It’s time we talked about legalising drugs

There is currently much noise around the (unsurprising) news that a senior politician, who was once a journalist, spending much time in a large city in the UK, has taken drugs during his life – we’re taking illicit drugs here, cocaine, in Mr Gove’s case.

Despite some moral outrage, there has been a surprising shift in the criticism. Much of the condemnation has been around the hypocrisy of a cabinet minister. A minister who is wedded to a policy which criminalises users of drugs, as opposed to the actual taking.

I’m going to concentrate here on the argument to legalise drugs. There is, of course, much debate to be had, so I’m happy for you to contact me for further debate, and do your own research too (TRANSFORM, The Loop, Volte Face and Anyone’s Child are great places to start). I argue for legalising, not decriminalising drugs. Whilst users could seek better support, “decrim” leaves the manufacture, trafficking and supply of the drugs in criminal hands – that doesn’t really move us on much.

So, we have two choices when it comes to legalising drugs.

  1. We leave things as they are.
  1. We legalise and regulate, via state control. This would:
  • Reduce the black market for the manufacture and trafficking of drugs, which also includes human trafficking, including sexual abuse and other horrific issues in what is referred to as “they supply chain”
  • Increase health support for people who require it (we also need to be honest that not everyone who uses is addicted or dependent) and reduce the needless deaths in our families, towns and cities
  • Increase education regarding support, but also safer usage. Also unlock research into currently illegal drugs; some initial research suggests some illicit drugs could be used, as a start, to tackle schizophrenia and various cancers
  • Make the supply subject to legal controls – you wouldn’t accept alcohol mixed with rat poison, so why should people have it in their cocaine? Also this means age controls, labelling and proper quality control
  • Reduce gang crime, violent knife and gun crimes, and seriously tackle the “county lines” issue. We can’t just ask the Police to endlessly run around after gangs who supply – a gang removed can be replaced by a new one in less than hour. Speaking to the Police in many places, they often can be found to privately support changing the law, because the “war on drugs” isn’t winning – LEAP UK is a great source of information. 

There are many other benefits to legalising more drugs. Those of us who advocate this position don’t want people to suddenly start taking loads of drugs. We don’t want people to be allowed to drive, or work, whilst under the influence. We want to bring about harm reduction with a public health approach to drugs reform.

“Just say no” for any form of drug doesn’t work. People. Will. Take. Drugs. We can, however, say no to more needless deaths. No to an increase in violent crime. No to sticking our heads in the sand. 

We can choose to say no to all of that. So I choose option 2 – does anyone want to leave things the way they are?

 

* Lee has long campaigned on mental health in and out of the Lib Dems, he is the PPC for Birmingham Ladywood and speaks for the Party on Health, in the West Midlands.

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50 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jun '19 - 12:22pm

    Let the Tories stew in their own juice.

  • “Make the supply subject to legal controls – you wouldn’t accept alcohol mixed with rat poison, so why should people have it in their cocaine? Also this means age controls, labelling and proper quality control”

    So you are saying that Cocaine, heroin, LSD etc. should be able to be legally manufactured in controlled warehouses, labelled and shipped to shops around the country, advertised and sold to the public?

  • John Marriott 11th Jun '19 - 12:33pm

    No, Lee. First DECRIMINALISE the use of drugs. After all, we don’t lock up people for using drugs like nicotine and alcohol, which probably kill more people than other dangerous substances. Then set up a Royal Commission to look at addiction in all its forms. I reckon that it would come out with repealing the Dangerous Drugs Act of the early 1970s, which was introduced under US pressure and one of whose results was more or less to do away with the concept of the ‘registered drug addict’, which had been around since, I think, the 1930s and had appeared to work quite well.

    It’s time we recognised all forms of addiction as a medical condition. Let’s look at countries like Portugal and Uruguay, where real progress has been made. The late Richard Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’, which has been parroted by subsequent leaders on both sides of the Atlantic more or less ever since, just has NOT worked.

    It has been time for a long while to take a more pragmatic attitude to this problem rather than keep offering a knee jerk reaction. Yes, it will be tough; but, as Billy Ocean once sang; “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”! Be brave.

