Russell Brand testifies to Parliament about drug policy, channels Groucho Marx

Here's some of Russell Brand's wonderful, thoughtful, funny, and acerbic testimony to the UK Parliament on the subject of combatting addiction and setting sensible drug policy. Brand is a former heroin addict, and he was questioned by MPs over his views on the subject:

* I don't think we need a carrot or a stick. Both of those things seem to be to be bizarre metaphors. I think what we need is love and compassion.

* Being arrested isn't a lesson, it's just an administrative blip

* Again mate, what we need to identify is a degree of authenticity and compassion in the way we deal with this problem, otherwise you just seem like you don't know what you're talking about.

* You can tell what party they're in from the questions, innit? "What about the victims of the crime!"

* [After the committee chair tries to restore order by declaring that they're running out of time, and without missing a beat.] Time is infinite. You cannot run out of time. Who's next? [Home Secretary] Theresa May? She may not show up. Check she knows what day it is.

You've got to listen to the recording, which starts at about 5:55 in this episode of the BBC's Today in Parliament. It's like a chirpy cockney Groucho Marx discussing drug policy with a bunch of Margaret Dumont-esque Tories, and running silvertongued circles around them.

Russell Brand says drug addiction should be treated as a health matter


  1. Under normal circumstances I can’t stand him but I saw some clips on reddit and I thought he was perfect.

    1. As a recreational drug user, I feel Brand’s testimony doesn’t argue enough for the fact that some people do drugs not because they are unhappy but because drugs are fun. I think people just don’t like to admit that for some people it’s occasionally fun to use a mind altering substance. My recreational drug use hasn’t ever harmed me or anyone else and that’s only because I’ve been lucky enough to never have had a run in with the police. 
      Some people can use drugs for fun and not lose control. 

      Edit: i now watched the video to the end(i was listening while i typed that bit above.) Brand does mention that some people can use drugs and remain functionally productive happy people and other’s cannot. He stresses the most important point that decriminalization will allow them to focus state funds more effectively and improve peoples’ lives. 

      Though his messages is hard to criticize because he argued for quite reasonable drug policy I really do wish the message that not all people are naturally addicts got a bit more lip service.

      1. Brand makes it clear at several points that addiction is a disease that not everyone is susceptible to, and that efforts to combat harmful drug use should focus on people at risk, and suffering from, addiction.

      2. Of course I don’t know what recreational drugs you use/have used, and you are probably a thoughtful and responsible consumer, but remember that just because you don’t see recreational drug use hurting anyone doesn’t mean it isn’t.  If you can grow things or make things yourself (or your friends can), good for you, but many drugs have a long, violent road to their end users.  If certain illegal recreational drugs were legalized there may be less egregious violence involved in their distribution, but currently they are not and many people are injured or killed due to massive demand for drugs (look at Ciudad Juarez, for example).  Purchasing drugs that emerged from cartels (and according to Wikipedia, most drugs in America do) feeds that violence, even if you can’t see it.

        1. All great points, truly.But do you have a smartphone?  An iPad? A laptop?  The conditions in which most of the stuff is made are pretty fucking terrible.

          I mean, I own that stuff too (or would if I weren’t broke, lulz).  I’m not judging you.  But you shouldn’t judge either, really, all things considered.  This society is pretty fucked up in terms of capitalism and consumption and the harm it does.

          Also, I know that, when it comes to medical/legal weed, people will gladly buy from legit sources, and that has to effect the black market.

          1. in reply to MGB look at the effect the IMF had on Argentina, it takes economic policies to ravage a country that thoroughly. You’re living in a different world if you don’t think capitalism seriously hurts a lot of people and destroys quality of life for many many people. 

        2. Cartel drugs are typically low quality, the harder drugs i use are pharmaceuticals. i am not particularly found of putting substances that i’m sure were processed with low quality reagents in a shack in south america into my body, and I wont touch illicit amphetamines or opiates due mostly to trouble with regulating dosage and of course contaminants. (cartel weed is shitty weed, i have had it once and we smoked 2 grams and only felt mild effects for about an hour, it just wasn’t even worth the effort.)

          Anyway aside from health concerns, the only reason the cartel is making so much money off of illicit drugs is because they are illicit. I think people need to be given the right to choose to put any substance they’d like into their body without paying an inflated black market price or even an inflated pharmaceutical price.

