Reforming Drug Policy Shouldn’t Just Be About Cannabis

drugsWe are the party at the forefront of drug reform policy. There are and have been smaller, single-issue parties that have been campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis for years, but we are the only major party to bring the debate on to the political mainstage.

There are different arguments for the cases of decriminalisation or legalisation – though the two main arguments are almost always centred round healthcare. The first is: with decriminalisation, we can treat addiction like an illness instead of a crime – a noble idea, and one that I think we can all agree on. The second argument is the medicinal cannabis one. This one’s a tricky one, because though cannabis does indeed have medicinal qualities, there is also a lot of nonsense out there. It’s true that it can ease the pain of arthritis and MS, help the nausea caused by chemotherapy, keep epilepsy under control, alleviate insomnia and it can be used as a sedative – but there are ideologically driven arguments that are simply untrue, such as it is a miracle cure for cancer (as if cancer is a single disease), that it can cure serious mental health issues and that it is non-addictive, but these arguments are usually put forward by fringe groups heavily linked with cannabis subcultures.

I’m not particularly interested in drugs legalisation as a health matter. I do think that it’s important to consider, but that’s not what drives me in to supporting full drug legalisation – and let me make clear, I am not advocating decriminalisation, I’m advocating the legalisation of all drugs. Hard drugs, such as crack cocaine, heroin, painkillers and powerful and largely addictive amphetamines, should be dispersed by pharmacists, for people with addiction. Psychedelics, MDMA and cannabis, on the other hand, should enter the market place in a fashion similar to alcohol and cigarettes – with age restrictions and tax that would go towards the NHS – and available to adult to recreationally enjoy. Our party has gone as far as to agree that cannabis should be legalised in this way – I say we should go further.

The truly liberal attitude is to accept – not allow, but accept – another’s right to be intoxicated, to be the master of their own mind and in control of their own body. I’m not a supporter of this cause because I’m driven by a societal obligation to help drug addicts (though I think we should be helping addicts when they choose to get clean), but because I simply want to leave what choices people make down to them. If one enjoys a cannabis joint of an evening, and they’re otherwise law-abiding, then I support their right to smoke cannabis without legal repercussions. If somebody wants to take a hit of LSD, a bit of MDMA or a bag of psilocybin mushrooms, I support their right to do so too. On the condition that their actions remain victimless, and the safety of others is not being compromised, then we should back the right to use drugs for recreational purposes.

The case for legalising drugs for the sake of recreation is being ignored. And though the cases centred on healthcare are valid and just, we should be embracing the case for personal and individual freedom with just as much enthusiasm.

* Dean Moore is a student in Salford and has been a member of the Liberal Democrats since February 2016.

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  • If one enjoys a cannabis joint of an evening, and they’re otherwise law-abiding, then I support their right to smoke cannabis without legal repercussions.

    Dean Moore is a student

    Well, that’s unsurprising.

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th May '16 - 4:02pm

    Whilst I recognise the honesty, energy and logic with which this case is put, I have a certain amount of tiredness with articles that state in booming tones like until Moses from Mount Sinai, ‘the truly liberal way is…’ in the absolute knowledge that there is One True Path and those who differ from it are Heretics.

    Mind you, I was an itty bit like this when I was a student. (Just not on this issue).

  • Being a student is neither here nor there, I think the argument is entirely valid. Liberalism IS about accepting someones freedom to do or say whatever they like so long as it doesn’t harm others. Drugs are no different, if someone wants to take drugs its none of my business. If their behaviour does affect me, thats when we start regulating.

  • Ford’s in his flivver; all’s well with the world.

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th May '16 - 5:33pm

    Tobie, Dean to be more serious,

    I think it is a moot point whether the liberal tenets about harm necessarily and inevitablty lead us to the point where society is obliged to confer a generalised right to access all mind-altering (or more pertinently to my point, behaviour-altering) altering substances.

    Beginning from where we are now, and before we proceed to legalise everything, there first is an evidence-led debate to be had about risk, and whether there are secondary harms to others from the behaviour of those taking such substances.

