Over the years we have seen many campaigns for drugs to be banned because a family has lost a loved one to illegal drugs. People reading this piece will understand that once you have banned something, demand does not diminish so the state is merely handing over the responsibility of supply from itself to those of criminal gangs.
Leah Betts died in 1995 due to complications associated with taking Ecstasy in a nightclub, and 20 years later drugs supply has not diminished, nor has the culture that demands the party drug. Her parents are apparently coming to the conclusion that their knee jerk reaction – to eradicate a drug from the environment – has been about as effective as preventing the common cold that bothers most of us at some point in the winter months.
In 2013 a young woman went out and took some Ecstasy and died. What would happen to her mother in the ensuing weeks could well be a catalyst for real change in drugs policy in Britain and around the world.
An Interview With Anne-Marie Cockburn
“My only child Martha, she was 15, on a Saturday morning she went out and swallowed half a gramme of white powder that turned out to be Ecstasy that was 91% pure, and about three hours later she died. This was in July 2013.”
There is nothing worse for a parent than losing their child. A range of emotions hit them and over the coming weeks and months they will be changed as a person. The effect would change Anne-Marie’s life for good.
“That was a catalyst for my family. Within a couple of weeks I just knew that it was due to something much bigger than my daughter. I found [drugs charity] Transform’s number. I kind of had my views already. I knew it was governmental, and that policy is inadequate so when a 15 year old leaves your house on a Saturday morning and all you get back is a pair of empty shoes. Why we haven’t learned from alcohol prohibition in the same way about drugs is beyond me.”
“This has been catastrophic to a lot of lives. The marginalisation of young people. Here I am almost two and a half years later and I haven’t changed my mind. If anything, my mind is even more made up!”
“Legalisation in practise is about saving lives. It’s about taking some control because we have a free for all at the moment, though people think that legalisation would cause a free for all. People can get their hands on whatever they want! It’s about taking it out of the hands of people who don’t care and handing it to medical professionals who do.
“It’s about getting a label on those bottles. If Martha had known that what she bought was enough for 5-10 people, and had known the dosage to take she would have taken the smaller dose. She wanted to get high – she did not want to die.”
“So here I am, a single mother without a child, talking about protecting other people’s children. Although it’s very painful I will keep telling my story. I can gather more and more support and we will push politicians who are sitting on their hands, and make them realise that they are no longer able to turn away from the subject. If it was one of their children lying in their grave, not just mine, I’m sure they would become very interested in the subject.”
“In 2002 when David Cameron was a legaliser he said it was the elephant on the doorstep. He was incredibly clear that he got this subject fully. He had to rescue a someone close to him from a crack den in the past. However while he’s in office I don’t think there will be a change in government policy in the UK. That’s why I’m going to the UN.”
At the UN meeting UNGASS on drugs law reform in April this year a group of families will stand outside in front of the media. Anne-Marie said, “I will be representing Anyone’s Child and showing whether it’s with our dead children’s shoes wearing teeshirts with the words, daughter, son, cousin, aunt or mother; and we will silently be saying this is what is happening and if you don’t do something about it there will be more of us next year.”
Effective legislation on drugs has been proven to work. “Look at Portugal where drugs were decriminalised 15 years ago and it has worked. It’s not an ideal model as you still have the source the drugs from an illegal source – legal regulation is the ideal model, but it’s a good start because it’s saving lives – that’s what I’m interested in.”
Existing drugs laws have invested vast power in criminal gangs in the UK, to the point that Anne-Marie is even willing to compare the situation in Glasgow with Mexico. “Police are losing control of them, as has already happened in Mexico. We could in the future have our children kidnapped and forced to work in the drug industry.”
The UN General Assembly on drugs has been brought forward by four years due to the desperation of South American governments who are being beaten by very powerful drugs cartels. “Hundreds of thousands of people every year are being killed or are going missing. This is a global problem. We can’t just look at the UK – we need to look at the bigger picture.”
Moving back to the frontline, Anne-Marie said, “The only difference between medicine and poison is dosage. Look at a road accident where you get diamorphine – we all know that’s heroin! A rat will fight eight times more for sugar than it will fight for heroin, and sugar is causing major global health problems such as obesity and other issues blamed on fat, yet white sugar is the catalyst for it. The American government is also considering licensing MDMA for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.”
It is really important to Anne-Marie that people can make informed decisions. “Whether it is cannabis oil to stop children fitting, or whatever it is, I want all the information to be out there so parents can make informed decisions. If you tell a young person they are going to die from smoking cannabis then they are not going to listen to you when you tell them anything else. To me, providing non judgemental information on drugs is no different to providing age appropriate sex education. Had that information been available for Martha she would still be here.”
One of the reasons Anne-Marie’s message is so powerful is that it is so unusual. She’s calling for strict and responsible regulation of all drugs laws rather than supporting prohibition, going against the prevailing belief of the government and right wing media. I therefore had to ask her how her message had been received? Had she been treated like some sort of crazy for her thought process?
Anne Marie said, “My message has been received surprisingly well. Because I come out with some simple messages such as, ‘You cannot recover from being dead,’ people understand. My story shows the downside of the traditional approach to drugs legislation. Predominantly I’ve been incredibly supported. If someone attacks me, and it does happen, it is because something’s clicked and I have had an impact. Nothing is worse than what has already happened so I’m not scared. I am not doing this for my child because it’s too late. I am doing it for your children and that stops people in their tracks. They ask, ‘Why is she saying this? Why does she want Ecstasy to be regulated? She doesn’t seem like a psycho so let’s read further into this.’ When people get angry about it, I say, ‘Why leave it in the hands of criminals? The only ID you need is a £10 note and off you go!’”
“We need to conduct a massive education initiative for MP’s and the wider public. That’s where Anyone’s Child comes in. When the wider public gets it there will be wide support for it. Most people who are against it haven’t had anything to do with it before and know nothing about it. They say, ‘I’m not that type of family’. Well I can tell you that we are all that type of family and this problem is not going away.”
“Where there’s 50 people dying every week you’ve got to say, ‘Guys, this isn’t working. Back to the drawing board! Let’s look around the world to see what is working, and see what we can do to change the situation ourselves. A Home Office report looked at 12 countries around the world and found that decriminalisation didn’t lead to an increase in drug use.”
“Martha would have been 18 a few weeks ago, and would have a lot to contribute to this world. She had an incredible brain. I don’t want the world to lose another Martha. I’m pretty determined!”
Last week, Anyone’s Child had a public meeting in Bristol. The general public were invited to talk to Anne-Marie and a former undercover policeman about the issues as they saw them after encountering the misery and pain associated with current drug laws. “Listening to our incredibly powerful stories, people were very moved and during the intermission wanted to speak to us about the issues in more detail. This is a template for us to reach out to more communities to keep the conversation going. It was such an amazing night with a great atmosphere. 150 people turned up which was very good! You cannot convert everyone, but even if it is just a dozen and they know people, you are sowing a seed.”
“I’ve just been to a very conservative area of Italy and my message of harm reduction was very well received. People are, ‘OK I understand,’ because I’m not there looking like a hippy and you throw all the stereotypes out of the window. I’m just a single mother who’s lost her child. I’m together, I’m calm. I love blowing stereotypes out of the water!”
Anne-Marie concluded, “I will take the steps around the world Martha is unable to in order to prevent my story becoming your story.”
For more information or to support Anyone’s Child in their aim to attend the UN General Assembly next year please watch this YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEmfXIk_c2c&feature=youtu.be
This article was originally written in English, If you see any errors please email us at words@The-TripReport.com