  • Legalise, standardise and tax. That’s the only policy that works. Only that policy will stop the criminals. And yes, as a Liberal I defend people’s right to choose what they do as long as it harms no-one.

  • “Reduce gang crime, violent knife and gun crimes, and seriously tackle the “county lines” issue.

    Legalising and commercialising drugs would not have this effect.
    Drug addiction leads to crime to fund the habit.
    Commercialising drugs being subject to tax would increase prices. This would lead to a black market for manufacturing and trafficking of the same drugs to be sold cheaper on the streets. so in other words you would still have the violent gang crimes and knife crime associated with it.

    Legalising drugs and commercialising them will do absolutely nothing to reduce this type of gang crime, in fact it could have the opposite affect and increase it, because once drugs have been commercialised and the government starts taxing the hell out of it and increasing prices, the crime rate will go up because addicts need to fund the extra expense and the gang crime increases because the black market becomes more lucrative.

    I dont agree with legalising drugs full stop (except for medicinal use)

  • @matt – “Commercialising drugs being subject to tax would increase prices”

    I don’t see why. Currently illegal drugs take a very convoluted, risky and expensive route into the country, with various criminal gangs taking a cut of the value along the way.

    Legalised drugs, either grown/manufactured in the UK or simply imported via legal means like tobacco and alcohol, would have a lower cost leaving room for reasonable level of tax without increasing the price. Even if high levels of tax pushed the legal price a bit higher, most would still chose a safer product from a legal source than risk a contaminated product from criminals.

  • @Nick Baird

    I dont think so Nick.

    Tobacco has been taxed to the hilt in the UK £12 Billion on tobacco in 2017 which equates to 82% tax, resulting in a black market of Tobacco of fake products that are even more dangerous than commercial produced tobacco.
    The poorest in society can no longer afford to by the commercial tobacco and so instead rely on the cheaper black market product. why do you think it would be any different for drugs?

    On a further point, you try and get treatment on the NHS now if your a smoker or a drinker, the NHS will use any excuse to refuse operations.
    What do you think would happen if we legalised drugs and saw an increase on the need for mental health treatment or other physical complications caused by drug related issues? The money is not there to fund treatments now, let alone for the increased demand on services that this would cause were we to legalise drugs in this manor.

  • The evidence shows that legalisation destroys crime cartels:
    https://news.vice.com/en_us/article/d3j55x/legal-pot-in-the-us-is-crippling-mexican-cartels

  • I totally agree with Matt on this one and vehemently oppose legalisation. I can see the misery drug use causes first hand by people I know who have become addicted and then developed severe mental health problems and even worse illnesses causing cancer. To fund their habit, users steal and then burgle houses, I know many people who have been burgled and had their lives turned upside down. Also being a member of an SNT ward panel we get to see first hand the effects of drugs on people’s lives and how it destroys communities. Where is the support for the victims, there is very little it all goes on the perpetrators.

  • Drugs have already pretty much decriminalised. You can smell dope everywhere, others types are common in clubs and you can see zoned out mamba users in virtually doorways in virtually every city in the country. If drugs were legalised there would be lots of earnest class-based newspaper articles (in between pieces on the correct way to enjoy traditional hashish or where to find the trendiest new opium den) demanding that we tell people on low incomes how live, which would lead to demands for punitive taxation which in turn would simply increase the black market thus defeating the object of the exercise. However It would, on the other hand, be a change from telling people off for eating and drinking the wrong things.
    There is a third option and that is to actually enforce the existing laws by arresting users and going for zero tolerance.
    Personally, I don’t care what people do I see it as a freedom of choice issue

  • I live opposite a regular (daily) dealing site and represent a local authority ward where addiction across the piece tends to generate petty theft and anti-social behaviour rather than violence (although I recognise that the self harm dimension can be quite scary). My instincts are to echo Mick Taylor’s summary but given that public policy has been frozen for so long the Royal Commission route is probably the way forward. That’s the first time I’ve recommended a Royal Commission about anything but the
    volume of evidence required to underpin policy changes is probably necessary for this one. So yes to John Marriott.

  • Lee Dargue, If drugs why not prostitution.

    After all, exactly the same arguments can be made for ‘the oldest profession’ and with the upside that D.O.E. crimes are not an unintended consequence.

