Up in Smoke 

  Up in Smoke 

Posted by FoM on December 13, 2001 at 20:36:11 PT
Source: Guardian Unlimited 

When Tony Blair appointed his first US-style drugs tsar, Downing Street was happy to see the tabloid press portray Keith Hellawell, the former West Yorkshire chief constable, and his deputy Mike Trace as Britain's new "drug busters". Many of those involved in fighting drug abuse had different expectations. They knew both men as effective campaigners who were prepared to think radically. There were hopes that their arrival might trigger fundamental change in Britain's drugs policy. 
But such hopes were dashed, and reformers had to wait four years - until David Blunkett's arrival at the Home Office - to see any movement. Now, in his first media interview since leaving the job of deputy drugs tsar, Trace has given the Guardian an inside account of what went wrong. Things were fine for the first six months after his and Hellawell's appointment in October 1997, he says. "Our instinct was that the most important thing was to develop a managerially strong drugs strategy. We didn't want to hit the ground running with big political controversies. We wanted to consult the field on sensible treatment and prevention policies." Looking back, Trace, a prison drugs charity worker before his appointment, thinks that was right. "During that period, Alastair Campbell [Tony Blair's press secretary] and the No 10 machine said they wanted us to 'think outside the box', but changes to the law on drugs were not on the cards. It was no coincidence that, in the days following our appointment, two separate cabinet ministers made speeches ruling that out." Trace says that Blair and Campbell were keen to maintain the "we won't go soft on drugs" media image. But behind the scenes, No 10 was surprisingly happy to let the pair get on with the job - "as long as Keith gave a speech every now and again along the lines of, 'Trust me, I'm a copper.'" As the new drugs strategy developed, serious new Treasury funds became available to develop prevention and treatment services. But as the money began to flow, and Hellawell's media profile grew, his and Trace's shared ambition for more radical change went out of the window. "That's when Keith and I fell apart," recalls Trace. "I don't think anything particular went wrong. We carried on with our agenda, but it was clear that what I had hoped to move on to once we had established the strategy - the issue of what to do about cannabis, for example - was not possible. "The political, ministerial atmosphere became more restrictive. Keith had decided that sticking to a line of 'saving the UK from the scourge of drugs' was more popular with ministers." The tone of Hellawell's speeches began to change and, privately, he was no longer willing to discuss more radical reforms. Trace had hoped they would move on to measures that concentrated on reducing the harmful effects of drugs and so downgrade what he calls the "doomed attempt" to halve drug use. "The crucial balance in drug policy is the relative prioritisation of resources aimed at, respectively, reducing the use of drugs or reducing the harm caused by their use. Despite setting off in the right direction, it is now clear to me that we are still spending too much on the former." The relationship particularly foundered, says Trace, when the drugs tsar "shamelessly" used a New Zealand study on the controversial "gateway theory" as the basis for concern about cannabis - despite all the evidence to the contrary. In October 1999, the scene inside Whitehall changed when Mo Mowlam was appointed the new minister in charge of the Cabinet Office's drug coordination unit. She had a strong gut feeling that something had to change. "She had a very liberal approach," says Trace. "She just felt she wanted to do something to move in line with public opinion, particularly on the medicinal use of cannabis. Key ministerial colleagues Jack Straw [then home secretary] and Alan Milburn [health secretary] were not comfortable with this liberal instinct and opposed Mo's attempts to move in that direction." The policy leaders got on with the work involved in expanding the drug treatment programme because it was one of the few things they could all agree on. But matters came to a head over publication of the Police Foundation report on drugs law reform. The inquiry, chaired by Viscountess Runciman, called for relaxation of the laws on cannabis and ecstasy. Trace says that Straw took control of the government's response. "As history will tell, we rebutted its key recommendations within 24 hours," he says. "Mo was too much of a loyalist really to make a stink about that, but basically she did not have a say in it, although she was nominally in charge of drugs policy." It was the only time they all sat down in Blair's Downing Street parlour to discuss drugs policy. The prime minister told Mowlam that he knew she had strong views, and might even turn out to be right, but he was too concerned about how a liberal line might play with the press and public. Blair indicated that his personal sympathies lay closer to Straw's position. "End of chat, and that was it for the next two years," says Trace. Mowlam had asked the Cabinet Office drugs unit to respond to the Police Foundation report by drawing up a paper with a full cost-benefit analysis of drugs legalisation and taxation, including heroin. It was dubbed the "nuclear option". Straw had countered with a request that the civil servants take a "low level routine look" instead at the possible impact of a slightly lighter touch in enforcing the ban on cannabis. Mowlam responded, in turn, by arguing for Straw's paper to spell out the implications of decriminalisation as well. Was the nuclear-option paper ever written? "No - Jack won," says Trace. "What the officials actually did was a relatively low key paper on how many million quid could be saved if we arrested fewer people for cannabis. The committee looking at the Police Foundation's recommendations never got a paper back on the reclassification of cannabis." If Mowlam had lost the battle to look at decriminalisation of cannabis, she persevered for another few months with efforts to try to bring forward its use for therapeutic purposes. "We had another six to nine months of Mo trying to bring up medicinal cannabis and of being ignored," says Trace. "It contributed to her general view that it was time to leave and that it was no fun any more. It ended some months after the Police Foundation report with Mo writing a letter to Tony Blair, saying she recognised that most colleagues did not agree with her on this, but time would prove her right." One of the major tasks for Hellawell was national coordination of government drugs policy. For years, the British effort - as in many other countries - has been weakened by constant battles between criminal justice agencies and the Department of Health over the policy aims. "It had become clear to us that having outsiders like us trying to run the show was not going very well," says Trace. "In my view, the civil service refused to work for us. It was obvious by the time the [2001 general] election was coming up that having outsiders with no direct powers, overseeing the implementation of a complex interdepartmental programme, was not working." In the event, Blunkett's Home Office took over the role of the Cabinet Office's drugs unit after the election. Hellawell was kept on as a special adviser, but in a reduced role, trying to make a difference at international level. Blunkett took the step that Straw had been unwilling to do and announced his support for reclassifying cannabis so that it would no longer be an arrestable offence to possess a small quantity. What of a final verdict on the drugs tsar? "Keith, in the first year, worked like a dog and was committed to what he was trying to achieve; I think that was a great time for him," says Trace, who is now performance director at the national treatment agency, set up by the government to raise standards of treatment for substance misuse. "As time passed, I think he became disengaged from the hard slog of implementation, concentrating on appearances only. It is a shame because there is more to him than that. In the last year he attracted a lot of criticism. The drug strategy we developed contained some crucial programmes that need to be followed through. It would be disappointing if this work - reducing drug-related crime, health problems and social exclusion - loses momentum under the new arrangements." Note: The appointment of Britain's first drugs tsar four years ago raised hopes of a radical policy shift. But ministerial pressure for a hardline image stifled talk of reform. Keith Hellawell's former deputy, Mike Trace, tells Alan Travis what went wrong. Source: Guardian Unlimited, The (UK)Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2001Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers LimitedContact: letters Articles:David Blunkett - An Authoritarian Inhales Softens on Cannabis Backs Soft Approach on Cannabis

