Critical thinking and drugs policy


My research on Organized Crime Groups (OCG’s) has been quoted in the Liverpool Echo Sunday 1st September 2019.

I am the Co-Founder and Facilitator of a social group for blind and visually impaired people. On bank holiday Monday we had a lovely walk and then a few soft drinks outside a pub enjoying the sun.

It was a lovely day. Then one member asked me what exactly I do. She asked me what Criminology and Sociology actually are, and I had to explain.

I love public sociology and teaching in general: I gain just as much knowledge as anyone else. These random questions and situations really make you develop your arguments, lines of argument and justifications.

But what stood out to me most of all was the need for the public to learn critical thinking skills. I believe law should be taught from primary school and critical thinking needs to be embedded into every subject. We are not taught how to think for ourselves and how to disrupt dominant narratives. We are not, in the public domain, taught why we see things the way we do.

The conversation that followed was that this person did not live that ‘kind of life’ or know ‘any criminals. So we deconstructed what she meant by that. She saw ‘crime’ as something that ‘others’ did, and something ‘out there’. I think the majority of people do this, it is natural to construct symbolic boundaries to protect ourselves.

Of course life doesn’t work like that. People are messy, contradictory, complex and can have many ‘good’ and ‘bad’ traits or behaviours. We should not conflate morality and legality. If something is only seen as bad because it is illegal, (let’s say consuming cannabis for example) then the law is the problem, not the action. If we do believe that the action is wrong, (let’s use the same example for consistency) is it wrong in all situations. Is someone someone CBD oil bad? Is someone smoking cannabis to control chronic pain bad? Is someone terminally ill ‘bad’ for smoking cannabis? And then we start to see the nuances, the grey areas, the complexities.

Personally I do not think the consumption of drugs should be a moral issue. Unless people are straight edge then they likely consume some drugs, perhaps alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, pharmaceuticals. Drugs are not legal or illegal because they are inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but rather because of the cultural and socio-historical positioning of that law. Alcohol used to be prohibited, heroin did not used to be illegal. We must our laws and the dominant narratives as belonging to a certain time and space with a certain set of agendas.

For me as a Christian the whole idea of someone being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is particularly interesting. The way the society constructs heroin users or crack cocaine users as ‘bad’ and deviant, or prisoners as deviant, is one that I have to reject. I don’t have the right to judge.

I wrote about judgement here on my blog.

I have also written about the ‘other’ here.

The parallels between narratives on drugs and sex work are overwhelming. People think raids on premises are ‘good’ and that buying drugs or sexual services is ‘bad’. We must erase these simplistic and unhelpful ways of thinking. We have a duty to promote harm reduction and to walk beside the vulnerable and marginalized.

I have recently completed a pilot study on organised crime groups (OCG’s). The project is called ‘An Examination of the processes of exploitation within organized crime groups”.

My pilot study findings showed that the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1971 is harmful, and that the prohibition of drugs creates the market for OCG’s and the climate for the intensification of violence and harm to individuals and communities. We need radical reform to disrupt the control of the market. We cannot raid and arrest our way out of the problem. People will always consume drugs and they should be able to consume safely without the threats issues by OCG’s and their weapons.

Drug users should not be in prison. Sending consumers addicted to drugs to prison is cruel, pointless and a waste of resources. Those people who are addicted need help and support. And we must remember that 90 percent of drug consumers are not addicted.

There are progressive police forces out there piloting drug diversion schemes, but we need an overhaul of the law. The state should be determining what substances we can and cannot consume, this is  human rights issue. As for ‘harm to communities’, yes, OCG’s cause harm to communities because of the current law. Legalisation would mean OCG’s having their trade significantly disrupted.

The Law and Enforcement Action Partnership is an incredible group of former police from various ranks/roles and others from criminal justice system who are campaigning for the legalization of drugs. 

Prohibition has failed. The ‘war on drugs’ is a false narrative.

For every OCG that is targeted and imprisoned, more sprout up in their place. You cannot arrest your way of of the problem. People have always taken drugs and always will. Whether it’s your bottle of wine, the opiates your GP prescribes, tobacco,  cannabis, MDMA, cocaine or anything else.

There are few people who explain why the prohibition of drugs is wrong better than former undercover police officer and campaigner Neil Woods.

Neil Woods has a Ted Talk here.

People need to understand drug policy, sex work policy, how the criminal system works, and the value of critical thinking.  And we must encourage these discussions and debates wherever possible.

During my guided walks of sexual entertainment venues for FACT, I gave the takeaway message of ‘disrupt the narrative’.

I say the same here. Question what you are being told. When you see photos on news sites showing seizures and talking about raids, ask if the drug market has been reduced. It won’t have been.  The public are being sold a lie about the ‘war on drugs’. It is been lost, and we created the problem by the law we have.

Gemma x