A tipping point on drugs?

In a post about drugs I wrote a few weeks ago, I noted that there had been an apparent recent increase in the number of calls for decriminalisation, and now I’m wondering whether we might be reaching a point of critical debating mass on the issue where the number of people who just want the subject to be openly debated will be too large to be ignored.

Well, the little snowball continues to grow as it reaches the mass required. First, Mark Reckons has an interesting interview with former Conservative minister Phillip Oppenheim:

We have pretty much the tougest laws on drugs (and drink) in the EU and pretty much the worst problem – we treat people like kids and the result is they behave like kids, and criminality flourishes.

And also, though perhaps less surprisingly, Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute:

Dealing with drugs costs money. The Department of Health and the Strategy Unit put the costs of drug use at £15bn-£20bn per year. Although ministers and police officers have uttered tough phrases such as “zero tolerance”, drug crime has steadily increased, not diminished. When a policy achieves the opposite of what was intended, rarely is more of it needed.

And since the last time I wrote about this, several articles in the Guardian on the subject, including this Observer editorial.

The political fixation on drugs prohibition really took hold in the west in the 1960s as much from moral panic about a subversive counterculture as from analysis of the harm caused by particular drugs.

Since then, the law has tried to maintain a distinction between reputable and disreputable substances that neither users nor medical research recognise. Scientific attempts to classify drugs in terms of the harm they do – to the body and society – routinely place tobacco and alcohol ahead of cannabis and ecstasy. The point is not that the wrong drugs are banned, but that the law is nonsense to anyone with real knowledge of the substances involved.

But is anything like to happen? As Oppenheim notes, it’s hard for Cameron to get any traction against the Conservative grass roots on this issue and we’ve seen how Labour like to ignore evidence in favour of appearing tough. So, are we Lib Dems going to discuss it openly, or will we get the ‘we definitely think we should have a debate on this, but now’s not the right time’ response?

4 thoughts on “A tipping point on drugs?”

  1. I’m afraid that Nick and Chris don’t have the backbone to break the westminster taboo on drugs. They’ve had numerous opportunities in the past to pick up the ball and run with it, but every time they’ve dodged the issue and declared any call for legalisation “too radical” or “unrealistic”.

    I’ve posted a question about now being “the time to build on what Portugal and Holland have acheived with decriminalisation and take it further”, to the Crime panel at the conference, but I fully expect it to be brushed aside.

    Two more respected mainstream magazines that have recently advocated legalisation are New Scientist and The Economist, hardly radical publications.

  2. I have founded the Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform and have organised a fringe event at the conference on Sunday. Could be a good place to start…

  3. Weren’t we there 10 years ago though? The Independent on Sunday came off the fence, I recall favourable articles in the Telegraph and even the Mail. It was revealed that most of the Tory front bench was happy to admit to having taken drugs in their youth. And the newly elected Charles Kennedy called for a serious review and DIDN’T get lynched for it.

    I’m not sure we are quite where we were back then yet and the lesson is that things can turn around quite quickly. Last time it was 911 (LDYS were due to launch their libdemsondrugs consultation website at the 2001 conference – I first heard about the WTC crashes while talking to someone about ordering t-shirts).

    I wouldn’t hold your breath quite yet.

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