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Live webchat about teens and drugs with former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Monday 3 December at 1pm

(38 Posts)
FrancesMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 29-Nov-12 10:56:14

We are delighted to host former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith for a LIVE webchat on Monday 3rd December at 1pm.

Jacqui was the Member of Parliament for Redditch between 1997 and 2010 and the first female Home Secretary.

In 2008 she made the decision to reclassify cannabis from a Class C to the more serious Class B drug. In a BBC 5 Live documentary Jacqui talks to those involved with the decision, cannabis users and those on the frontline tackling the UK's drug problems. As a mother of teenage boys, Jacqui reviews whether the message about the potential harms of cannabis was helped or hindered by her decision.

You can listen to Jacqui's documentary for BBC Radio 5 Live, Stoned Again here.

Jacqui is really interested in hearing your thoughts and opinions on cannabis and wider drug use in the UK. Do please join us for the webchat. As ever, if you can't make it, please post up your advance questions here.

Thanks,

MNHQ

LineRunner Fri 30-Nov-12 19:22:16

Dear Jacqui,

We met once, ages ago, when you were visiting a school where I live. I have to say that you came across as being extremely polite and switched on.

I guess that the leafy fronds of chopped up weed from the past are just a piece of fun compared to the skunk available now. I have teenagers, too, and worry.

I just want to ask, though - when you made the decision to re-classify, was there any part of you in that? Or was it all based on the advice you received?

Spidermama Fri 30-Nov-12 20:01:20

Great documentary. Well done! The kids in Cardiff were frank with you because you engaged them honestly and with an open, non judgemental attitude. I guess being a 'former' Home Secretary allows a little more freedom to express.

I am usually to be found with hash fudge or truffles in my fridge. I have the odd pure weed spliff but would never smoke tobacco.

I'm saddened but not surprised that 80% of stuff bought on the street is skunk because for me that's another world. The difference between smoking ordinary weed and smoking skunk is like the difference between drinking a glass or two of wine or drinking a bottle of vodka.

Wouldn't if be far more sensible to decriminalise it so that people have more choice and better education instead of legislating it into the dark and underground where ACTUAL criminals dwell?

I lived in Brixton when Brian Paddick briefly made possession legal and I can't tell you how good and righteous I felt walking in Brockwell park enjoying my marajuana with no sense of shame and grubbiness. I resent being made to feel shame for something because of misinformation, ignorance and cover ups.

I'm glad you made a sort of peace with Prof. Nutt.

In short your documentary touched a nerve.

Anyway to my questions:

Why did you make the documentary?

What would you like to see happen now to the laws regarding cannabis?

What - if anything - do you think will actually happen with the current administation?

Jux Sat 01-Dec-12 16:24:56

DD's year has recently had a day - yes, a whole day - with no lessons, and some visiting people giving talks on the evils of alcohol.

Among the myths spouted during the course of it were

A glass of wine with Sunday lunch means you are a binge drinker.
Any amount of alcohol will kill you, no matter how small and infrequently.
Alcohol is evil.

DD is 13. She is sensible. DH and I have educated her about alcohol from an early age.

DD came home utterly indignant that this propaganda was being spouted in the guise of education. I would have contacted the school but suspect that this is a government line, and knowing the Head, I doubt he was happy about it either.

So Jacqui, tell me this. How can alcohol be evil? Like so many things, it is neither evil nor good. Do you really think such groups should be allowed to go into schools and give such a thoroughly biased view of drugs and alcohol? Is it not more likely to have the opposite effect?

arentfanny Sun 02-Dec-12 15:11:26

I work in a prison for the NHS, I am the administrator for the clinical side of the substance misuse team. A major part of my role is inputting data gathered from new receptions into the prison who are on drugs, and inputting it for the NDTMS or national drug monitoring scheme. I don't do drugs, have had the very odd puff of a spliff but that is about it.

I don't what you can do. The clinical team works with men who come in with heroin, benzo's or alcohol problems as these caa be given medication for it, methadone etc, there is also a psychosocial side who deal with those whose main drug is cannabis, crack, recreational drugs. Our guys are lucky in that there is support there for when they get out. They get appointments set up for them in the community to continue with prescriptions, they get counselling etc. The 'softer' drug users get nothing.

A lot of these men have started on drugs in their early teens, how you stop that I don't know.

