A few weeks ago Prince William, going where most angels fear to tread, asked a group of drug users what they thought about legalising drugs. Why don’t we ask our MPs the same thing, given they are responsible for the drug laws?
Ask for a meeting and enquire what your MP thinks of shifting the control of the production and supply of drugs from gangsters to doctors and pharmacists. The chances are that they won’t have thought about it a great deal.
That’s because, in Westminster, the issue of whether drug prohibition is effective or not isn’t taken that seriously, and drug policy is generally weaponised by senior politicians who wish to portray themselves as muscular – “tough on drugs”, “tough on crime”, “fighting the scourge of drugs” and so on. Or, it is used as a stick with which to beat political opponents as “soft on drugs”. But never is the policy seriously scrutinised. Neither are alternatives such as decriminalising people who use drugs (as has been implemented in Portugal) or legal regulation of supply (as has happened in Uruguay and many US states) explored.
Prohibition gifts a multi-billion pound a year market to organised criminals and unregulated dealers. It corrupts large banks and brings violence and fear to poverty-stricken communities, and puts vulnerable people who use drugs in great danger. By the by, it also undermines security and development in some of the poorest regions of the world. Legal regulation on the other hand would return the trade to the control of government and make possible all kinds of protective measures (think alcohol prohibition in the US in the 1920s).
Indeed, it was popular pressure that brought in that prohibition in the US, and it was popular pressure that helped end it 13 years later. Against enormous odds, women in particular campaigned for both the enactment of prohibition and its repeal. We could also end our contemporary drugs prohibition if our parliamentarians were convinced that it had public support.
At the Tory Party conference this year Crispin Blunt MP called for the legalisation of cannabis. In July, so did Manchester Labour MP Jeff Smith – who also called for the decriminalisation of possession of all drugs. Recently my own MP, Thangam Debbonaire, suggested that we should consider “regulating the heck” out of all drugs. And it was their constituents who helped persuade them to adopt a reform position.
This is a conversation that you can initiate simply by giving them a ring or paying them a visit. Ultimately it is up to us as citizens to challenge our political representatives, including MPs, police, crime commissioners and mayors (hello, Andy Burnham) to declare where they stand on this vital but undiscussed issue.
If we don’t ask, our elected officials will assume that we back the drug war. They will rightly take for granted that their rhetoric has our support, and that we are happy with their self-imposed taboo on talking about drug law reform.
It’s our right to know where they stand, and it is our responsibility to find out. If you want to protect vulnerable communities and reduce crime, do get in touch with your MP and have that conversation. Find out where they stand. They may then consider if that knowledge will affect which candidate’s name you will place a cross against,
come the next election.
Danny Kushlick is head of external affairs at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation (tdpf.org.uk)