          I know personally i enjoy a chemical vacation on the weekend here and there, or a wonderful visual heavy hallucination, or perhaps even a dull euphoric opiate induced haze. I understand there is a lot of problems with people not having the knowledge necessary to regulate their use of drugs and prevent harm.

          consider the number of people who give themselves liver failure using acetaminophen every year, yet acetaminophen is put into percocet tablets to prevent abuse, also it’s difficult to find cough syrups or tablets containing only Dextromorphan HBr A commonly abused cough syrup ingredient. If you haven’t noticed the dose of acetaminophen in you NyQuil bottle per 30ml is now 650mg instead of 1000mg, this due to people giving themselves liver damage, additionally all OTC dosages of acetaminophen are being lowered because people cannot seem to understand the max 1g dose, and no more than 4g per day. The point is fewer people would harmed if substance for recreational use were available for that purpose. because making it more difficult/dangerous does not mean people wont do it anyway. 

          Also you wear clothes that were sewn together by poor children in the third world, does that mean you made them do it? did you personally exploit them? perhaps.

        3. Recreational weed smoker here. There sure are many people being hurt by the activities of drug cartels, and that’s a direct result of the criminalization. Was the same during prohibition of alcohol last century. Offer legal sources and that problem will solve itself.

        4. This is a moot argument. The reason there is a “long violent road” from producer to user is specifically prohibition. I really get pissed off when people try to use this argument against responsible drug users. The user did not create the black market infrastructure – prohibition did. To turn around and blame the user for something caused by the system is completely asinine.

          Demand for drugs will never go away. Until legal sources exist the black market will continue with business as usual. Until free thinking individuals are given an alternative to buying from the black market, don’t expect us to respond to guilt trips.

  2. Brand catches a lot of sh*t… but I love the way he stuffs it to the political double talk, and calls them out for trite self interest. I suspect he’s a really decent guy under all that persona, and I greatly appreciate what he’s trying to do.

      1. He’s ridiculously self-aware and honest which is very refreshing when it comes to a celebrity.

  3. There’s something slimy about celebrities as expert witnesses for public health issues. One might question the motivation behind it. Marina Hyde had a column arguing that, in this case, the select committee and Keith Vaz in particular were purely attention-seeking when they invited Russell Brand and Mitch Winehouse give their testimony on drug policy.

          1. as in why he was suitable to speak on the behalf of many others, and why his opinion mattered more cos of his celebrity status. he mentions it in every interview on the matter,

    1. It seems reasonable to invite some addicts to talk about laws that affect addicts. But then I’m just a radical who thinks that prisoners should be allowed to vote. What would happen to drug laws in the US and UK if all those people in jail for drug offenses actually voted?

          1. the stat is 30% of eligible voted in recent local elections. That’s average for the UK.

        1. I think that prisoners might have a higher percentage if they had that right. Maybe not, but maybe.

          1. By killing off everyone else voting against them? :)

            EDIT: I see my phrasing was clumsy. There’d be a 3% addition to the total voting pool consisting of pro-legalisation voters if prisoners (whose numbers would make up 3% of the usual voter turnout) voted.

          2.  I kind of suspect they would – if nothing else, many usual excuses (I’d be late getting to work, etc.) wouldn’t apply.

      1. The UK allows prisoners on remand to vote but has a blanket ban on the right of all sentenced prisoners to vote. The European Court of Human Rights (not an EU institution; it has jurisdiction over the 47 countries in the Council of Europe including Russia and Turkey) has ruled that whilst bans on some prisoners voting aren’t in breach of human rights code per se, a blanket ban is. See  So expect to see some UK prisoners voting at some point in the future.

        Would prisoners voting affect UK legislation? No. Prisoners on remand are allowed to vote in the constituency of their last home address so assume the same right would be given to serving prisoners. There are approximately 90,000 prisoners in the UK. That works out at less than 150 per constituency. Some constituencies would have more prisoners but, assuming that they would be inner-city constituencies, they would also be likely to be very very safe Labour seats that would need thousands of additional votes to change the outcome of an election.

        Edit: see this list of UK MPs by majority – only 7 MPs [double edit – 6 because Phil Woollas was forced to stand again due to some electoral impropriety and inclreased his majority significantly] have a majority of less than 150 and over 600 have a majority of more than 1000. Voting prisoners would simply not be able to affect the outcome of an election.

