like alcohol, tobacco, caffeine – even sugar.

Of course, some substances have much more dramatic effects than others, but why are some of them legal and some of them illegal?

Back in the 1800’s both cocaine and heroin were legal, and were marketed as tonics to help relieve things like toothache. In fact (and not many people know this), morphine was sold as solution for mothers to give babies who were suffering during teething, and later developed by Bayer into Heroin which is actually the brand name created by the pharmaceutical company.

Image: Medfriendly
Image: Medfriendly

Most people are aware that Coca-Cola used to contain real coke – to “stimulate the mind and prevent fatigue”. Well, that’ll do it!

In the early 1900’s in America, alcohol was illegal, but alcohol is now a legal and thriving multi-billion dollar industry, which provides plentiful tax revenue for the government.

So why is there so much hypocrisy entrenched in the laws governing psychoactive substances? Why is it OK to get strung out on coffee or inebriated on whiskey, but it’s not OK to dance and hug people all night on ecstasy?

Year on year, alcohol has been a key contributing factor in over 50% of all violent crime in the UK.

In 2009, UK Drug Tzar, David Nutt was forced to resign from his post when he pointed out that alcohol and tobacco caused more harm than LSD, ecstasy and cannabis. This scandal was a perfect demonstration of how governments only want science to back up their political stance, even if it is wrong. David Nutt refused to skew his findings, which were based on a catalogue of factors, taking into account how much damage a substance caused to the individual, as well as socially (to the rest of us).

All the current prohibitive drug laws create is fear and ignorance. Fear and ignorance feed each other through the use of propaganda (which maintains the illusion that all legal drugs are fine and all illegal drugs are evil) and ignorance, fostered by an obtuse refusal to engage in any sensible and open debate.

The simple fact is this: Human beings enjoy altering their experience of consciousness and have taken substances to do so since the dawn of time.

But illegal drugs are dangerous aren’t they?

Well, in 2012 there were just over 1,600 deaths which were attributed to illegal drugs, whereas there were just under 8,800 attributed to alcohol alone. The frustration lies in the fact that many of the deaths from illegal drugs could be prevented if we lived in a more open and tolerant society.

Finally, however, there seems to be an intelligent solution emerging in the form of The Wedinos Project.

The Wedinos Project is a pioneering organisation, which offers individuals an anonymous means of having legal or illegal drugs tested to confirm what active substances they contain. It is being funded by the Welsh government in response to an increase in the circulation of unknown psychoactive substances.

Of course, this isn’t a new idea. There have been ‘Safe Houses’ in Holland since the early 90’s, where people can have their drugs (predominantly ecstasy) tested before use, to ensure they aren’t adulterated (containing dangerous toxins or risk of unpleasant side effects). Holland has long been known as one of the more tolerant and realistic societies. Rather than outright banning substances and refusing to get involved in anything other than the policing and criminality of drugs, they understand that if they can’t stop people getting high at least they can take steps to make it safer. Which seems far more intelligent to me.

Since it’s approval, the Welsh government have received harsh criticism. According to Wales Online, the majority of this has come from the Conservatives, suggesting that the Welsh government has “given up on it’s war on drugs”.

The thing is, and the thing that most reasonable questioning minds have known for ages, is that the ‘War on Drugs’ isn’t working. At the 68th General UN Assembly last year, Otto Pérez Molina, President of Guatemala said

 “We cannot continue doing the same thing and expect different results”

Rather than demonising people for the decisions they make over what  they want to do with their own bodies (for more about this opinion, watch Doug Stanhope’s stand up comedy); rather than repeat the same mistakes again and again in the hopes that if you tell people “No! You’re not allowed to do that”, that they’ll eventually just stop doing it – despite all of the evidence to the contrary; rather than repeatedly banging your head against a brick wall and then wondering why you have a headache…

…just swallow your pride, admit maybe you were wrong about a couple of things, and try something new.

This isn’t a ‘Legalise Everything’ post – although I happen to believe it wouldn’t be the worst idea. This is simply me defending the first reasonable attempt by a UK government to try and minimise the damage caused by substance misuse, and an attempt to actually try and understand what they are dealing with for once.

And I applaud that.


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