8: Drugs, prohibition and harm reduction: A conversation with Dr Ben Boyce

A conversation with Dr Ben Boyce, ranging widely over some of the fundamental issues of the field, from how societies decide what to label as a ‘drug’ (and what this means), to prohibition itself and how this happens, through to heroin prescribing as a harm reduction practice. Ben is a prison educator, activist and author. His first book, Dr Junkie, is an autobiographical account of his experiences with addiction, crime and the penal system. He also hosts the Dr Junkie Show podcast, where an alternate version of this conversation also appears as episode 109. More details of his work can be found here. You can read a couple of the papers referred to in the conversation here and here.

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7: A conversation with… Mark Gilman (part 2 of 2)

The second of a two-part conversation with Mark Gilman. In this part, we pick up the story in 1999, when Mark moved from Lifeline to the Home Office. The conversation ranges widely, covering treatment, recovery, social justice and crime, reflecting the unique breadth of Mark’s contributions to the field.

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6: A conversation with… Mark Gilman (part 1 of 2)

The first of a two-part conversation with Mark Gilman. Mark has been a major figure in the field over four decades and directly involved in many of the most significant developments we have seen. In this part, we talk about Mark’s early life, his work with the late Geoff Pearson researching heroin use in the North of England, and his pioneering work with Lifeline in the 1980s and 1990s.

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5: Drug law reform in the Asian Century

This episode takes a long view of global drug policy, arguing that shifts in global power have always had a significant impact on drug control throughout the last 200 years. What then might be the implications for drug law reform of the widely-held claim that the twenty-first century will turn out to be the Asian Century, just as the twentieth was the American Century and the nineteenth the British Century? Further exploration of this idea, and links to references, can be found here.

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Rethinking Drug Law Reform in the Asian Century

I recently wrote a piece for the Social & Legal Studies blog. Read it here.

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4: John Marks, heroin prescribing and HAT

This episode explores the issue of prescribing heroin to people with heroin problems, a practice with a long history and usually today termed Heroin Assisted Treatment or HAT. The episode draws on a recent research project exploring the controversial work of Dr John Marks in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A paper describing the project is available here, as well as a shorter discussion of some of the issues here.

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3: What is a drug?

This episode explores a core question of this field: what is a drug? It draws on an archival research project. For further details, read this paper or this short summary.

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2: Cannabis law reform in the 1960s

This episode looks at the cannabis law reform movement in the 1960s, drawing on an archival research project. Please see published paper here.

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1: Regulating Cannabis – virtual book launch

Authors Toby Seddon and Will Floodgate discuss their new book Regulating Cannabis.

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Regulating Cannabis

In April 2016, I was in New York for an ISSDP meeting on cannabis policy in the Americas. At the end of the first day, I was due to meet up for dinner with Niamh Eastwood and Alex Stevens. I was a little early, so decided to have a drink in the bar of my hotel before setting off for the restaurant. I sat at a stool at the bar and after five minutes became aware of a man taking the stool next to me. He ordered a beer and asked me if I had been at the cannabis conference. I said yes and he inquired what my interest was. I explained I was an academic researcher and then asked him the same question, expecting that he was either an academic or a policy wonk. His reply took me completely by surprise: he was a businessman, attending the meeting to help him decide whether cannabis was an industry worth investing in or not.

This was a revelatory moment for me. I realised two things. First, that the pace and scale of change in the US was far greater than I had appreciated: cannabis was rapidly becoming big business. Second, that cannabis law reform was now as much about commerce and capitalism, as it was about the familiar ‘progressive’ tropes of civil rights and personal freedom. On the flight back to Manchester, I began to hatch an idea for a project, although it would take a couple of years to get off the ground.

One strand of the project was for an archival study of cannabis law reform within the counter-culture in the 1960s, which I worked on for most of 2019 and which eventually led to this paper published earlier this year. Historicising reform was an important foundation for the project. The other strand aimed to produce a global state-of-the-art review of the latest legal and policy developments in the field. This has resulted in a book, Regulating Cannabis, co-authored with Will Floodgate, which finally came out a few days ago. Will led on the preliminary work for the book in the summer of 2018. After a pause, we picked it up together in spring 2019, as we prepared to present our framework and approach at the annual ISSDP conference in Paris in May. The bulk of the book was then written in a fairly intense period between October 2019 and March 2020.

The central thesis of the book is that if we view the ‘cannabis challenge’ through the lens of business regulation, we can see that we have as much to learn from how we have regulated a range of agricultural products as we do from the usual go-to comparisons with alcohol or tobacco. This analytical approach not only provides new insights on familiar issues but also opens up less well explored areas for attention, including the vital question of how to ensure that a legal cannabis industry is based on a model of environmentally sustainable consumption.

Perhaps the book’s most controversial point concerns the politics of cannabis policy. It is usually argued that policy should be based more on science and evidence, rather than politics and ideology. But if we dig down far enough, many of the regulatory decisions about cannabis that policy-makers take have their roots in matters that are inescapably about values. They rest on choices about the type of society we wish to live in and the things that we want to prioritise. Pretending we can de-politicise cannabis law and policy is misguided. We must embrace the challenge of engaging more seriously and transparently with the politics of cannabis control. We hope that the book points to some ways forward for doing exactly that.

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