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Hearing Caroline Lucas state “We need not be afraid” in reference to a change in drugs policy was reassuring. It is time to step up and discuss this matter much more fully.

According to Norman Baker MP the recent report from the Home Office has been held back from publishing due to “inconvenient facts” for the government. The report looks at approaches to drug policy from 11 countries across the world. It has been particularly influenced by the 13 year policy focus on health in Portugal. Far from being incomparable to the situation in the UK, as suggested by the Tory minister Michael Ellis, the report states that it is “grounded in an understanding of the drugs situation in the UK” and further that it focused on themes that were “relevant to the UK situation”.

Importantly the report focuses on the notion that one simple solution, either enforcement or legalisation alone, is a suitable approach to the subject. Rather than simple rhetoric supporting either continued blanket prohibition, or decriminalisation, the report suggests that a more nuanced approach to the highly complex problem is required. Whether or not you are calling for blanket legalisation or stating that further chemicals should be made illegal, both positions remain far too simple.

One of the reports’ little spoken about points is the knowledge that drugs present a constantly changing set of challenges and that requires legislative response. Whilst it is true that drug use has been on a downward trend since the mid-2000s; the report indicates that it is now time to update the government response from the 40 year old Misuse of Drugs Act (1971). Key to these new changes is the growing trend in legal psychoactive substances that despite their legality they are yet to be suitably researched or tested. This harkened to statements made by the ex-chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, David Nutt, who suggested simply making chemicals illegal hampered proper study that could produce medicinal treatments. Freeing up the ability to research these chemicals, rather than banning the new chemicals that are appearing due to prohibition, should be a primary focus. Legislation must be evidence based.

The reports top line is likely to be that ‘Decriminalisation would not, necessarily, lead to increased drug use’ but the ‘other side of the argument reminds us that the report also states that “It would be inappropriate to compare the success of drug policies in different countries”. Indeed, on the Today programme this morning that is exactly the line that Michael Ellis used to make these statements purely about “naked political posturing by the Lib Dems”. Indeed, Michael Ellis condemns this report for not coming to one single conclusion, to a single answer for drugs policy. Rather than accepting and understanding the complexity of the report’s conclusions, he condemns the nuanced statements.

Read the report, engage with the evidence and communicate your views.

Following Norman Baker in this, I would call for anyone interested in this subject to take time and read the report (or at least the introduction and conclusion) linked to at the start of this blog. Further, following Caroline Lucas, lets us start this debate without posturing (naked or otherwise Mr Ellis), and without a desire for a simple, a single, solution. This is one of those subjects that requires cross parliamentary discussion. Let us embrace the complexity of the situation with research, with evidence, and with an open mind.

Read the report, engage with the evidence and communicate your views.

Dave Yates twitter


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