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Norman Baker’s liberal input

12 February 2014

Norman Baker was dispatched to the Home Office at the last reshuffle in order to have a strong liberal voice in the department; it was felt that the Tories’ favourite Lib Dem, Jeremy Browne, had been too ‘right wing’. Baker promised to give a ‘clear, liberal input’ from day one. Funny, then, that he is overseeing the reclassification of Ketamine from Class C to Class B, especially as Nick Clegg has said that Britain needs to look again at drug legalisation after his recent fact-finding trip to Columbia.

For the uninitiated, Ketamine is a horse tranquilizer that has somehow been labelled as a ‘dance drug’. Mr S recommends that some government types give Ket a whirl and see how the dancing goes – imagine dear old Norman and Nick staring at their hands for six hours while muttering about AV. Perhaps that would make it Class A.

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  • Transformdrugs

    In terms of relative harms, the emerging evidence linking heavy ketamine use may well suggest its harms are more comparable to drugs in class B than those in class C (although these harms are restricted to a small minority of ling terms heavy users).

    However, the core problem with the classification system is that the harm rankings are linked to hierarchy of punishments, and there is no evidence that increasing penalties – as this reclassification does – will reduce or deter use or any related harms (and neither the Home Office nor ACMD monitor the impacts of reclassifications). That said, there is evidence that increasing the criminal penalties for users has negative impacts on them, and may increase risks associated with a drug by further stigmatising the key target population that, as a fundamentally public health based policy, we should be seeking to support rather than punish. Instead we push its use into more marginalised and risky environments and dissuading users from approaching services by making them crimianls whose use can now attract even longer prison sentences. The irony of this classification change is that the process of signaling the drug as more harmful, itself increases the harms associated with the drugs use. This is a broken system urgently in need of review and reform.

    • ButcombeMan


      The main effect is to raise its profile for Policing and the Courts.

  • Transformdrugs

    Could journalists please stop referring to ketamine as a ‘horse tranquiliser’. It is a disassociative anesthetic widely used in the UK in humans (every ER and operating theater in the UK will have it available – it is particularly useful in children, old people as it doesn’t depress the respiratory system like opiates do). More on this here:

    • ButcombeMan

      A Googe Scholar check shows plenty of academic literature for Ketamine as horse tranquilliser.

      Why it should therefore not be thus described is rather an odd point to make.

      Describing it thus may bring home to some potential users the stupidity of what they are doing.

      There is a tragic human ketamine death reported in today’s Telegraph. Combined with alcohol it seems.

      • Transformdrugs

        Heroin is also used in horses. Why not call that horse tranquilser? Ketamine is widely used in humans (as is heroin) as well as elephants, camels, gorillas, pigs, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, guinea pigs, birds, gerbils mice and badgers.

        The horse tranquiliser meme is therefor neither accurate nor helpful. Its is misleading and stigmatising. Even the head of the UNODC has lazily called it horse tranquiliser in the past.

        Its not a particularly big deal (we have discussed some of the more serious issues in a seperate post here) but it is worth flagging up inaccurate, unhelpful – and we would say lazy – journalism.

        • ButcombeMan

          “misleading and stigmatising”

          It is true.

          Your use of “stigmatising” is a sick.joke.

          Of course it should be stigmatised, it causes very serious damage to the bladder. It can kill.

          Stigmatising it is EXACTLY what we should be doing.

          • Transformdrugs

            Its is important to alert people to the risks of ketamine (and other drugs), and encourage responsible choices. But there is a danger in criminalizing (or in the case of ketamine reclassification – increasing the criminal sanctions against) the very population you are trying to support and educate – whether to stop them using or to make sure they use as safely as possible.