  • Daniel Walker 11th Jun '19 - 2:25pm

    @expats ” If drugs why not prostitution. ”

    Prostitution per se is not actually illegal, though.

  • Decriminalise, absolutely

  • nigel hunter 11th Jun '19 - 4:06pm

    When a husband of a prominent Tory can be part of a company that farms medicinal Cannabis and make money out of it is it not hypocritical not to legalise it so that the country can earn from it??

  • @nigel
    but the op is not talking just about cannabis, he is talking about hard class A drugs Cocaine and Heroin included.
    Im all for legalising medicinal cannabis, but legalising all drugs for recreational use is in my opinion irresponsible and will create an even worse social problem than what we have already. And my comments come as an ex addict of cannabis, cocaine and ketamine

  • Mick Taylor 11th Jun '19 - 4:52pm

    All those arguing for keeping drugs illegal and to keep criminal sanctions for use and supply must produce evidence that this policy is working. It clearly isn’t and all the current ‘war on drugs’ does is make drug users reliant on criminals for their supplies and create criminal convictions for those caught breaking the law by using drugs recreationally.
    In a Liberal society where is the justification for criminalising behaviour that affects the users of drugs when their recreational use harms no-one but themselves?
    People forget that prior to the early 70s there was no war on drugs, indeed drug use was not illegal. Addicts were helped by GPs, Chemists and the NHS.
    Everyone knows that you can buy cannabis in every town, village, hamlet or big city. Go into all manner of buildings and you can get high just breathing the air. So clearly the law is being broken wholesale and no amount of pretence can say otherwise.
    Now part of the lure of drugs is that it is illegal. Make drugs legal and that incentive goes away. Tobacco is legal, alcohol is legal and they do far more damage than cannabis.
    So, I repeat, the way to tackle the drug problem is legalise, standardise and tax, just like tobacco and alcohol. People have a right to their own lifestyle and choices.

  • John Marriott 11th Jun '19 - 4:57pm

    NO, NO. Start by decriminalising usage, which is virtually what has happened with cannabis. Then treat addicts as victims, not criminals. Addiction is a disease, so start treating it as such.

    I wonder what percentage of the inmates of our prisons are there because of a drug habit? Pretty high, I reckon. Like prostitution, you are never going to get rid of addiction completely. Indeed, there will always be people with an addictive personality, just as there will always people, who require the services of prostitutes, both male and female. But, if you take away the illegal element you might stand a better chance of helping rather than punishing those, who unfortunately have succumbed.

  • There are problems with certain drugs that abolitionists don’t face: crack cocaine, crystal meth, and to a lesser extent perhaps, heroin, are all substances which destroy the ability to function normally and which create serious health and mental health issues. This would be the case whether their use was legal or not. If you argue that the individual has the absolute right to ingest such substances then, in my book, you have to argue that he or she is totally responsible for the consequences and that society as a whole should not be required to rectify the damage that the individual has caused him or herself. That is, of course, setting aside the consequences to the functioning of society or such a policy. You can argue that the negative effects of the use of alcohol and tobacco are indeed already borne by society, but that doesn’t seem to be a necessary justification for increasing those costs by complete abolition of drug laws. I would probably make an exception for cannabis because overall (purely in my opinion) I suspect that the social benefits outweigh the costs, or at least balance them out.

  • Experience in Widnes in the 1980s and 90s when Dr John Marks set up a heroin clinic shows how drugs policy should be reformed. Acquisitive crime such as burglary fell by 93%, street prostitutes left sex work and former thieves got regular jobs while drug pushers gave up on the town because there was no market demand.

    Conversely, prohibition simply doesn’t work. Surely that’s obvious by now.

    https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/ex-undercover-cop-says-widnes-11854487

  • @ Mick

    “In a Liberal society where is the justification for criminalising behaviour that affects the users of drugs when their recreational use harms no-one but themselves?”

