It’s the monthly SciBar meet-up at the Port Mahon pub in St Clements, and we’re there to listen to what Professor Colin Blakemore has to say about the “War on Drugs”.
Blakemore, as well as being a professor of neuroscience at Oxford University, is also the CEO of the MRC and resident of the British Science Writer’s Association.
He said that 102 years ago a group of world leaders met in Shanghai to discuss the opium trade and that led to a concord of views of how to tackle the “problem”. A problem, may we say, that the British seriously exploited before it became a “problem”.
He said that when push comes to shove, politicians are scared to admit that there is a serious problem because they are frightened of losing their seats, that is to say, votes.
The official British attitude to drug use – that is to say drugs that aren’t booze and fags – is completely unscientific, said Blakemore. And the damage comes because the chains of supply are operated by crooks.
Even in countries like Portugal and the Netherlands, where the use of drugs has been de-criminalised, a blind eye is turned to the illegal supply chain. A piece he wrote for medical organ The Lancet three years ago showed that alcohol abuse was just behind street methadone. Sipping his pint, Blakemore said that if there was science in the argument, using alcohol and tobacco should justify a prison sentence of 14 years for supply.
“The science is more robust on the legal substances than the illegal,” he said. He suggested that if supply wasn’t in the hands of criminals, drug use would be considerably reduced. A little debate started about whether if drugs were decriminalised, supply should be in the hands of government or large corporations. We’re already seeing corporations moving into cannabis supply in California, of course.
And there’s another problem, he said. So called “legal highs” are really hard to regulate because people, for example in Chinese labs, just swap a molecule or two out and the law can’t keep up with this phenomenon.
Nicotine is more addictive than most other drugs, with the exception of the opiates, Blakemore said.