This blog is written by Hope Humphreys, one of the members of the Anyone’s Child project.
If I was asked to say just one thing about drugs, it would have to be that: people who use drugs are not bad people. Then I would repeat it, and say it even louder, really shout it out : “People who use drugs are not BAD people.” That is the beginning and the end of it.
If politicians could be persuaded that this one statement is true, everything else would fall into place. The drug laws would be changed. Drug use would no longer be dealt with in the criminal justice system and drug users would be educated, helped and protected from uncontrolled dangerous substances. But how can I, how can we, persuade them?
I have campaigned with my husband for over twenty years, ever since our student son’s arrest on a drug’s charge. We discovered Transform in 1995, in its infancy, and have supported it ever since. We are now involved in their campaign, “Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control.” It is very aptly named: what happened to our son, all those years ago, could still happen to anyone’s child now. I’m getting on, getting old… I had hoped that the laws on drugs would have changed years ago. I have no power except to continue for as long as I am able, to illustrate and explain how dangerous and wrong these laws are. I can only hope that others who feel the same will lobby their MPs, will speak up whenever they get the chance, and will refuse to allow these terrible, indiscriminate laws to continue to criminalise, imprison and even kill our children.
Successive Governments have not been brave enough to stop and admit that what they have been doing since 1971 is not working. We are going to have to try even harder to make them change if we want to put an end to the damage and carnage they cause. Last year over 70,000 people were criminalised in the UK for possession of illegal drugs, and over 50 people died weekly from accidental poisoning – the highest number on record. This is not a system that is working, but something to mourn and feel ashamed of.
I started by saying that people who use drugs are not bad people. The majority are young: your children, your grandchildren, your friends, their friends, and maybe, even you. It is not exaggerating to say that most young people between the ages of 18 and 28 have tried illegal drugs. Shouldn’t our main concern be to keep them safe? Most drugs that are used recreationally would cause little harm if they were regulated and controlled like other dangerous substances.
Many young people who won’t “just say no”, are more scared of the Law, than the drugs, so “legal highs”, which could be absolutely anything, have become more and more popular and more and more dangerous. The government thinks that they will put this right by making all of those drugs illegal too. Shut down all the “head shops” and all will be well again. But when things are sold in the open, at least there is some control. The drugs won’t go away because the shops are shut. They will go underground to join the already illegal drugs and continue to proliferate. The death tolls are likely to be even higher next year. Certainly, there will be a golden opportunity to make even more criminals out of our young people. Is this what we really want?
Our son was a student at Manchester University. We were very ignorant about drugs. Our son and his adult student friends were not. They went clubbing and took ecstasy. They relaxed together and smoked cannabis. They did their studies but they had lots of fun too. The only problem they had with drugs was that they could never be sure what they were taking. They looked out for each other. They tried to be as careful as they could when they were using ecstasy and gauge the strength. They took turns to get the drugs and the pills were kept in a bowl in the communal sitting room. It was “pay as you go”. We would have never known anything about this if they hadn’t got caught. Our son told the truth that he’d taken his turn for his friends and his fate was sealed. You have to go to prison for intent to supply a Class A drug. There can be no exceptions. And this is still the case today. He and his friends were not bad people, but the law is unable to recognise that. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years, starting in Strangeways. I’m not going to talk about the brutality of prison and the terrible and tragic things that go on there. I just want to say that it is not the place for most people, let alone non-violent, first time drug offenders, and a criminal record and time in prison is a burden and handicap for the rest of a person’s life.
We were so relieved when Manchester University showed that it had more sense and compassion than our drug laws. They could see that our son was not wicked, not even bad. After prison he went back and did a Masters in Biology and Geology. But that does not put things right. If criminal records continue to be given to people who aren’t bad; if people who aren’t bad are still locked up, and if people are allowed to die because the drugs they take are left in the hands of criminals, it must be time for the Government to admit that they are wrong: to admit that the laws are much worse, much more evil than the people they are punishing. I still hope that the drug laws will change in my lifetime. Maybe if more people agree with us, and are prepared to help fight for change, it might happen. It is certainly something that is worth fighting for. It is also certainly something that WILL change one day. I really would like to live to see it, and rejoice.