    Recreational use harms no-one but themselves? Are you serious? What about the victims of addicts who are robbed in the street, or have their houses broken into?
    What about the shops and retailers who are struggling in these difficult times and yet are seeing an increase in shoplifting?
    What about the ambulance service that is stretched to the limits already and yet having to attend calls to patients who are unconscious on spice who are a danger to themselves and a danger to others and thus have to be taken into A&E , not forgetting the other 999 emergency calls that are having to wait for help because ambulance staff are having to attend to spice addicts.
    What about the unborn children who are born with addiction to Heroin because of their mothers usage whilst pregnant.

    You cannot seriously argue that recreational drug use harms nobody but the user

    @John Marriott
    “I wonder what percentage of the inmates of our prisons are there because of a drug habit? Pretty high, I reckon”
    I would agree the percentage is high because they are having to commit crime to fund their habit (robberies and burglaries), therefore how does decriminalising the drugs stop this? If anything it would make the situation worse.

    The answer is to put more money into drug rehabilitation programs and mental health programs to tackle addiction, the answer is to provide young people with better opportunities through work, education, training, apprenticeships, work guarantee programs etc.
    The answer is defiantly not to decriminalise drugs and commercialise drugs which would only exasperate the problem

  • Common sense from Tony Hill. Personal responsibility matters.

    There is such a thing as society and individuals can’t just plead individual liberty to do whatever they like if it inflicts cost, distress or inconvenience to other people…… especially in taking up resources in the hard pressed NHS.

    But there is a higher issue. My sort of liberalism was about a society made up as far as possible of autonomous rational citizens making rational choices. That’s what the Band of Hope and the Nonconformist churches were about in the old Liberal Party’s heyday. Society has a duty to the individual – yes – but the individual has a duty to society going way beyond personal self-indulgence. It’s called citizenship.

  • What a fascinating discussion. Well done Lee for initiating it. As it happens I agree with you, and have supported legalisation for some time. But the dissenters here are making good points, and it’s so refreshing to read an intelligent, rational discussion about this issue.

  • John Marriott 11th Jun '19 - 7:49pm

    @matt
    I think you mean ‘exacerbate’ the problem. The point in decriminalising the use of dangerous drugs is not to encourage a drugs free for all but to tackle a problem that no amount of prohibition will eradicate. What you are advocating is fire fighting. What we need to do is to stop the fire starting in the first place.

    The question that needs to be asked is why people like some famous rock stars, for example, can recover from massive substance abuse, whilst others sadly have failed. Nobody is saying that any addiction is a good idea; but it’s around us in many forms, including substance abuse, gambling, alcoholism and smoking. It’s clear to me that we need to tackle it in a different way, because the current methods are just NOT working!

  • Sorry I should have added in my post that you can separate recreational drug use from dependant drug use and the consequences
    There are three stages of drug use.
    1) Experimental
    2) Recreational
    3) Addiction

    To many jump from 1-3 in a very swift leap, especially with drugs like Crack Cocaine and Heroin and now spice.
    The social consequences of addiction are immense and are costly to society, the individual and our scarce resources.
    It would be irresponsible to decriminalise drugs just because some users are able to remain as “recreational users”
    This group of people are adding to the problems and thus should face the consequences if caught.

  • @John Marriott

    “The point in decriminalising the use of dangerous drugs is not to encourage a drugs free for all but to tackle a problem that no amount of prohibition will eradicate.”
    So how would decriminalising it tackle the problem?

    I agree that we have to improve ways of tackling addiction as I have said in previous post

    “The question that needs to be asked is why people like some famous rock stars, for example, can recover from massive substance abuse, whilst others sadly have failed. ”
    Maybe for some rock stars having the ability to fund private treatment and therapy gives them a better advantage of fighting addiction, but unfortunately for some, no amount of money or treatment will suffice and they succumb to their addiction with devastating consequences as we have seen.

    “Nobody is saying that any addiction is a good idea; but it’s around us in many forms, including substance abuse, gambling, alcoholism and smoking.”
    I agree and thats why we have also taken measures to try and tackle issues around gambling with fixed odd betting terminals for example which is liberal democrat policy I understood?

    The answer to addiction and things that are a blight on our society which are extremely damaging to vulnerable people is not to make it easier for them to indulge in my opinion.

