Tag Archives: Medway

The UK should legalise and regulate ‘legal highs’

The UK should consider a well-regulated industry of synthetic drugs as a way of keeping users safe, according to one of the pioneers behind the ‘legal high’ industry.

Grant Hall, general manager of the STAR Trust, led the way in creating New Zealand’s ‘Psychoactive Substances Act’. It is the only legislation in the world that allows the manufacture and sale of “social tonics”.

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Grant Hall of the STAR Trust

Mr Hall said: “We also know that prohibition doesn’t reduce demand. It simply hands over control to organised crime networks who don’t do quality control, don’t check ID and don’t pay taxes.

“If the Government take control within a strictly regulated regime, as New Zealand has done, then we would expect far less harms overall.”

Since the Psychoactive Substances Act was signed into law in July 2013, Mr Hall says the industry has reduced the level of harm to drug takers while allowing “ethical” manufacturers to flourish.

He said: “All the experts confirm is that if we focus on dealing with drug use as a health and welfare issue, as opposed to a criminal justice issue, we will get better outcomes for society as a whole.”

In 2012, ‘legal highs’ caused 52 deaths – almost double the amount in 2011. It is claimed that a 20-year-old from Gravesend died last week after taking an unknown substance.

Mr Hall said of the victims: “Any harms from any drugs [legal or illegal] is always devastating to any family and this is part of the reason why we are so committed to harm minimisation, health and safety.

“Our position is that we should let the scientists decide, independent of the politicians, what is low risk and how best to manage the protocols to market.”

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Student media: no-one reads it but we provide a valuable service regardless

There is a bit of an argument raging at our Centre for Journalism and it is one that can be heard in student newsrooms across the country.

The Medwire, the independent student media outlet based in Medway, was not invited to attend an awards ceremony organised by Kent Union. The KiC Awards is being promoted as a “celebration of the successes of student media” and it is an issue that the Medwire team has taken to heart.

It is a polarising debate and both sides have perfectly valid points. The Medwire is not a member of Kent Union so why should they celebrate our work? Why should they pay for us to be recognised? One person likened it to “Coca-Cola going to the Pepsi awards”.  Others have said the Medwire is being all “up itself” about this. After all, it’s the first ceremony of its type; it is a purely cosmetic issue and one which does not grant us the power to be all high and mighty.

But we have to be “up ourselves” because we believe so strongly in what we do. One of the organisers said: “Of course, if the Medwire were to consider becoming a part of the union, we would welcome their participation in the awards.”

The Medwire is one of the last sources of independent student media in the UK. The majority of student media outlets are union-funded, operated by a team of union officers and volunteers. Across the country, horror stories are circulated about union censorship and newspapers/magazines being transformed into PR for the university.

We are “up ourselves” because we don’t do that. We are independent. We lock our reporters in a room for hours on end, bribing them with biscuits and alcohol in a bid to keep hitting the phones to secure a precious advertising deal, so we can have a website and a magazine for the next few months. One of our main advertisers, ironically, is the university. Does this make us hypocrites? No. Does it affect editorial content? No. We still get angry emails over stories that rightfully shame the university. They pay us a sum of money, because it makes good business sense to them and nothing more.

The Medwire is not the BBC. We are not even the Radston Times.  Our team often question why we do this in the first place. Is it a vanity project? No. We do this because we have to. It is our duty to the 10,000 people we serve in Medway, and further afield, to scrutinise the union, the university, the societies, the council or the cafe next door. And we do this in the same manner that the BBC would. We aim to be fair, accurate, honest and objective in our reporting, values imposed upon us by our Centre, whilst adhering to the same media law as the professionals do.

Our persistence has scored us some major successes, hitting the nationals on more than one occasion. We enjoy our freedom; it can be incredibly stressful and my role as deputy editor feels like it has swallowed my entire life (and that’s me, imagine our editor). We may have a small audience, but we grow everyday and provide a valuable service to those who have judged us worthy enough to bring news to them.

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Fast-track police proposals could threaten the force

jeromeIt was interesting to talk with Chief Superintendent Neil Jerome of Kent Police about the proposals to fast-track police recruits to higher positions – because the Chief raised a perfectly valid point.

He said: “Experiencing what it is like at three in the morning to be plodding the beat, when you are on your own, gave me a far better and greater understanding of the job. My credibility, to my officers and staff, going out doing what I am asking them to do, is so much more enhanced because they know that I have done it myself.”

In that statement, Chief Superintendent Jerome has pointed out what I personally believe to be the biggest flaw in these proposals (and they are just proposals at this point; scrutiny is to be expected). You can’t simply teach people how to be a police officer, in the same way you can teach a trainee lawyer or a doctor. Policing requires experience. It requires men and women who have been on the streets, interacting with people. And this takes time; it took Chief Superintendent Jerome 19 years to work his way up the ladder and he considers himself to be one of the quicker officers to do so.

Everyone at the bottom of the hierachy needs to be able to look up to their superiors and know that they have shared the same experiences. Confidence is key and taking orders from someone who has done it all themselves will do exactly that.

Police Minister Damien Green said to the BBC: “There is no organisation in the world that cannot get better and it must be the case that if you widen the pool of talent, then you will get even better policing in this country.”

This is also a valid point but it could create problems. Encouraging military personnel or university graduates to join the service could definitely bring a fresh approach to policing, but it risks creating a culture where policing becomes simply a career, a chance for recruits to hop up the ladder and get to those senior positions. Chief Superintendent Jerome said: “You don’t come into policing unless you fundamentally believe in some of the ancient traditions around policing in this country.” Those “traditions” set policing aside from many other sections of society and it is this traditions that we must uphold if we are to have a successful, passionate police force. These proposals have the potential to change that and for that reason, they must be considered again.

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