LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH NEIL BELOW, OR READ ON FOR A SUMMARY...
Joining the conversation in episode 11 of Version 3.0 is veteran undercover police officer Neil Woods. In the process of infiltrating many of Britain’s most powerful drug gangs, Neil had machetes held to his throat, knifes thrust at his balls and was once made to take so much speed he couldn’t sleep for three days. After spending most of his adult life toppling some of the UK's biggest drug gangs, Neil seems like an unlikely character to be promoting legalisation.
He first came to my attention on the 2015 Channel 4 show ‘Drugs Live’, where he was featured alongside a number of well respected UK celebrities all getting baked on TV. Its crowning glory was making 68-year-old news presenter, Jon Snow, take a hella' vapourised bag of weed before placing him in an MRI scanner. Nothing about that situation was going to go well… and it really didn't. Poor Jon said he felt ‘like his soul had left his body’.
By doing this to Channel 4's national treasure, 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 the programme 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 cleverly curated primetime platform, he presented a well-rounded view on the drug and enforced the same message he had previously delivered to the Government (which lead to his well-publicised dismissal); marijuana is less harmful than cigarettes and alcohol.
Nearly 2 years later and the public's view on prohibition in the UK hasn’t really changed, but the campaigners are finally starting to be heard. Neil has used his respectable background in law enforcement to build a stronger platform on which to voice his concerns on the ‘war on drugs’ as a whole, not just marijuana decriminalisation.
Months of work, lives on the line, users and dealers imprisoned...and in two short hours it was all back to the way it was.
During his 14 years undercover, he posed as a heroin addict and used other vulnerable 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’...an admition that now fills him with more shame than pride.
He claims “a lot of people would have been better off if they hadn’t have met me”. Against his best intentions, 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 openly talks about a time he took 90 dealers off the street in one huge sting. The result? It impacted the heroin market for a whopping two hours. Months of work, lives on the line, users and dealers imprisoned...and in two 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 that prohibition doesn’t work. Drug use will always happen. Do we want the £7 Billion (Estimated UK trade) going into the hands of organised crime? 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 model LEAP promotes is not anarchy; with wraps of heroin available behind the counter of your local shop. 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.
For Neil and LEAP the aim to reduce the harm associated with drugs - full stop. The Guardian reports that drug deaths were at an all-time high last year. Decriminalisation would mean that the purity of substances could be controlled by the government, eradicating the risks of drugs being cut with dangerous additives. 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 documented his exploits in the police in his expose book ‘Good Cop, Bad War’, a must read for those under the illusion that prohibition is working.