  • I’m fully on board with this, and while there is a lot of work to be done on the details of how it should best be done to ensure maximum harm reduction, the fact is that the current system of prohibition is not working and puts lives at risk, not just for users of the drug equivalent of home distilled moonshine, but also for everyone caught up in the whole supply chain.

    IMO, most of the harm from most drugs comes from the fact that it’s a business run by criminals, and criminalising the victims is a non-sense. Treat problem drug use as a health problem, and treat the wider problems as a public health problem, using public health solutions. We need proper regulation and good, reliable advice and a supply chain that can be inspected and controlled.

    It is no longer acceptable to keep the status quo and it is not acceptable to pursue an approach that we know is causing harm. Criminalising drug use, distribution and ‘creation’ might make some people feel like we are doing something, but all we are doing is filling prisons, hospitals and wards. Eliminating all problems with drugs is never going to be an option, but if we take a step back and think of drugs as a public health, rather than criminal issue, then all of a sudden we have many more tools available that will reduce the overall harm.

  • I’d like to add that we shouldn’t try to treat all drugs as the same, or attempt to bring in new rules overnight. Starting with the proper regulation of cannabis is both realistic and desirable, and probably more importantly – palatable to a growing portion of the public.

    Once we’ve moved that particular tranche of drug use away from criminals, and used the same kind of regulation and licensing used for alcohol, we’ll very quickly reduce the power of the criminal gangs and can review in practical detail how to reduce harm from other drugs. It will be one step at a time, but we need to get our heads around the fact that making something illegal will not prevent harm.

  • Can we please not talk about drugs during a GE it’s a vote loser. Let’s not make this our obsession

  • The truth is the war on drugs as long ago been lost. I could walk out of my house and quite easily find drugs and the only drug I have any intrest in is alchol ( if you discount caffeine which is very much my drug of choice) but even so I could soon find any of the illegal ones quite easily in the small town I live in. We can pretend to fight the good fight to give people a false sense that something is being done, but the reality is otherwise. The only time a war on drugs has been successful is when draconian measures are taken, anything else at best drives the drugs trade a little deeper underground or only gives people the false feeling something is being done. That is the reality we face and I believe a Royal Commision is required to face this reality.

  • So the people who are in prison for drug related crimes i.e burglary & robbery to fund their own addictions, how is decriminalising drugs going to help that and reduce the prison numbers?
    Are these crimes going to disappear because the drugs have been legalised?? I don’t think so.
    in fact the problem would get worse, because there would always be a black market for drugs which would be sold cheaper than the Government controlled Taxed substances.

    This is just so absurd in my opinion.

    Just cause the war has not been won on drugs, does not mean you throw in the towel and make it easier and worsen the situation.
    You put money and resources into treating addiction and introducing policies to give people better life chances where hopefully they will not feel the need to fall into a life of despair and resort to drugs.

    You certainly don’t decriminalise class A drugs just because there are a minority of “recreational users” who want to get off their heads every weekend and dont accept the indirect consequences of their actions on society as a whole

  • @Cristian – I don’t think anyone is making this an ‘obsession.’ It’s a serious debate and hopefully will lead to party policy. I agree we shouldn’t /lead/ on it in a General Election, but I would be proud to have it in our manifesto.
    As for it being a vote loser….. The Scottish Parliament today voted to make organ donations an opt-out system instead of opt-in. In other words, doctors will assume you want to donate your organs unless you have pre-registered an objection. I think this is a brilliant law, which will save countless lives. Yet I remember not so long ago the idea was seen as really controversial and politically unpopular. But those who believed in it kept talking about it, developing it, campaigning, persuading. And here we are: it passed into law today with very little media coverage and only 3 MSPs voting against it. There’s a lesson there, I think.

  • John Marriott 11th Jun '19 - 10:43pm

    @matt
    If you just make the possession of drugs a crime, as we have for many decades, the logic is that you lock people up as a punishment. The chances are that, without effective treatment, they will continue to offend when released, usually to maintain their habit. Fiona has made most of the points that I would have made regarding how criminal elements have taken an increasingly large piece of the action. As she said, it’s a health problem. If you decriminalise possession and regulate supply as part of a properly funded treatment programme the chances are that these criminal elements will not be able to maintain the stranglehold they currently enjoy. The ‘war on drugs’ is not working. How much longer are we going to persist in a ‘war’ we cannot win by continuing with the present strategy?