A lot of these men are still using in prison, how you stop that, well don't know but it should.

We detox them, they get released, they go out, overdose and die.

Not sure what the point of this post was, I can't make the chat anyway as I will be at work.

LineRunner Sun 02-Dec-12 15:36:40

I'll be at work too, but I'd be very interested in the answers and discussion around all the pionts made so far. Will read when I get home.

arentfanny Sun 02-Dec-12 17:58:51

Hi Sorry, me again, we are a mainly a remand prison, probably about 250/270 prisoners. I would say that we have 1/3 to 1/4 in treatment, whether it is clinical or psycosocial. Apparently we have been visited by our local MP who obviously wasn't interested enough in the drug problem to even make it up to our small corner, none of the prospective Police commisioners made an appearance either. If you want to come and visit then MNHQ has my details.

flow4 Sun 02-Dec-12 23:53:30

I am particularly interested in, and worried by, the increased availability of skunk - now smoked by very many teenagers.

I have a teenager who smokes skunk, and so do most of his friends. I observe that it makes them paranoid, unhappy, edgy, dis-inhibited, and sometimes aggressive or violent (particularly during the 'come down'). On the other hand, I grew up in a student culture where almost everyone I knew smoked cannabis, and the effects 'back then' were very different - almost universally pleasant. I find skunk's 'nastiness' very worrying indeed.

Traditionally, we have viewed skunk as simply 'strong cannabis'. But researchers have been studying the effects of skunk vs. 'standard' cannabis, and are beginning to identify important differences. Skunk is strengthened by changing its chemical structure to increase its THC content, by removing its cannabidiol (CBD). This leads to observable and worrying effects: specifically, skunk has a clear psychotic effect, while other forms of cannabis which contain CBD as well as THC, it seems, do not. CBD appears to have some positive medical effects too.

You can see one vivid example of the different effects in this video clip, filmed when a BBC investigative journalist took part in an experiment run by Prof. Robin Murray and a research team at the Institute of Psychiatry. There is more info in this New Scientist article and here.

Unfortunately, I think there is a lack of awareness about the differences between skunk and other forms of cannabis, and this leads to misunderstanding and poor policy and treatment. Young people are given poor information, based on out-of-date 'knowledge' about older forms of cannabis. Drugs workers and other adults who remember their own pleasant experiences of cannabis don't understand that skunk is different. The messages about skunk need to be much harder-line, in my opinion. Personally, I would favour separate classification for skunk, higher than other forms of cannabis that contain CBD. Its effects need to be taken much more seriously, and treatment programmes may need to be introduced.

My question for Jacqui is: do you agree (or will you review the research evidence to see if you agree) that skunk is different to, and more dangerous than, other forms of cannabis which contain CBD? And if so, will you do what you can to make sure that 'official' information and policy about skunk are updated?

flow4 Sun 02-Dec-12 23:55:55

By the way, how does a live webchat actually WORK?! Do we sit here and refresh the page to see what's being said? Or follow a link to some audioboo? Or what?! blush grin

eggsandham Mon 03-Dec-12 09:32:02

Jacqui you come across as one of the most sane and normal politicians around. It is a shame you are no longer in Parliament.

Thanks for coming on here. My question is about decriminalisation of drugs. I'm far from convinced that this is the right answer and am by no means an expert on this issue. But even a fool can see that our current approach to drugs is not working. I'd characterise the failure of politicians from all parties to even consider the arguments for decriminalisation as a serious case of them sticking their fingers in their ears and saying "la la la we're not listening". So I guess my question is - how realistic do you think it is that we will ever solve the drugs issue whilst that particular potential answer lies completely off the table and not up for discussion?

JeanBillie Mon 03-Dec-12 10:19:27

Intersecting programme.

I wondered what you think we can do to make cannabis less cool to teens? Interesting that it's on the decline because smoking in general is becoming less popular - how can we capitalise on this?

JeanBillie Mon 03-Dec-12 10:22:56

Interesting programme!

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 10:51:26

Testing

personanongrata Mon 03-Dec-12 10:56:19

From experience with a relative, if drug use goes hand-in-hand with mental health issues (whichever came first, it's a bit chicken-and-egg past a certain point in addiction) then mental health teams say they can't treat until the drug abuse is under control, and drug services say they can't help until the psychiatric issues are addressed. So complete Catch-22. Meanwhile, situation continues to deteriorate and the only 'treatment' is revolving door of prison, which doesn't address the addiction but does give the family respite.

