A poll conducted by LDDPR last month got some positive exposure last week with a mention in Antonia Senior’s opinion piece in thursday’s Times “Over to you: Tell me why drugs must stay illegal.” It was also referred to at greater length in Mark Easton’s excellent blogpost “Drugs Policy: The British System” the day before.
I feel it is important for the results of this poll to be explored further as some of the implications are profoundly important for the progress of the debate on drugs policy in this country and beyond.
Almost all polls conducted prior to the one we commissioned last month were variations on the “Do you think drugs should be legalised?” theme. This is despite the fact that the serious drug policy reform advocates in the UK (Groups like Transform and Release for example) are calling for “government control and regulation”, not “legalisation”, a word that likely conjures up impressions of a sudden moral sanctioning of drug use, or an abrupt halt to policing of the trade without the introduction of sensible regulation.
To address this failure of polling, LDDPR commissioned a poll which asked which of three regulatory options participants would find most tolerable for a number of different drugs. The options were; light regulation; strict government control and regulation; and prohibition (explanatory descriptions of these regulatory options were also provided and can be found here).
Rather than finding that 35% of Britons support legalisation of cannabis (as was reported following an Angus Reid poll in January), the LDDPR poll conducted through the same company found that 70% supported either light or strict regulation of the drug, with the figure for light regulation being remarkably similar to those for “legalisation” in the earlier poll at 33%. It’s quite possible that poll participants up until now have been rejecting “legalisation” for the same reasons they reject “light regulation” and have been presumed to be rejecting reform only because the most likely reform options haven’t been presented to them either by politicians or by pollsters.
If politicians are reluctant to discuss drug policy due to their fear of public perception of the issue, and their beliefs about public perception come from “legalisation” polls, then it could be argued that pollsters have failed politicians and the general public on a massive scale.
Further analysis of the figures on cannabis continues to create a picture completely at odds to what we have been led to believe. The demographic groups most likely to favour light regulation could well be described as the usual suspects: (relative to the overall 33%) Londoners (40%); Liberal Democrats (38%); Guardian/Indy readers (43%); 18-34 year-old males (39%). Those least likely to support it again you could predict: Express/Mail readers (25%); 35-54 year-old females (27%).
When you look at the groups favouring strict control and regulation though, you can’t help but imagine politicians around the country slapping their foreheads with their palms as they realise they’ve been stupid cowards for all these years: (relative to the overall 37%) Express/Mail readers (41%); 35-54 year-old Females (46%).
Yes it’s true. 66% of Daily Mail/Express readers would prefer cannabis were legal and regulated. 67% of Conservative voters think the same. The single group most likely to favour the strict legal control and regulation of cannabis is the group likely to contain the most mothers of teenage children. This is not a policy for stoners and irresponsible libertarians. It is a policy with broad appeal that might just find its most vigorous supporters amongst the nation’s concerned parents.
They know their kids can get hold of cannabis whether it is prohibited or not. They probably like the idea of young people trying to buy cannabis having to prove their age to the vendor. They might even be yet more enthusiastically supportive if politicians explained the numerous other benefits of regulation that couldn’t be described in the text of the poll. I suspect the more factual information is provided in a poll such as this, the greater the bias in favour or reform. There certainly aren’t many facts that support the status quo.
Antonia Senior in her comment piece calls for “laissez-faire legalisation, which would see drugs commoditised, marketed and taxed like any other product.” I’m slightly bemused as to why we should move from a system that is neither popular nor effective in reducing harm, to a system (presumably similar to the light regulation option in the LDDPR poll) that is neither popular nor likely to be effective in reducing harm. I would however welcome the debate shifting from legalisation vs. prohibition to one over how we replace prohibition with a system of regulation which best safeguards the mental and physical health of the population.
I previously have been dismayed by the shameful populism displayed by politicians on drug policy issues. In light of this poll, I look forward to the politicians adopting and vigorously defending the truly populist stance in proposing the strict government control and regulation of cannabis.
Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform will be hosting a fringe event: “It’s time we talked about drugs policy” in which speakers from Transform and Release and myself will discuss current drug policy failings and our hopes for the future. The event will take place in Hall 1B of the ACC on Sunday the 19th at 8pm and will be chaired by Julian Huppert MP.
LDDPR will also be drafting a topical motion in response to several drug policy stories that have been covered in the national media in the last week or two.
If you wish to get involved in drafting the motion or be contacted when it is finished and looking for supporters please get in touch with me at [email protected]. I can also provide the full excel file of the LDDPR poll results for those who are interested.