Neil Woods had first come to my attention on the 2015 Channel 4 show, ‘Drugs Live’, where he was featured alongside a number of well respected UK celebrities. The concept – people took marijuana live on TV and underwent a series of tests. Its crowning glory was that it made a 68-year-old news presenter, Jon Snow, take a large dose of marijuana and then put him in an MRI scanner. Nothing about that situation was going to go well… and it didn’t. He felt ‘like his soul had left his body’.
By doing this to poor Jon Snow (and using these clips in the advertising campaign) the show ensured that most of middle-aged England tuned in to see the ‘horrid’ effects of weed on their most beloved news anchor. This was the exact audience that creator David Nutt (Ex- Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs) had wanted to capture – namely, the pro-prohibition camp. Using this primetime platform, he cleverly presented a well-rounded view on the drug and enforced the message he gave to the Government (which lead to his well-publicised dismissal) – marijuana is less harmful than cigarettes and alcohol.
Nearly 2 years later and the view on prohibition in the UK hasn’t really changed, but the campaigners are finally starting to be heard. Since the show, Neil Woods has built a stronger platform on which to voice his concerns on the ‘war on drugs’ as a whole, not just marijuana decriminalisation. With a respectable background as ex-law enforcement, he is appealing to the very same audience that David Nutt was last year.
It has only recently come to public knowledge quite how deep Neil’s roots went. He was an undercover detective for 14 years, working specifically inside the drugs markets of organised crime. He posed as a heroin user and used other addicts to make his connections with dealers. He estimates his arrests account for over 1000 years of prison time. He was on the front line of the ‘war’…and he’s not proud of any of it.
By his own admission, Neil did some terrible things while undercover. He claims “a lot of people would have been better off if they hadn’t have met me”. He was repeatedly convinced to go back undercover to “fight the good fight”. Emotionally manipulated by his superiors, and in turn, emotionally manipulating some of our society’s most vulnerable people; stepping over them, using them, and then ultimately putting them in prison. Neil eventually realised – these people should have been helped, not abused.
Working on the frontline really opened his eyes to the futility of it all. He told us that they took 90 dealers simultaneously off the street in one huge sting. The result? It impacted the heroin market for a whopping 2 hours. Months of work, lives on the line, users and dealers imprisoned…and in 2 short hours it was all back to the way it was.
Now Neil has turned on his past life and is labelled a ‘traitor’ to the war on drugs. To Neil, as it is to many sensible people, it’s clear – prohibition doesn’t work. Drug use will always happen. Do we want the £7 Billion (Estimated UK trade) going into organised crime outfits? Or back into communities, education and the local economy? Whatever your feelings on drug use or users- it really is a no-brainer. The use will continue either way.
Neil is now the chairman of LEAP UK (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.) He spends his days rallying support from politicians and the public against the ongoing war. The alternative they suggest isn’t anarchy; you wouldn’t pop into your local shop and buy a wrap of heroin. Regulation is a big part of LEAP’s plan. Doctors would administer heroin to users, and with it, bring the care and counselling needed to bring people off it for good. When is an organised crime outfit ever going to push for their ‘customer’ to stop using their product? That’s bad business.
Neil has been part of the alternative option, and that isn’t working. Drugs exist, and will always exist… for Neil, and LEAP it’s about reducing the harm associated with them. The Guardian reports that drug deaths are up to an all-time high last year. Decriminalisation would mean that content is controlled by the government, and the dangers of drugs being stamped on, and cut with dangerous additives are none existent. The place you purchase your drugs would sell you a safe, clean, regulated amount, explain how to administer them safely, and how much to use.
Not convinced? Neil has written his exploits in the police in his expose book ‘Good Cop, Bad War’, a must read for those under the illusion that the prohibition is working. In the meantime though, listen to the podcast below, and subscribe to Version 3.0 on Itunes for more great conversations.
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