Did you, do you, do any politicians recognise that this is an issue, and that without some joined-up services, over-stretched teams will just shunt responsibility on to other services, with the result that the police/prison services end up as quasi-social/drug workers?

What do you think of the current home secretary's stance on drugs policy?

Would you agree that politicians might actually hinder a non-simplistic approach to drugs policy and prevent an honest, science-based discussion of the issues, because no one can dare to appear 'soft on drugs/crime' etc?

Thank you.

PlainBellySneetch Mon 03-Dec-12 11:23:43

Like Flow4, I'd like to hear what Jacqui thinks about differentiating in law between skunk and other forms.

I also wonder whether there has been any research on the fact that, for boys, the perceived illegality of dope is a huge part of its initial appeal - the kudos of being able to say 'my dealer', the excitement of going to score etc.

QWERTYmonster Mon 03-Dec-12 11:50:17

Hello Jacqui,

Not really about drugs (I'm past all that and my kids are too young grin), but I wondered whether you're able to talk openly now about your experience as Home Secretary and how you think your gender played in to the way the press and public responded to you?

It's my impression that you got a tougher/more hostile response from certain quarters simply because of your sex - as well as a lot of very ugly glee about the expenses/porn film business (which was particularly grim given that others pocketed hundreds of thousands from mortgage tax relief fiddles but got off with barely a rap on the knuckles.)

I also wanted to commend you on the progress made on domestic violence provision and policing under your watch. What one thing do you think Theresa May should do right now to improve things for those suffering from domestic abuse?

NewKateMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 03-Dec-12 12:08:35

flow4

By the way, how does a live webchat actually WORK?! Do we sit here and refresh the page to see what's being said? Or follow a link to some audioboo? Or what?! blush grin

Just keep refreshing the page, Jaqui's comments will appear as yellow highlighted.

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 03-Dec-12 12:56:42

Delighted to say that Jacqui Smith is with us, nice and early, and will be getting going momentarily.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 12:56:56

Hello It's really good to be here at Mumsnet and to be able to answer questions about my cannabis classification documentary on 5live and anything else you have in mind. There already are some questions so I'll kick off now.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:02:08

LineRunner

Dear Jacqui,

We met once, ages ago, when you were visiting a school where I live. I have to say that you came across as being extremely polite and switched on.

I guess that the leafy fronds of chopped up weed from the past are just a piece of fun compared to the skunk available now. I have teenagers, too, and worry.

I just want to ask, though - when you made the decision to re-classify, was there any part of you in that? Or was it all based on the advice you received?

Thanks for that question LineRunner. It must have been a 'good day' if I was polite! Of course the decision I took in 2008 depended a lot on advice that I received from the Advisory Council (even though I disagreed with them on the classification) and also from the police. But one of things which did weigh very heavily with me was how to get over precisely the message you express here i.e that the cannabis on the street was much stronger skunk varieties than had previously been the case. This was one of the strongest messages which came particularly from the police and I was worried as a parent as well as Home Secretary that the message got through. However doing the programme made me realise that changing the law may not be the best way to get this message over. I think we need to use a wide range of methods to communicate this point that the cannabis available today is different and stronger. This is a good opportunity.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:08:52

Spidermama

Great documentary. Well done! The kids in Cardiff were frank with you because you engaged them honestly and with an open, non judgemental attitude. I guess being a 'former' Home Secretary allows a little more freedom to express.

I am usually to be found with hash fudge or truffles in my fridge. I have the odd pure weed spliff but would never smoke tobacco.

I'm saddened but not surprised that 80% of stuff bought on the street is skunk because for me that's another world. The difference between smoking ordinary weed and smoking skunk is like the difference between drinking a glass or two of wine or drinking a bottle of vodka.

Wouldn't if be far more sensible to decriminalise it so that people have more choice and better education instead of legislating it into the dark and underground where ACTUAL criminals dwell?

I lived in Brixton when Brian Paddick briefly made possession legal and I can't tell you how good and righteous I felt walking in Brockwell park enjoying my marajuana with no sense of shame and grubbiness. I resent being made to feel shame for something because of misinformation, ignorance and cover ups.