    With regards to cannabis, that debate is beginning to be had and listened to, but arguing that we all must go further, faster in this debate before that bridge has been crossed doesn’t feel entirely constructive to me. I may be wrong.

    I accept liberal principles should continually lead us to debate, consider and review why we are legislating to restrict and criminalise certain substances, and remove barriers where we can.

    I also just don’t accept that there is a ‘true’ way that means people are not to be considered proper liberals if they don’t accept certain detailed proposals, even if it can be shown that they stem from liberal principles. This is a repeatedly-deployed rhetorical trick almost everyone on here (included myself, at time) would do well to consider dropping.

    A party is a coalition formed around a combination of principles, methodology and policies, and it is hard – possibly impossible – to hold together such a coalition without agreeing to differ on at least one element of the three.

    I feel that Dean’s position, and particularly the language of ‘no-compromise’ in which it is put – which may just be from enthusiasm and a desire to convince is a bit too close to libertarianism for me.

    But I do want to emphasis that his proposal in itself is not outside of the liberal family of thought. I just don’t think its the quintessential epitome of it.

    Gradualist liberals are liberals, too. I know it’s not a very sexy or radical position to hold, but it’s not wrong.

    I admit I was a bit snarky, though.

  • Day

    “Dean Moore is a student

    Well, that’s unsurprising”

    If the only comment is an Ad Hom I guess that indicates you accept the case as made?

  • Hi Matt,
    I dare say if either Dean or I were in the happy position of actually crafting party policy we would be much more gradualist and the language much more broad and inclusive, as that is the only way actual change will be achieved. But I love when someone like Dean states the full throttle case for legalisation based on such a straightforward liberal principle of ‘freedom of choice’. Gets me in the gut!

  • Guaranteed to help the fightback -not.

  • “The truly liberal attitude is to accept – not allow, but accept – another’s right to be intoxicated, to be the master of their own mind and in control of their own body”

    I don’t think it is Liberal at all, a truly liberal attitude would be than none are enslaved by poverty, ignorance or addiction. A truly liberal attitude would be to want everyone to fulfil their potential. A truly Liberal attitude would be not just about ‘freedom’ but about community and fraternity. You can’t say addiction is a medical problem and a free choice, crack cocaine is not a medicine prescribed by Doctors. Neither does this approach cover the drugs users who do not consider themselves to have either an addiction or a drugs problem.

    Actions do not remain “victimless” – they are often a form of self-harm, they damage the individual taking the drugs, and often their family, friends and the wider community.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th May '16 - 10:10pm

    We should help those who are addicted but drugs and alcohol harm a lot more people than simply the people taking them so it’s not as easy as saying let’s just punish the people who do harm because that doesn’t take the harm away from innocents in the first place.

    I support legalising cannabis, but it’s not something I’m enthusiastic about because I think it will increase use. But I don’t see how it is any worse than alcohol and we couldn’t ban that.

    Again, as I always mention, there is a passive smoking and smell pollution problem with cannabis. Alcohol doesn’t stink the way cannabis does. So let’s be careful before we cheer it as a wonderfully liberal campaign. Regards

  • Caracatus – “Neither does this approach cover the drugs users who do not consider themselves to have either an addiction or a drugs problem.”

    Too right it doesn’t, those people should be free to get on with their lives without other people interfering. Most people take drugs quite happily and cause themselves and society no problems at all. Just like with alcohol and gambling. Don’t take my word for it

  • Eddie Sammon 24th May '16 - 10:34pm

    I suppose we also need to accept the good that drugs can do. This is probably the mature approach. We can’t ban everything that could be harmful or there is a big long list of things that could be banned.

    But I still only support cannabis legalisation for now. Thanks

  • Conor McGovern 25th May '16 - 12:19am

    If you’re not harming someone else, you should be free to live as you want. Clearly smoking a joint in your home or wherever falls into that. I should by the way declare I’m a student as it seems important. For those who need help with addiction, we should grant it.

