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'Softly softly' cannabis scheme drove up hospital admissions for hard drugs, study

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."  This variation on Occam's razor, attributed to Albert Einstein, shifts the emphasis to warn against oversimplification as well as overcomplication.

In drug policy debates, there is a lot of oversimplified claptrap on both sides.  A note of caution on marijuana comes to us from across the pond.  The title of this post is the headline of this story in the London Telegraph by John Bingham.

The controversial scheme, pioneered by Brian Paddick - the former Metropolitan Police commander now a Liberal Democrat politician - involved letting people caught with small amounts of cannabis off with a warning.

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Elaine Kelly and Imran Rasul, of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, analysed hospital admission rates for people who had taken class A drugs such as cocaine before and during the period of the experiment.

They concluded that hospital admission rates for hard drugs among men under 35 who had no previous history of treatment for drug or alcohol abuse doubled.

"In keeping with other experiences of depenalization, the primary motivation behind the policy was to free up police time and resources to tackle other crimes, and there was little or no discussion of the depenalization policy's potential impact on public health," they said.

They added: "Our results provide a note of caution to moves to adopt more liberal approaches to the regulation of illicit drug markets, as typically embodied in policies such as the depenalization of cannabis.

"While such policies may well have numerous benefits such as preventing many young people from being criminalised, allowing the police to reallocate their effort towards other crime types and indeed reduce total crime overall there remain potentially large offsetting costs related to public health that also need to be factored into any cost benefit analysis of such approaches."

Mr. Paddick is not pleased.  The Daily Mail has a less nuanced article:  

Labour's liberalisation of the cannabis laws was a disaster that pushed up drug use and crime and doubled the number of drug victims in hospital beds, two major research studies said yesterday.

They found that after police were told to go easy on cannabis smokers, there were increases in assaults, theft and car theft, burglaries, vandalism and anti-social behaviour.

I think "note of caution" is a better characterization than "disaster," although I have not yet been able to get the full studies, so I will have to hedge and say that tentatively.

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