            Similarly, the use of certain language (such as ‘junkie’ for people who inject or are addicted to heroin) goes beyond merely expressing social disapproval, and has nothing to do with educating about risk. It is stigmatising in the sense that it creates ‘a mark of social disgrace’. As explored elsewhere (see link below) such stigmatisation leads to a range of harms and increased risks for users. Inaccurately refering to ketamine as a ‘horse tranquiliser’ – which is a widely used human medicine – can be seen a stigmatising (albeit to a lesser extent that terms like ‘junkie’ or ‘crack head’) as it has an implicit association with being animal or sub-human. There is a parallel her with language that stigmatises people with mental health problems (a population that in fact has a significant cross over with people with substance misuse and dependency problems) .
            Read this briefing for a more detailed discussion of how stigmatation of drugs and drug users can fuel discimination and a range of health and social harms for various vulnerable groups:

  • bugalugs2

    Mr S should take some himself, then at least he’d have first hand experience of the damage ketamine does to the bladder.

    Reclassification given the increased knowledge of the harm K does seems entirely reasonable.

    • ButcombeMan

      indeed it does. A ketamine/alcohol death is reported in the current Mail.
      Main effect of reclassification is to increase penalties and make it higher policing priority.

      • Transformdrugs

        and how does increasing penalties and policing priorities help? Can you point to evidence of where increasing the classification of any drug has had a positive outcome?

    • donkeypunch

      it only does damage to the bladder if taken to excess, as with any intoxicants, if you do it too much, it can cause harm – see also alcohol.

      anyway, as any fule know, ketamine killed the scene.

  • MirthaTidville

    The liberals of various parties have been in charge of the Home Office for decades..Its their fiefdom…Even Maggie never dared give it to Norman Tebbitt , which was exactly what the damn place needed

  • Smithersjones2013

    For the uninitiated, Ketamine is a horse tranquilizer that has somehow been labelled as a ‘dance drug’.

    Well given it sounds as if Steerpike is the uninitiated “K” is a hallucenogen providing out of body experiences which explains its recreational use. It can also cause paralysis and of course death. Hardly a surprise then that it has been upgraded to a Class B drug.

    in order to have a strong liberal voice

    Surely that’s an oxymoron?

  • La Fold

    getting lost down the rabbit hole after a blast of special K is in my experience for the profoundly, nay, the obscenely boring. The sooner their bladders have the same elasticity of a old 5p piece and their incontinence renders thems housebound the better.

  • ButcombeMan

    Steerpike is being very stupid or deliberately provocative. Which is it?

    Ketamine is causing very serious bladder problems including bladder removal, as a moments research would have established.

    It does seem to be true that Browne was removed by Clegg because he was fairly orthodox on drugs policy but then most people are.

    The other possibility is that Clegg saw him as a threat to him personally.

    Browne was sensible on last weeks AQ. Intellectually he seems streets ahead of Clegg across a broad range of subjects, even if he does (unlkindly) sound like a Speak your Weight Machine..

    Baker is struggling with the job, as his interview on TV today, shows, where he spoke about Novel Psychoactive Substances. (“Legal Highs” in tabloid language) and the steep rise in the number of deaths being caused by them.

    Baker has not caught up with countries like Ireland and Portugal that have banned the proliferating “Headshops” that sell them…

    Why has Baker not caught up?

    Is Clegg stopping him?

  • sarahsmith232

    I wasn’t aware that there was such a thing as a member of the Liberal party that is actually liberal.

    • rtj1211

      That’s because your definition of ‘liberal’ is probably rather close to ‘neoconservative’……

      • Ron Todd

        Old definition of a liberal would be somebody that has consideration for the rights of everybody, without totally forgetting that individuals also have a responsibility and duty to wider society. If a party like that existed today I would vote for them. Modern liberal divides society according to group identity claims all cultures are equal while only fighting for the rights of those in groups that the majority of the native population would consider to have demonstrated the least responsibility towards the rest of society.

      • sarahsmith232

        What on earth are you going on about dear? Neoconservative? I’m about as far from being conservative, of any breed, as a person can be. Really deeply unimpressive sheep-like criticism. if you can’t see the Liberals are far from Liberal then whatever dear, might I suggest some further reading, an idiots guide for e.g

  • Pip

    Liberals and Lefties in Government are at the root of all our problems, we need a cleansing, May 22nd will be the warm up and 2015 will be the coup de grace.

    • rtj1211

      I suspect that defining what the word ‘problem’ means is how you come to the conclusion you come to.

      Many others would define it differently and therefore you would find that every party in this country contributes to some of the ‘problems’ perceived to be present in our society.

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