  • Egocentric self indulgence is not liberal – especially when the consequences may well involve wider society having to fund the medical consequences.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th May '16 - 2:26am

    I strongly favour legal use of cannabis , but not recreational use of any of those drugs mentioned , from heroine to cocaine , as they do considerable harm to not only the addict or more general user , but their families and society , for the reason David Raw touched on.

    I am not in agreement with David Raw on many instinctive attitudes and some policy proposals .On this , as on others I do share agreement with him, I do so strongly , it would be an electoral disaster .

    We must be a moderate as well as radical voice ,as on some issues moderate is radically different !This is one of them.Of course , prescription of drugs for addicts attempting with a new approach to come off this nightmare that addiction is , but not more than that .
    I do think reading Mill needs to be the norm for this party !

  • Conor McGovern 25th May '16 - 2:36am

    David, you’re against drinking then?

  • Conor McGovern 25th May '16 - 2:40am

    I honestly get people being opposed to this on the ‘harm to others’ argument but then there should be consistency on all drugs… I just think there’s better things the government could be doing than locking people up for smoking weed, like fixing poverty and ending homelessness for example.

  • @Caracatus I agree. Being Liberal means being free to exercise personal responsibility and good judgement. Taking drugs, in too many cases, leads to addiction, which ruins lives . Families suffer – and so does the NHS. The law is also there to protect vulnerable people. Criminalisation of drug-taking for personal use is maybe debatable, but legalisation of cannabis and other drugs would be a paradise for the drug marketing industry. It’s already big business in some US states now.

    We have enough problems in this world without adding to them.

  • Judy Avel

    “so does the NHS”

    As with when this argument is used regarding sugar, fat , smoking and alcohol this is not true.

  • Anyone making the bad/good for the NHS regarding pushing people in to making life decisions should actually look at what that already is used to pressure people over and where it could lead with not a lot of current movement and you will feel very uncomfortable.

  • @ Tobie Abel – what the Guardian article you in to shows is that most people who do regularly take drugs have a drugs problem.
    Approximately 3 million people take illegal drugs occasionally,
    Of these 1.65m taking illegal drugs less than once a month
    Of the others 1.1 million are people take illegal drugs on a daily or weekly basis

    2 million drug users believe they have had a problem,
    Nearly half of these no longer use at present.
    Leaving approximately 1 million Britons who have had a problem with drugs and still use them.

    So on the basis of the article, 1.1 million people in the UK take illegal drugs on a daily or weekly basis and 1 million of these say they have had a problem with drugs.

  • Now back to the specifics, as has been pointed out repeatedly making drugs illegal does not make them go away or illuminate harm caused by them, to base an argument on the idea that it has is not going to persuade anyone. The “war on drugs” is basically accepted as having been lost, with that in mind we have to look at how drugs can be managed to keep harm to a minimum, demanding utopia is pointless.

    I would favour a more restrictive approach than out lined above but I can only see full legalisation with extremely tight restrictions and regulation as the most likely to give the lowest level of harm (and no that is not the US model), both here and in the producer countries. That is why I can’t agree with decriminalisation as it leaves many problems in the supply with we currently have to deal with, only full legalisation allows for the proper restrictions to be applied.

  • @Cractus – 3 million people admit to taking illegal drugs, Virtually all of them have proven grown up enough to decide for themselves if it is a problem, 1 million are still using them anyway.

    Feels a little bit like you’re telling those 3 million people they don’t know whats good for them. I can’t help but smile.

  • @Dav, I do not see how me being a student takes away from anything I’ve said. There’s a Member of Parliament that’s also a student and two years younger than myself – Mhairi Black. I don’t agree with a lot of what Black says, but she’s clearly capable of offering coherent ideas. The SNP have tapped in to something here that other parties, including us, have ignored: they’ve invited young people to represent themselves. As a student, trust me when I say that’s made the SNP popular, even among English students. Whether they pulled this tactic knowingly or not, it’s worked.