        Interestingly, whilst the UK has a ban on prisoners serving a sentence of more than one year from sitting as MPs, many MPs have served from prison. Bobby Sands, who was interned but not sentenced, was famously elected to the Commons to represent Fermanagh and South Tyrone whilst both in prison and on hunger strike, although he was only only an MP for one month before he died. Other prisoner-MPs include the Countess de Markievicz, a veteran of the Easter Uprising and the first female MP and Terry Fields, a trotskyist who was jailed for 60 days for non-payment of the poll tax. A couple of MPs have been conivcted and removed from Parliament after sentencing, including Captain Peter Baker, Horatio Bottomly and John Stonehouse – all for fraud. John Stonehouse, a Czech spy who was an MP from prison for over a year whilst on remand, faked his own death and fled to Australia. When the Australian police arrested him they were under orders to pull his trousers down to check for a distinguishing scar as they weren’t sure if it was him or Lord Lucan the famous murderer.

        The House of Lords is even more lax and lets its unelected politicians to return after serving sentences of any length in prison. The list here is much longer and includes Lord Archer, the convicted liar, terrible author and user of prostitutes.

    2. The article raises a most valid issue, but the egregious strategy of angling for media time by calling celebrity witnesses seems in this case to have backfired to some extent, one might hope…

      Brand is compelling enough to have attracted 30k+ views of the full thing, drawing some actual attention to the issue at hand, despite the craven machinations of the tools running the thing as a sideshow.

      Edit: make that 110k+ views; there’s a better copy.

    3.  There’s something slimy about a society that dictates the laws on drug taking without consulting or giving any attention to the actual users. What’s wrong with an ex-user using their celebrity to bring attention to this?

    4.  ALso, Brand himself repeatedly says he isn’t a legal expert and so forth. And inviting a former addict to testify at a hearing on drug policy reform is a good idea, and if said ex- addict is a celebrity, you then have more attention being paid to the subject itself, which any honest politician wants.

  4. Not sure why the post only has the 2:27 poorly-edited highlights; here is the full 29:02 testimony. Great stuff.

      1. Because the pixels affect the message right?

        There is a time and place for HQ and parliamentary testimony is not one of them.

        1. No, because watching anything under 480p on the 40″ telly I use for a monitor is just bloody awful.

          And although 480p might still count as HD for some, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to consider that something of a minimum these days.

  5.  Pretty insane to ask the people who are actually (recovering) addicts about what the mindset of an addict might be. What could they possible contribute?

    Much more of this please.

    Next month there will be a an epidemic of panty twisting when the leaders of all the major south american countries come out in favor of decriminalization. Yikes! Truth. What do we do now?!

    Addiction (to anything) is a health issue, not a crime. The people who believe otherwise are either invested in the profit motive of the drug biz, or just scared silly by our media. Check the Netherlands success rate in dealing with it logically.

    1. That (the panty-twisting and so on) will be an interesting development in the context of something going on in Canada right now — which is to say, the oral arguments in the appeal against the ruling of R v Mernagh finished on Tuesday this past week (May 8), and we’re now waiting for the results of the appeal, expected probably in the summer.

      A quick refresher: R v Mernagh is an Ontario criminal court case where Matt Mernagh was busted for cultivation and possession of cannabis. He argued, and Judge Taliano agreed, that Ontario’s medical marijuana program was fundamentally broken (the problem was, finding a doctor who would sign your paperwork was near-impossible) and was built as an illusion to prop up continuing prohibition. Judge Taliano proceeded to strike down the Ontario MMJ program as unconstitutional, and then went and struck down the personal possession and cultivation sections of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and he instructed the Crown to come up with a better program, with a 90-day deadline. The government appealed, and after over a year of delays, the oral hearing was held and thousands of pages of documents are in. If the appeal is ruled in favour of Mernagh, then things get interesting.

      It’s going to be interesting to see this next decade.

  6. “Gee, Russell Brand sure gave a good speech, let’s follow up on his concerns, including NOT legalizing drugs because that would, as he said, NOT have a deterent effect that is necessary for people to not do drugs.”

    Right; like the deterent effects of the insane US laws have prevented drug use, right?

    Good points on how to empathize with people Brand, bad points on not believing in them.