    @Christian
    Oh dear, let’s not offend because we might lose some votes. I always thought that Lib Dems were the ones, who prided themselves in being able to think outside the box and had the courage of their convictions. Of course I can’t prove that my suggestions will work; but it’s plainly obvious that what we are doing now isn’t either! As I said at the beginning of this debate, let’s at least have a Royal Commission into ALL forms of addiction and implement whatever recommendations it makes. I’m pretty certain that it won’t recommend more of the same.

  • Peter Watson 11th Jun '19 - 11:00pm

    @Christian “Can we please not talk about drugs during a GE it’s a vote loser.”
    More than that, in 2017, hearing Lib Dem politicians refer to “skunk” was almost as excruciating as their inability to answer the obvious question about whether they would be happy with their children using cannabis!

  • @John Marriott

    “If you decriminalise possession and regulate supply ”
    And as I have said before, this will not stop the black market supply of drugs as they will always be cheaper than commercially produced which the government will tax the heck out of as they do with everything.
    The poor, vulnerable and addicts will still resort to crime in order to fund their addiction.
    All legalising drugs and regulating supply will do is to allow the more affluent middle classes who want their fix without fear of committing an offence or their coke to be cut with something awful.

    I keep hearing the same arguments that the war on drugs is not working.
    25% of those that are in prison are for violence against the person
    17% for sexual offences
    15% for drug related offences.

    So what is it you are actually meaning when you say the war on drugs is not working?
    Top Tip, Think about the crimes that have 25% and 17% before you answer

  • Actually Matt drugs are often a major cause of violent crime, one in particular

    People who commit violent offences while under the influence of drugs, particularly alcohol. Drunkenness is associated with a majority of murders, manslaughters and stabbings and half of domestic assaults.

    According to the 2014/15 CSEW, there were 592,000 violent incidents where the victim believed the offender(s) to be under the influence of alcohol, accounting for 47% of violent offences committed that year. This represents a decrease of 6 percentage points on the previous year (2013/14).[8] The CSEW also notes that 18% of these violent incidents in 2014/15 took place at a pub or club.[9]

    A Customs Office once told me if alchol was a new drug it would be classed as Class A. He also told me in his opinion the worst two drugs where alchol and tabbaco, I tend to agree with him.

  • Neil Sandison 12th Jun '19 - 12:08am

    All addictions have a physical and mental health outcomes .Locking people away has not solved the problem or reduced it . it has just made the dealers richer and the users slaves and victims of the drugs under world so we need strong policy on commercial sale of addictive substances and to treat addicts as victims of a health related addiction .
    Without a clear seperation between perpetrator /supplier and victim operations like county lines will only scratch the surface .

  • @Frankie

    Yes, I come from the Bar / Club industry after managing them for many years. I saw first hand on an almost daily basis the affects on violent related crimes from people on drink and drugs and I can tell you now, the drugs was the biggest menace of all. You have far more chance reasoning with an intoxicated person and calming them down and hopefully avoiding an alteration. Unfortunately not the same could be said for those off their faces on some of the drugs I have seen, Meth, GHB, ICE and coke, the alterations would turn extremely nasty as the person would be high as kite and believe they could take on a MMA fighter, it got very ugly and scary sometimes and I always felt fearful for my security staff who I had to put into harms way.
    Ive seen what these drugs can do to people, Ive been on the end of them from someone who has wanted to tear me to pieces and all my staff,
    Ive also gone from being a “recreational user” myself of drugs, who thought I had it under control, to developing a full on dependency £600 a week cocaine habit.

    Thankfully I am away from all that now, but the urges are still there sometimes, especially during times of extreme emotional distress.
    So from my own experiences, I do not believe decriminalising would be a good idea at all, I think it would make things a whole lot worse in fact.

  • On criminality.

    A quick look round the internet at a guesstimate some 20% of tobacco cigarettes are illegal. But if you have different figures @matt, I’d welcome them – legalising cannabis you’d get rid of 80% of associated criminality. And as has been said the increased costs with criminal supply of cannabis would prob. be greater than a tax.

