The Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group’s (CDPRG) extensive YouGov survey of contemporary British attitudes towards drugs will make for uncomfortable reading within Government. It illustrates the widening gulf between the stubborn, decades-old policies of blanket prohibition and the developing attitude of millions of voters willing to apply new approaches focused on improving harm reduction and healthcare outcomes. This survey shows the Government and politicians are significantly behind the public’s thinking.
The public is clearly aware that the current policies of prohibition and criminalisation are frequently unenforced and likely to be unenforceable. Despite its stark ‘just say no’ message, current policy and its implementation is almost entirely equivocal. It leaves public policy in a lethal and seemingly unchangeable limbo, wreaking havoc in terms of outcomes to families and communities as well as economic and social costs to society.
In the UK today, there are thousands of drug related deaths every year. Hundreds of thousands of young people regularly take substances without having a clue what they contain and no concept of the risk they pose. Billions of pounds are extorted by very violent and organized gangs that exploit the vulnerable and frequently maim and kill on our streets – one needs look no further than London to view the ferocious mayhem.
The cost of combating this mayhem in terms of law enforcement, criminal justice and healthcare is billions of pounds every year. There is no victory, simple the ongoing escalating human and financial cost of fighting a losing battle.
What this study demonstrates is that, while Ministers remain locked into the rhetoric of a kneejerk mindset of law enforcement and prohibition backing every conceivable ‘drugs crackdown’, the public takes a far more nuanced view. A clear majority prioritises healthcare support and harm reduction rather than business as usual.
On the question of medicinal cannabis, the CDPRG survey shows more than three quarters of people (77 per cent) believe it should be available on prescription from specialist doctors to patients whose suffering and pain it could ease. A similar number (76 per cent) said they believed the threat of criminal punishment was an ineffective deterrent against unlawful drugs use. More than half respondents (55 per cent) back ‘softer’ government policies on cannabis and 24 per cent oppose legalisation (only 9 per cent strongly).
One of the problems of formulating new policies is that any debate around them has effectively been stifled for half a century. Just as left closed-down debate on immigration until it exploded as an uncontainable national issue, the centre-right continues stubbornly to resist sensible debate on improving our response to the UK’s drugs crisis.
That attitude is simply no longer acceptable if the right wishes to remain in touch with modern Britain and young people. Therefore, we have launched the CDPRG, to engage the centre-right in a debate based strictly on the evidence. There is an unfolding body of global evidence emerging from territories around the world where new and different approaches have been introduced.
We will facilitate and promote a debate based on all this and all other available evidence in order to inform the views of those who, as our survey shows, believe it is time to review our thinking.
There is no silver bullet or perfect solution to ending the desolation and destruction caused by illegal drugs. But, in rigorously and transparently debating all the evidence, we will set the guidelines for policy reform that will help to protect our youngsters, reduce the harm caused by drugs and break the power of the criminal gangs and their supply chain.
Article first appeared on the Sunday Times website 14/07/2019