    @Matt, I understand your concerns – you are perfectly right in saying that a liberal can still be hesitant about drug reform, especially if they are gradualist liberals. I don’t take the gradualist approach, but it is there and should have equal voice with the more “radical” types.

    I don’t understand the argument that drugs hurt society, therefore we should be hesitant about reform though – drugs will always be there, as the war on drugs has proven, and criminalising drugs addicts and users is detrimental to both them and taxpayers. I think treatment for addicts and taxation on legalised drugs would be a cheaper alternative. . I want addicts in treatment and functioning members of society, rather than in prison learning criminal tricks of the trade.

    Also, Portugal – and many other countries – have recently changed their policy to treat drug addiction as a health issue, and they’ve decriminalised most drugs. Addiction has fallen. The statistical evidence and factual case for ending the war on drugs is there.

    Again, I do understand the concerns people have voiced – there is indeed a smell polution issue, for example. Which is why drug use should only take place in the home or at licensed venues, similar to pubs – drug laws should mirror alcohol and tobacco laws. You can’t do them on public transport, in the street, at work etc. I may sound as if I dancing too close to the line of libertarianism at times, which one comment suggested – and I will admit that there are many instances where I do just that, sometime to my detriment, sometimes not – I am not suggesting that we allow an anarchistic approach to drugs. Let’s treat drugs as we treat alcohol and tobacco.

    Best, and thank you all for reading and commenting,

  • Richard Underhill 25th May '16 - 12:45pm

    Paddy Ashdown said ” I have been a learner all my life.”

  • @ Tobie Abel Do you take illegal drugs ? Do you know any addicts or are you just writing from an intellectual ivory tower ?

    You wrote “Most people take drugs quite happily and cause themselves and society no problems at all.” But clearly the evidence you yourself offered showed that over 9 out of 10 people who regularly take illegal drugs consider themselves to have a drugs problem. You right, I do think that if someone is taking crack cocaine, heroin or spice, I might indeed have a better idea of what is good for them and whether they have a problem or not. Part of the problem with addiction is that people can know what is good for them and not be able to do that. Try asking an alcoholic not to drink – it is not some rational free choice or a deliberate decision to become an alcoholic.
    You may think it is something to smile about, I think its more like Police not investigating grooming because girls have made a lifestyle choice. The idea that there are 3 million happy regular drug users is nonsense – there are 2 million who take drugs a few times a year (some of them grow out of it, soem becoem addicts) and 1million addicts.

  • @ Caracatus

    Have you ever taken illegal drugs?
    Have you ever been a smoker?
    Have you ever been a regular drinker?

    I can answer yes to all of these questions.

    In my youth I would go drinking two nights a week and from time to time I would get drunk. I wouldn’t say I was addicted as I gave up doing this as soon as I got a mortgage and suffered no side effects.
    While a student I smoked cannabis socially for a few weeks. When I gave up because of the summer holidays I had some slight withdrawal symptoms.
    I smoked for years and I gave up twice, both times were really hard and this was because I was addicted.

    Therefore it seems to me that smoking cannabis is likely to be addictive, but smoking tobacco is also addictive and that is legal, therefore just because something is addictive is no reason to make it illegal.

    I support making all drugs legal, while restricting their sale more than tobacco and alcohol, and I certainly don’t think they should be advertised. I think they should only be sold at premises with a licence to sell them. It would be possible to have a separate licence for each drug. They should also have a warning leaflet with them not only stating that they can be addictive, but what other health issues could result, a bit like prescription medication that lists all the possible side effects.

  • Katerina Porter 26th May '16 - 4:49pm

    Surely whatever else one brings to the discussion one fact is that prohibition has been/is a disaster. America had alcohol prohibition for only 12/13 years and the growth of crime, including violent crime, was phenomenal. Gangsters cannot go to court to collect debts and use guns. Drug prohibition has done much more damage, bringing some countries in Latin America and elsewhere to the edge of collapse. There are models to follow and these should be studied and “something must be done”.

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