    On cannabis

    The evidence is that it is not a harmful drug. There is some evidence of slightly greater depression with use (about the only side effect) but it seems only in those that are genetically predisposed towards it. Probably the most harmful substance we ingest is sugar – causing type 2 diabetes, which in turn causes depression, amputations, blindness etc.

    I would prefer people have a low THC spliff than get tanked up on alcohol and end up in A&E. One of the advantages of licensed shops is mostly people would get low THC cannabis.

    The evidence from those states in the US that have legalised it in a comprehensive report cited last time we discussed this is that there has been no increase in use or increase in health problems.

    1 in 3 people say they have tried cannabis – either we throw a third of the population in jail (not the best way forward) or we subject them to a lottery of being caught.

  • On legalisation of cannabis

    An opinion poll in 2016 indicated that 47% would support the sale in licensed shops. (I’d settle for 47% in an election!). But I am sure you can frame this in different ways and get lower support.

    If I was leader etc. I would answer the question on what about the harm for your children by saying “This is for adults – over 18s. Yes I would be concerned if they did a lot of things – drink, smoke tobacco, over-eat but an occasional low THC spliff is probably one of the least harmful things they can do – especially instead of drinking.”

    The 2017 election had a whole lot of problems. We need to talk about everyday “pocket book” issues. And we need well-briefed spokespeople and actually Vince answered on legalising cannabis relatively well on Today a few months ago – framing it as a health issue

    And I have urged caution when we talk about immigration for example not to give hostages to fortune. But we can be the authoritarian party or we can be the liberal party. I think it’s a better strategy to be the liberal party. People will join us and work for us because of it – and frankly we’re not going to attract many authoritarians any way.

    Sadly the current 18-24 generation is “generation sensible”. Drinking less, smoking less tobacco, less teenage pregnancies, more exercise – may be cycling to work etc. Don’t they know that if they don’t take a little cannabis and cocaine – they will never qualify for high office! (Sadly I’m ruled out too!)

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/legalising-cannabis-47-support-sale-of-drug-through-licensed-shops-poll-reveals-a6976796.html

  • John Marriott 12th Jun '19 - 7:09am

    @matt
    Of course the ‘war on drugs’ isn’t working. Look at the escalation of drug abuse around the world since we took hard action in the 1970s. It’s obvious that you just want to kick the can down the road (where have we heard that before?). Cannabis is only the tip of the iceberg. Theft to fund a drugs habit is massive, and I would bet that most prostitutes are ‘working’ for the same reason. The violence you mention is often caused by drugs, in many cases probably alcohol.

    As I said, addiction of all kinds is a disease, which requires treatment not punishment. I guess you and I would have to beg to differ on this issue.

  • Agreed John. Anyone who is the victim of crime linked to drug use is, in reality, a victim of our current system of prohibition. So much real crime could be reduced if we had sensible drug policies.

    As has been mentioned above, many young people are drinking and smoking less, and possibly also taking fewer illegal drugs, in part down to public health messaging, although I’m going to reckon that the most vulnerable in our society are least likely to be impacted by that messaging. But if we have a properly regulated market, funding proper public health measures, this gives us the best chance of reducing use as well as the associated problem criminal behaviour.

  • Morning all!!
    Hi matt. Hopefully a fuller explanation of what a legalised and regulated drug market would look like in reality would address some of your quite understandable reticence.
    It would be very likely that reforms would progress slowly, with careful study of their effects guiding the next steps taken.
    I’d imagine stage 1 would follow current Lib Dem policy to legalise and regulate cannabis. Sales would be from carefully regulated vendors, with strict quality controls, marketing restrictions, and age verification. Concurrent with this would be availability of prescribed heroin to those who are addicted. So not advertised and sold to the public, but supplied to those who are already addicts, to take them away from criminal suppliers, and remove their need to steal, beg, or sell sexual services.
    Cannabis and heroin, as – respectively – the drugs most commonly used, and associated with the greatest societal harms, should be the first steps in a regulated market. If crime exists to fund the habit, providing heroin for no cost should eliminate the associated crime. This can be done very cheaply from poppies grown on UK soil.

