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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 Mon 03-Dec-12 19:03:37

Just come in and read this webchat - really interesting and frank.

Would Jacqui Smith come back and do another one? I like flow4's allusion to maybe focusing on DV and the inter-generational stuff that is seemingly still taboo.

An Ex Minister is so much more honest, relaxed and actually interesting than a current Minister. Plus Jacqui Smith has a spark about her.

flow4 Mon 03-Dec-12 14:36:17

I don't know whether you are still watching this thread Jacqui, but if you are... I did not realise you had a role in the cross-party strategy on domestic violence. I have things I would like to say about DV perpetrated by teenage children on their parents - something highly taboo and (as far as I'm aware) rarely even acknowledged, but much more widespread than we would like to think.

Official recognition of the problem would be really useful, as would cross-party agreement on a strategic approach - e.g. responses by police and other services. If you would like to hear more, please feel free to send me a personal message... Or read this other MN thread or this one, where some mothers talk quite openly about their experiences.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 14:06:07

It's been great talking to you and answering the points. Good luck if you're thinking about how to talk to your own kids about cannabis - it's never too early to start!

I hope to have the chance to catch up with Mumsnetters again.

Jacqui

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 14:04:36

QWERTYmonster

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?

Hi QWERTYmonster. Before I answer the rest of your points, let me just say something on your point about your kids being too young. Professor David Nutt and I definitely agree that we should be talking to our kids at a younger age than we currently do. Some of the drug workers told me that they worked with children as young as 12 and I was surprised at how much my own 14 year old son already knew including having friends who were already using cannabis when I talked to him about it. So it might come round quicker than you think!

On the having a tough time point, I'll simply say that being a high profile woman politician has it's advantages and disadvantages. I'm very unwilling to suggest that I was only a victim of sexism - I made some mistakes too!

I was proud to be able to put a lifetime of campaigning on domestic violence into action as Home Secretary and to lead the first cross government strategy on violence against women. There are so many things I hope Theresa May does, but I'd particularly like her to protect the independent domestic violence advisers - having someone who can support you through all the nightmares of getting away from an abusive relationship is really important whether it's court, money, housing. Having one person on your side can make a big difference and I hope these roles are expanded in the coming years.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:55:48

flow4

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?

Hi flow4 Your point about skunk is absolutely right in my view. Some of the experts are particularly worried about the different impact of skunk to more 'traditional' cannabis use. I was very concerned about the suggestion in the 2008 Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report that there are some young people who respond to stronger forms of cannabis by 'binge smoking' Some others regulate their use depending on the strength, but I certainly worry about the impact on those who don't.

The question, as I suggested earlier, is whether separate classification is the most effective way to get this message over. As 80% of the cannabis being picked up on the streets is skunk, I think we should probably be talking about this as being the mainstream cannabis that most people are using.

The other interesting thing about doing the programme is that some of the people who were most vehement in their opposition to skunk were older users who had been smoking for many years and could see that there was something very different coming onto the streets. I don't know if we could use them to help get the message over or if they'd just be seen as 'old and out of touch' like the rest of us!

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:46:55

eggsandham

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?

Thanks for your kind words eggsandham. There are lots of sane and normal politicians around, but it's not always easy for that to come across. However that's a chat for another day.

The really interesting point about your comments is the assertion that 'our current approach to drugs is not working'. This is a view shared by the majority when people are polled, but in some ways it doesn't reflect the reality. Problem drug use in almost all age groups is coming down and particularly amongst young people. There are more people in treatment and more people successfully completing treatment. One of the things which gets people into treatment is coming up against the law which is one of the reasons why I don't support decriminalisation. Whilst I don't support decriminalisation, I do support the police in using discretion about the way people are treated. Most people won't be arrested if they're caught with cannabis and I think this is right.

QWERTYmonster Mon 03-Dec-12 13:43:47

Thanks for the honest answer re. data. I've got nothing against a precautionary stance myself, just wanted to check whether an actual causative link had been established - sounds as though it hasn't been.

personanongrata Mon 03-Dec-12 13:38:24

Thanks for your answer. Agree that cuts are likely to make the problem worse. Research into effectiveness of govt's methadone programme would be good. Just adds another addiction into the mix, as far as I can tell, and another substance to sell/barter etc on the street.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:37:39

QWERTYmonster

Is the evidence on a link between cannabis use and poor mental health particularly strong? I thought it was inconclusive?

This is one of the most controversial areas QWERTYmonster. Some experts argue that there isn't an epidemiological link between cannabis use and e.g schizophrenia i.e. the use of cannabis hasn't led to a greater proportion of the population with this condition. However others, particularly those who work in mental health are very strong that for given individuals there is a clear link between their cannabis use and their mental health problems. Also, many people pointed to shorter term impacts on mental well being of cannabis use. People can feel paranoid and there is certainly evidence that use at a young age is likely to have a greater impact including on iq as the New Zealand study demonstrated. In 2008, I felt strongly that I didn't want to wait for conclusive proof to act - I took a precautionary approach which has been criticised by some.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:33:01

quartz101

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

Hi quartz101. After I lost my seat, I pretty quickly decided that I would move on to something else. I loved being in Parliament and particularly being a Minister, but I'm also young enough to do something else now. And you're right that there is a liberation in not being a spokesperson anymore. I will always be interested in and involved with politics - there's a lot that goes on outside Parliament and I'm enjoying that.

QWERTYmonster Mon 03-Dec-12 13:29:25

Is the evidence on a link between cannabis use and poor mental health particularly strong? I thought it was inconclusive?

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:28:37

JeanBillie

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?

Thanks for kind words about the programme JeanBillie. The interesting thing about cannabis is that in some ways policy is a success story. There has been a consistent decline in the numbers of young people using cannabis. Use was declining before David Blunkett as one of my predecessor Home Secretaries downgraded the classification of cannabis from B to C. It continued declining including after I had reclassified back up again. This is one of the reasons I concluded that changing the classification probably had little impact apart from to make people obsess about the law.

There are various explanations for this fall. Some think it's due to less use of tobacco, some that young people are using other things. I think education is working to make young people more resistant to all forms of drug. Some think it's fashion. It will be interesting to watch what happens in the future.

JacquiSmith Mon 03-Dec-12 13:23:55

noidles

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?

Hi noidles. Last night my husband cleared out the baking cupboard and used the stuff he cleared out to make some biscuits. Both of these events are so unusual, that these are definitely my favourites. By the way, as far as I'm aware, there's were no illegal substances in them!

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.

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? ;-)

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?

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.

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 13:02:08

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 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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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