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Comment #10 posted by FoM on December 14, 2001 at 15:57:29 PT
I'm glad you understand. I've had people who's name was in an article get upset and ask me why I posted it. I've learned that with doing news it takes a lot of thought. You can hurt people that you don't even know without even knowing it.
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Comment #8 posted by Rambler on December 14, 2001 at 15:12:02 PT

*** KEVIN NELSON, ALTERNET - The Long Beach Press-Telegram reports: A Poly High School senior who
                                                            played bass in the school orchestra took his life after being booked on marijuana possession charges, police
                                                            said. A police officer at Poly was notified at about 2 p.m. Wednesday that a bag of what appeared to be
                                                            marijuana was visible in Andreas Wickstrom's car, parked in a campus parking lot, said Officer Jana Blair, a
                                                            police spokeswoman. The 17-year-old student was taken to the Police Department's Youth Services Facility
                                                            when he returned to his car after school let out. He was booked there at 3 p.m. on the marijuana charge, for
                                                            showing false or altered identification and possession of items used in smoking marijuana, she said. His car
                                                            was impounded because it could not be left on campus after hours, she said. "His mother was contacted and
                                                            came down to pick him up. They were able to pick up the vehicle and return home about 5 p.m.," Blair said.
                                                            Minutes later, the boy's mother heard a noise, then "found her son in the bathroom, the apparent victim of a
                                                            self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A shotgun kept in the home was found beside him," Blair said. 

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Comment #7 posted by Elfman_420 on December 14, 2001 at 15:11:57 PT

Oh, I see
Well, that was probably a good idea. I gave the first name, but refrained from giving his last name until somebody asked for it. My friend had just told me a story about him a couple weeks ago that showed how innocent of a personality he had. Then this happened.My friend knew him quite well, and was very sad. He said he felt like his older brother. 
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Comment #6 posted by FoM on December 14, 2001 at 08:03:23 PT

I am really sorry about this young man. I think I should explain why I didn't post an article about the suicide. It was sent to me by someone from Map I think and I read it and looked at it and was saddened because of it. He is dead and I don't want his parents or friends in the future to type in their son's name and have it come up with a story about how he killed himself. I care so much that I try to think that far down the road and out of respect for your friend and his family I just can't bring myself to do it. I love people and I never want to hurt them by something I post. I hope you understand. I'm really sorry for your loss. I really am.
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Comment #5 posted by goneposthole on December 14, 2001 at 07:00:50 PT

story above, story below
"Things went fine for the first 6 months after his and Hellawell's appointment in October 1997, he says. 'Our instinct was that the most important thing was to develop a managerially strong drugs strategy. We didn't want to hit the ground running with big political controversies. We wanted to consult the field on sensible treatment and prevention policies'.""As the new drugs strategy developed, serious new treasury funds became available to develop prevention and treatment services. But, as the money began to flow, and Hellawell's media profile
grew, his and Trace's shared ambition for more radical change went out the window." Kieth Hellawell gave way to political pressure.The story below is a case of a political agenda influencing public policy. To yield to poitical pressure is not necessay when a sane public drug policy is in place. What we have is less than what is expected. A sane policy towards mind altering substances would have prevented such drastic action by this poor soul. He was subjected to ridicule because of the insane current drug policy. "The voodoo that they do."Man slaughter charges should be filed.The Emperor wears no clothes.

