Keith Vaz and Dr Julian Huppert, members of the Home Affairs select committee, visited Miami and Colombia earlier this month as part of the inquiry into drugs policy. It's a good thing that our MPs are taking the time to learn about the realities of the drug supply chain although there is almost no information coming from the committee about the progress of its inquiry. There seems to be very little accountability as to how our money is being spent.
I am much happier to see members of the committee on these fact finding trips rather than ministers like James Brokenshire though. He went on a jolly to South America last year and for what? We all know that he's a bigot with no intention or interest in drug policy reform. Public money should not be spent on funding such trips. Brokenshire is deeply embedded in the prejudice and disinformation of current policy for his own political advantage. At least Mr Vaz and Dr Huppert are looking towards change.
Later this week the inquiry will hold its third oral evidence session when it hears evidence from health professionals about provision of treatment to drug addicts. Among those giving evidence is Dr Claire Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, who has a regrettable record of extremist views on cannabis. She bears a great deal of responsibility for British GPs' failure to understand the benefits of medicinal cannabis. Britain is almost unique in the lack of interest medical professionals have shown in cannabis and any that do are swiftly bought and paid for by GW Pharmaceuticals. Throughout Europe, the US and Israel , thousands of doctors are recognising the therapeutic benefits of cannabis but not in Britain. Quite frequently at CLEAR we hear examples of how any interest or support from a British doctor is stamped on. There is an irrational, anti-medicinal cannabis policy that seems to pervade the NHS and the Department of Health. It's certainly not based on evidence but on a ruthless policy of disinformation in which Dr Gerada seems to take the lead.
Also giving evidence is Paul Hayes, chief executive of the National Treatment Agency (NTA). He is the man with access to the facts that reveal the misinformation about cannabis and its links to mental health. The hysterical stories about huge increases in people seeking treatment for mental health problems due to cannabis use are simply not true. We have the hospital admissions statistics which show that on average 750 people are admitted each year with a primary diagnosis of mental and behavioural problems related to cannabinoids. The NTA's records show that around 9,500 people each year enter treatment for cannabis use with either GPs or drug treatment agencies. Over the last five years there has been a modest increase in the number in treatment for cannabis but it remains stable at around 7% of all those in treatment for substance misuse.
What happens next in the inquiry we simply don't know. There is no timetable, schedule of hearings or indication of what is being done or how the inquiry will proceed. In my view, this is just not good enough. I have been in touch with the committee's admin team on several occasions asking for an update but I am told that the only source of public information is the drugs inquiry page on the parliament.uk website. This is updated on an ad hoc basis.
We really should have more accountability than this. We have to remember that cannabis is only one aspect of this inquiry and that dangerous drugs cause far more harm to individuals but the totality of harm caused by cannabis prohibition should not be underestimated. I do wish Keith Vaz and his colleagues would remember that hundreds if not thousands of us put a lot of effort into our submissions to the inquiry and we would like some information on progress. Mr Vaz has said it is going to be a "long inquiry" but what does that mean? Will we have a report this year?