The theme of this year’s Hit Hot Topics
conference was ‘The Road Ahead’. As each
speaker began to explore the theme, it
became obvious that we needed to talk about
the obstacles in our way. Pics by Nigel Brunsdon
rug law enforcement was bound to be at the top of the agenda for a
conference that cares passionately about harm reduction. While drug use
was ‘ubiquitous, right across the population’, drug law enforce ment was
‘a tool for social control’, said Niamh Eastwood, executive director at
Release. Furthermore, it had before a weapon against the poorest and
most vulnerable, designed to ‘push people out there’.
‘We have to call out the “othering” of people in society,’ she said. ‘We have to
end criminal sanctions for people in possession of drugs’ and instead look at
helping them back up into housing and stability.
Writer and researcher Imani Robinson asked us to think about the world we
were born into. ‘We’re taught to give our trust and to normalise particular things.
We believe what is told to us about drugs,’ she said. ‘Think about a time when you
felt safe. Did anyone think about police, prisons and surveillance? Yet this is the
narrative – that we need these things to feel safe. We normalise these ideas.’
The narrative had become contaminated with racism – not just structural
racism, but internal racism, where you are ‘born into a world that tells you are
better’ – ‘a whole system of power and privilege’.
‘You can’t talk about drug policy reform without talking about racial justice
because they are the same,’ she said, and there was much to do on every level. ‘Myths
are used to tell children they’re going to die if they take drugs. We act as if this is real,
and that punishment is the best approach to deal with harm and violence.’
To make any progress we needed to take ‘a level of stepping back and realising
who we are’.
Neil Woods, chairman of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP UK)
12 | drinkanddrugsnews | December/January 2019
brought particular experience to the argument for urgent drug law reform. As a
former undercover drugs detective sergeant, he had come across corruption driven
by the drugs black market ‘a great deal’ within the police force – of which the public
The only way to change the shape of this market was to accept the need for a
radically different approach.
‘At the beginning of the 1960s there was no organised crime related to drugs,’
he said. ‘If people had a problem they got help, and there was no association with
theft. We’ve gone from the prescription pad to the hand grenade.’
A high proportion of drug crime was driven by people who used heroin – ‘so the
logic of using heroin-assisted treatment is that you take half of the market from
organised crime, just like that.’ County lines were mainly about the heroin market,
‘so if you prescribe heroin you take away half of the market that drives child
exploitation,’ he said.
Woods believed we needed to be bold in our actions, adding ‘history will judge
society in the same way as we judge slavery or the treatment of homosexuality.’
‘Prohibition lies need to be exposed and challenged,’ said researcher and activist
Julian Buchanan, who built the case for a human rights approach.
‘There’s never been a global drug problem, but a global drug policy problem,’
which needed to be confronted, he said. Our attitudes and prejudices were built on
a ‘social construct’. ‘Drug free’ didn’t exist because ‘we all use drugs’. Alcohol,
tobacco, caffeine and sugar had ‘become the components of every social event’ and
as state-approved substances, were ‘untouchable’. The idea of banning drugs was
based on ‘propaganda and racism’.