  7. Great stuff until the very end. I don’t have a problem with Russel brands antics, I think he’s very funny and agree with him in most of what he says, but the stuffy politicians will instantly disregard everything that he says because at the end he got bored and started making jokes. Him standing up for himself-“I’m gonna interrupt for a bit otherwise it’s like they’re telling us what to do.”- is borderline. Him throwing insults-“making it more like Dad’s army”-totally undermines everything that has gone before. This is very similar to a great deal of the reaction to the occupy movement. People being turned off as soon as they saw dreadlocks and bongo drums. Yes this appeals to a large audience, but at least 750,000 marched against the Iraq war and it made no difference. Nothing to do with the coherence or logic of the arguments; everything to do with not being seen to present the yourself in the required manner. Sadly the people who have power to make decisions require things to be done a certain way. Those in power who actually have a brain and want to make a difference cannot use the support of well meaning celebrities and mass movements if they don’t play the game. In fact I think they want people like Brand to make jokes so that they can write him off as a “variety show” performer.

    1. No doubt the MPs would have *totally rethought their entire position on drug policy* had he just been respectful right to the end.

    2.  As someone who often uses humor as a defense mechanism, I understand Russell’s responses at the end. His natural response to frustration is to poke fun at it. Some people scream. Some shut down. some ramble. Russell makes jokes. It was likely a 50/50 reaction to the absurdity of him being there to testify to people that had already made up their minds. He poured his guts out, to no avail and was frustrated with the result. That’s when the comedy gets turned on. It’s an emotional defense mechanism.

    3. At the end Brand responded to a mild insult with a mild insult.  Turnabout is fair play.

    4. How many 30 minute videos of parliamentary testimony have you watched? How many video of British parliament have any of us watched? Brand’s behaviour is what has made this video reach so many eyes in such a short time.

      I think you’re missing the point which is just as much about reaching the population as reaching politicians.

  8. I love this (thank you) because it’s so well done. I suspect in some cultures there are vacuums that people feel. For example, children in British railway stations, especially posh children, seemed so especially bereft, winey for good reasons, that to this day I shudder when I hear a British person say the word “pathetic” because I think English people feel that word especially hard. When I was an exchange student in Germany it was shocking to observe soul-sapped English students who apparently only desired in life to dope to insensibility in-the-presence-of-others; nothing more. The English kids who faked and/or attacked were better off, which just sucks.
    If there’s more going on, people won’t seek dull escapes.

    1. What? I have no idea what you mean. English people are somehow in touch more profoundly with the melancholy hardships of life?

      1. I’ve heard of the Russian soul but the English soul doesn’t quite do it for this Englishman.

  9. Err, apart from the fact that time may be itself quite likely finite: The human time span is finite and I understand fully when people do not want to waste it.  

    1. People may not like to waste time listening to someone because they find it boring or it uses up time they had plans to make use of a different way on that particular day, but justifying it in terms of the finite human lifespan seems like sophistry too (edit: “sophistry” was in reference to an exchange retepslluerb had with another commenter that has since been deleted) –an hour of “wasted” time works out to about 1 millionth of an 80-year lifespan, and if people really cared so much about using every hour of their life productively they wouldn’t spend so much of it on leisure activities. Besides, do you think if medical science found a way to halt aging, everyone’s tolerance for spending a lot of time listening to people they found boring/irritating would suddenly skyrocket?

  10. I used to find him insufferable, but then he got married, “settled down”– relatively– & started saying smart things.  I was worried when he got divorced that he might meltdown, but he seems to have held it together.

  11. Brand also did a discussion show for Channel 4 on the subject of drugs a few years back- although as it was part of their schools strand it was shown in the day and nobody saw it.

    Being one of those people who never saw it, I don’t know if it’s of any value or not, but it might be worth looking up.

  12. Not qacqauinted with Chip’s focus-12 program, but can I assume from its name that it follows the AA 12-step program, which features a heavy spiritual aspect, that of admitting helplessness without the assistance of an outer force,usually represented as God?

    One of the issues many have with such programs is what’s described as the replacement of one addiction with another, that of religion. 

    1.  I’m an atheist myself, but I feel many criticisms in this vein against the 12 steps to be overblown. Sure, it’s not the right thing for everyone (but then, what is).
      But the main point of submitting to a “higher force” (which does *not* have to be god/s) is admitting (and realizing) your own helplessness in face of the addiction, in order to reclaim agency.
      Sure, insufferable pricks like Penn Jillette might tell you otherwise – but that’s mostly because the disease model of addiction runs contrary to their own little cultish dogmas.

      1. Perhaps it’s just because of my own inflated self-esteem (and having necer been addicted to anything), but I’ve never grasped how declaring yourself “helpless” can ever make a problem easier to solve. 

        That’s quite a difference from admitting you need assistance.  There are lots of things that one cannot do alone (The Tango comes to mind), and until one admits that assistance of some amount is required, little will get done.