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Comment #4 posted by kaptinemo on December 14, 2001 at 06:02:07 PT:

The truth comes out, at last
"The prime minister told Mowlam that he knew she had strong views, and might even turn out to be right, but he was too concerned about how a liberal line might play with the press and public. (Emphasis mine -k.) Blair indicated that his personal sympathies lay closer to Straw's position. "End of chat, and that was it for the next two years," says Trace.We've all known this; sometimes, even our pols admit this...after they've had a few martinis or Wild-Turkey-on-the-rocks. But never has a pol on either side of The Pond admitted this in public...until now. The effects of this admission could well be explosive. Because it shows beyond a shadow of a doubt, as events in Great Britain have demonstrated, that Ms. Mowlam's course of action was the correct one...and the MP's there who fail to see this now had best brush off their resumes; they'll be needing them. Because when the pols are so out of touch with their own constituencies (as the Labor government has shown itself to be) they should not express such surprise when the inevitable backlash we are witnessing over there takes place. Like it or not, the old saw about "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" holds true for human affairs as it does for physics.As to the suicide of that poor kid, I can only add that I am a great believer in the idea of karma; 'equal and opposite reactions', remember? Or as my instructors were forever telling me: "what comes around, goes around". It may take a while, but those school officials and police will eventually reap what they've sown...and it won't be cheap.
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Comment #3 posted by CorvallisEric on December 14, 2001 at 04:01:26 PT

elfman_420 and dddd
I just happened to see this yesterday and remember being very upset about it. Thanks for the additional insight. Final part of newspaper article:
Andreas' aunt, Diana Haye, said he was humiliated by his arrest. 
"All he repeated to his mother on the way home ... was 'they treated me like a common criminal,' " she said. 
"He did not seem distraught when he was in custody," Blair [police spokeswoman] said. 
"He was nice and friendly and showed no sign of depression ," said Poly Principal Shawn Ashley, who said he checked on the boy as he was being arrested. 
Andreas, he said, was a "bright, talented kid who, when he was focused, would do a wonderful job." 
Counselors came to Poly Thursday to talk to shocked and grieving students. 

Long Beach newspaper story
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Comment #2 posted by dddd on December 14, 2001 at 01:41:52 PT

Is that Long Beach CA?....Do you know the date it happenned?.....dddd
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Comment #1 posted by elfman_420 on December 14, 2001 at 00:52:21 PT

Another casualty of the drug war..
This has nothing to do with this story, but I thought I would share this rather disturbing story with you all. My friend and I were driving home from college today, and he told me this story I am about to tell.My friend had a friend in high school who was two years younger than him, so he is now a senior in high school. Well, this kid is in a "magnet school" and is in an accelerated program at this "magnet school". He is a very good student and has been working for the last 5-6 years very hard to get good grades so he can go to a good college.Well, last Wednesday something happened. School officials saw a bag of marijuana that was barely visible in his car. He was arrested and taken to police headquarters where he was to be picked up by his parents. Here is where the story gets interesting. The kid felt as though they were treating him as a common criminal, so he told the cops about how he was a great student thinking they may ease up. The cops then proceeded to tell him that he probably wouldn't get into any good colleges with this on his record, which I am sure this poor kid translated into "All that hard work was a waste of time." They proceeded to explain other ways this charge would negatively affect him, but the part that hurt him the most was the part about college. I guess the cops thought this would scare him out of doing marijuana, but the cops were wrong. His mother picked him up and all he did on the way home was tell his mother how horribly they treated him and kept repeating the phrase "They treated me like a common criminal!"They got home. My friend's friend then proceeds to retrieve his fathers shotgun and shoot himself.This is a great example of how drug laws are negatively affecting our nations youth ON A PERSONAL LEVEL, as well as how a simple possession charge can negatively affect so many aspects of a persons life. I wish the story had received more attention, though I could see an anti saying something like "See!!! Reefer Madness was right!! Marihuana does cause you to go crazy and commit suicide!"FoM, this happened in Long Beach, and I'm not sure if you would be able to find the story, but it won't go quite into this much detail of what the cops said to him. It would, though, mention the drug charge and him saying "They treated me like a common criminal!" to his mother. If you want to find this story and want a name, FoM, let me know and I'll get the full name. (His first name is Steve, if I remember correctly)

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