  • Your assumption matt that prices will increase is not correct. There is an enormous risk premium that is added to the cost of illegal drugs because everyone in the supply chain is committing crimes that carry significant criminal penalties.
    “This paper examines the effect of drug prohibition on the black market prices of cocaine and heroin. The paper examines the ratio of retail to farmgate price for cocaine, heroin, and several legal goods, and it compares legal versus black market prices for cocaine and heroin. The results suggest that cocaine and heroin are substantially more expensive than they would be in a legalized market”
    From: The Effect of Drug Prohibition on Drug Prices: Evidence from the Markets for Cocaine and Heroin, Jeffrey A. Miron, NBER Working Paper No. 9689, Issued in May 2003, NBER Program(s):Health Economics
    There would still be a substantial gap that can be filled with taxation before the black market becomes a cheaper alternative. Also, heroin won’t be available for general sale.
    Cannabis would be, but it’d still be cheaper than the black market for the same reasons.
    One of the major stated goals of regulation would be to undermine the black market, so you wouldn’t allow prices to rise higher than illegal supply. It just wouldn’t happen. Quality controls and variety of choice in the cannabis market would further help to undermine the criminals.

  • If there is any increase in drug use, the honest education, openness, and ability to be up front with health professionals should mean that health problems would be less likely to occur and be a burden.
    I would certainly encourage education of psychosis risk associated with the sale of cannabis, perhaps with people who experience distortions of perception being encouraged to move away from the high THC “skunk” strains that currently dominate the UK market. You can only do this effectively in a regulated market with good education and good variety of strain choice.
    The costs of HIV, Hepatitis, bacterial infections, abscesses, etc. associated with injecting drug use should be enormously reduced if heroin was being made available in clinics or on prescription with safe equipment and zero contaminants.

    The other measure that should be in place in Stage 1, but that has not yet been adopted as UK Lib Dem policy is drug testing availability in city centres. I second Lee’s recommendation of following In The Loop for info on this.

  • Stage 2 would involve adding other drugs in at each end of the model. The British System that Gordon mentions involved John Marks (and others) prescribing cocaine to crack addicts. Given that crack addiction also contributes to acquisitive crime, it would make sense for prescription cocaine to also be available. Bearing in mind that this would involve contact with health professionals and a variety of recovery options being available whenever people are ready.
    At the carefully regulated sale end of the spectrum, we can envisage MDMA being made available from carefully regulated outlets. The enormous variation in strength and content of MDMA/ecstasy powder/tablets is killing people very regularly now in the UK. Legal sale hasn’t been tried anywhere in the world yet, so it would have to be done very carefully, but are there any drugs best left in the control of the criminal market? No, there are not.
    I don’t think legalisation/regulation/prescription would make it easier to take drugs. I would actually expect prescribing heroin to reduce new uptake of users. There would be fewer black market dealers dealing in the community to fund their habit. All drugs are readily available in the community already if people want them, and they don’t need ID to buy them either.

    It’s not throwing in the towel in the war on drugs, it’s taking the fight directly to the drugs themselves and attempting to effectively restrict their ability to do people harm. It is currently a war on people who use drugs, who should instead be receiving quality mental and physical health support if they need it.

    I’m sorry you’ve had bad experiences with drugs and drug users matt. Please engage with what I’ve laid out here, and let me know if you still have concerns.

  • nvelope2003 12th Jun '19 - 4:19pm

    If narcotic drugs were legalised criminals would have to find some other outlet for their activities so that the robberies and thefts perpetrated by addicts would be carried out directly by criminals. I do not think they will be looking for jobs but I hope I am wrong.

  • David Raynes 18th Jul '19 - 9:19pm

    The argument about legalisation of Cannabis, in the UK anyway, has been overtaken by events. Apart from the mental ill health it causes, it is now clear that Cannabis has the teratogenic effects of Thalidomide and cross generational DNA damaging epigenetic effects. All easily findable by searching Google Scholar.

    Colorado where it is is legalised has FOUR TIMES the birth defects of general US background defects. Nor has legalisation stopped the illegal market in Colorado or California.

    When people like Norman Lamb call for Cannabis legalisation yet cry out for more resources for mental ill health (caused by Cannabis), the party policy is in tatters of illogicality.

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