        Bear in mind, I’m NOT an atheist. I was raised in the HRCC, and it’s the dogma set I most identify with (save for a few things like the hatred of gays and all).  But I view God as an assistant, and not one to put in charge.  “Jesus, help me on my way” as opposed to “Jesus Take The Wheel”, if you see the difference. 

        1. Well look, if you examine rage addiction in someone, or domestic violence say, it can be very similar. One recognizes that one is helpless against the problem (the idea that one can control another), and cannot put themselves in situations where one indulges and must at all cost take care of themselves to not put themselves in that position (this may include prayer, walking in nature, whatever for someone). The “helplessness” applies to the idea of power and control derived from engaging in an addiction, something people who do not engage in addiction already know. We are all “helpless” in the sense that none of us are the center of universe, and must interact and engage in the whole, in a mutually respectful way in order to connect with a self that is authentic. None of that has to happen with a religious belief. 

      2. Yeah, that doesn’t sit well with me, either.  One of the problems I have with most religions is the notion that you are “helpless to yourself” and that you need a “higher power” to instruct your life, and if you don’t have a “higher power”, your life is meaningless with a heavy heaping of “if you don’t have a higher power, you’re a terrible person who probably deserves the addiction.” It’s manipulative, imo.

        And as VBartilucci said, admitting you need assistance, and getting that assistance, does not mean you are “helpless”. In fact, that is one of the hardest things about addiction, and finally admitting that you need support can be very difficult, especially in our society, which VERY MUCH shuns and shames addicts. Having the courage to get help is not a helpless act.

        I think, under it all, most people can overcome great odds, if they have support.  AA provides that support (while being anonymous, so one can avoid some of the stigma — which is important to remember, because stigma does not promote recovery), and I think that’s why it’s successful for some people.

        The research done on AA indicates that it’s not really any more successful than anything else.  I think those who do succeed, do so because they do well in that kind of environment, with lots of rules and re-enforcement from your peers, and, most importantly, a desire to become sober.

        Kicking addiction requires desire, education, and support.

    2. My issue with it (and I know a lot of people in the program) is that the whole surrender thing encourages people who have spent their lives sleazing out of responsibility to have an organized forum for continuing to sleaze out of responsibility.  Many of them manage not to drink or take drugs, but view themselves as victims and screw up every other aspect of their lives with that mindset.  I tend to think that people who succeed or fail with the program would have succeeded or failed without it.

      1. The viewing oneself as a powerless victim is one of the things that grinds my gears.  Again, not having had to conquer an addiction may color my opinion, but the thing is, based on that mindset, one NEVER “conquers” an addiction. One lives in fear of it one’s entire life, hiding behind cover, never going near the thing one was addicted of, knowing that just a single taste will be enough to lose control to it again. All the while, having to REMIND oneself they you are worthless and weak. What a horrible way to have to go through one’s remaining life.

        1. Ugh… it’s been said a few times here. The idea is you admit that when presented with the thing chocolate, smack, French Fries, pot, booze whatever, and it’s right there in front of you, you as an addict don’t have a very good track record of saying no. So instead you put up some barriers. You avoid. Maybe for all you semanticians out there “helpless” is the wrong word. Fine. It boils down to admitting you have a problem saying no. Obviously people who get this aren’t completely helpless, because they start doing things to solve their problem. But they know if they have a jar of peanuts in their house sooner or later that jar is getting emptied. SO instead they don’t buy the peanuts in the first place. Maybe they let their spouse do the groceries, because they’re maybe not helpless, but sorely tempted, weak willed, choose the fricking word that suits for you

  13. I’m amazed nobody’s mentioned — I still agree with his points, but I’m not sure this is fundamentally a guy we want to start hailing as a hero, okay? I’m not even a very strident feminist but this behavior is REALLY NOT OKAY. :(

  14. Lovely chap, and obviously very grateful to Chip for getting him back to a functional state.

    I’m a tad sorry to see that his approach though, seems to remain somewhat symptomatic and after-the-fact: abstinence therapy.

    What could really help debates like these is a good analysis of why our culture is conducive to drug-related escapism in the first place. Why do people feel like they need to escape? Could exhilaration and ecstasy be catered for in a less problematic fashion in the first place?

    Personally I like the idea that all drugs are simply optional permission slips to get into a state that is more in line with our preference; with our naturally ecstatic and playful selves.

    Now if governance were to align itself along *those* lines… I think it can be done.

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