I'm glad you made a sort of peace with Prof. Nutt.

In short your documentary touched a nerve.

Anyway to my questions:

Why did you make the documentary?

What would you like to see happen now to the laws regarding cannabis?

What - if anything - do you think will actually happen with the current administation?

Hi Spidermama - there's a lot in your comments, but I'll start with the questions. I made the documentary because I wanted the chance to see what the impact of the reclassification had been. That's why it was so good to be able to talk not just to the experts who advised me at the time, but also to young people, other users and front line workers about whether the message I thought I was sending got through. The answer was a pretty resounding no.

This means that I think people should steer clear of changing the law to deal with the problem. I'm not in favour of decriminalisation as I think this would send out the wrong message at a time when the cannabis seems to be getting stronger and the links to mental health problems are clearly there. However, I tend to think that education, treatment and information are a better long term policy even if they don't achieve the short term headlines which politicians often want to see. Incidentally this is not a condemnation of politicians - people expect politicians to act and they expect to see quick results which is why the temptation is there.

Some people I spoke to were worried about the effect of current policies on education and treatment - we must ensure that education continues to be available in all schools and that treatment and support is there for those who need it.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:13:57

PlainBellySneetch

Like Flow4, I'd like to hear what Jacqui thinks about differentiating in law between skunk and other forms.

I also wonder whether there has been any research on the fact that, for boys, the perceived illegality of dope is a huge part of its initial appeal - the kudos of being able to say 'my dealer', the excitement of going to score etc.

Interesting question PlainBellySneetch. I'm a bit conflicted about this. Firstly you have identified one of the big reasons why I changed the classification in the first place i.e. to point out that skunk is different to the cannabis that many people may have experienced themselves. The problem is that I don't now think that the law is the best way to communicate this. We need to find other ways to get the message over - I'd be interested in what people think works. I think the government's Frank website is good. Have people found other forms of useful info?

On the point about the illegality being part of the appeal, I suspect you're right for some people. However I also know from the police and other frontline workers I spoke to that for some people with real problems from their cannabis use it was only coming up against the law which enabled them to find help. For others, particularly those with more to lose, the law does stop people from using or from using so much. That is certainly what some of the young people I spoke to said.

noidles Mon 03-Dec-12 13:14:30

So, drugs is a heavy subject, so I'd like to interrupt with a bit of light relief for a moment:

What's your favourite biscuit?

quartz101 Mon 03-Dec-12 13:17:45

Jacqui - do you think you'll stand for Parliament again at the next election? Or are you enjoying your post-Parliament life too much? ;-)

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:21:40

personanongrata

From experience with a relative, if drug use goes hand-in-hand with mental health issues (whichever came first, it's a bit chicken-and-egg past a certain point in addiction) then mental health teams say they can't treat until the drug abuse is under control, and drug services say they can't help until the psychiatric issues are addressed. So complete Catch-22. Meanwhile, situation continues to deteriorate and the only 'treatment' is revolving door of prison, which doesn't address the addiction but does give the family respite.

Did you, do you, do any politicians recognise that this is an issue, and that without some joined-up services, over-stretched teams will just shunt responsibility on to other services, with the result that the police/prison services end up as quasi-social/drug workers?

What do you think of the current home secretary's stance on drugs policy?

Would you agree that politicians might actually hinder a non-simplistic approach to drugs policy and prevent an honest, science-based discussion of the issues, because no one can dare to appear 'soft on drugs/crime' etc?

Thank you.

Thanks personanongrata. The point about mental health issues and drug addiction is really frustrating. Back when I was a Health Minister in 2001-3, we tried to improve services for this 'dual diagnosis' Clearly there is still a lot to do. And the problem of shunting people from one service to another could get even worse as money gets tight. I suspect this problem won't get properly solved until we have budgets linked to individuals rather than services so that there is a financial incentive to look at people in the round rather than to protect the divisions between services.

It is certainly the case that politicians want to be tough on drugs and crime, but that's not surprising as most of the people who vote for them want them to be too! The real win is to find the most effective ways to help people with drug problems so that everyone can be helped. The Drugs Policy Commission who reported in October made some good points about finding better ways to use evidence in drug treatment. At the moment, the Advisory Council on Drug Misuse focusses on classification decisions - it may well be more fruitful to look at what else works.

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