Last year’s drug policy debate at conference ended with near-unanimous endorsement of the policy motion “protecting individuals and communities from drug harms“, but since then Liberal Democrats seem to have been passing up every opportunity to publicise our new policy.
When Theresa May dismissed the advice of the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Lib Dems were silent. When Ken Clarke said the War on Drugs was failing but that decriminalisation wasn’t the answer… Lib Dems were silent. When an audience member of question time last week asked if it was time to control, regulate and tax drugs Ed Davey ignored Liberal Democrat policy and totally misrepresented the questioner’s suggestion.
It has been a hugely frustrating couple of weeks for me as the lead author of the motion we passed last year. I have long felt that communicating this policy to voters would enthuse many more than it would frighten, but I have heard not a peep from the representatives I tried to spur into action.
Finally yesterday we were provided with the evidence that backs up that assertion. A YouGov poll for The Sun has demonstrated widespread support for a government review of drug policy options and even strong evidence that a party calling for such a review might receive a significant poll boost.
One of the questions looked like a direct challenge of Liberal Democrat policy:
“Would you support or oppose a government review of drug policy options, to include the current system of criminalisation, a Portuguese style decriminalisation or full legalisation?”
And our policy came through with flying colours. 58% would support a review, 21% strongly. Only 22% would oppose with only 9% strongly opposed. 59% of those who plan to vote Tory would support a review, with only 22% against.
We have a truly popular drug policy.
The poll then asked how such a policy would affect voting intention:
“Would you be more or less likely to support a political party if it promised to review alternatives to criminalisation, including legalisation and regulation and decriminalisation?”
34% of Labour supporters would be more likely to vote for a party with this policy (the Liberal Democrats), as would 23% of Tories. Only 11% of Lib Dems would be less likely to vote for (us) while 50% would be more likely!
The results are well worth examining and are available here on page 8. The results on page 7 are also interesting.
Can we please now start telling the voters about this policy and make a concerted effort to get a drug policy review onto the government agenda? By the evidence of this poll the party taking the first step will be rewarded and we really don’t want to miss out.
The brave members who spoke in the debate from personal experience of addiction, domestic violence and heartbreaking loss have been disappointed for too long. Courage is not the issue any longer. Taking action is now a simple matter of political wisdom coupled with a principled determination to find a better way.
* Ewan Hoyle is the founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform and member of the Scottish Liberal Democrat policy committee.