Introducing the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group

Rob Wilson, CEO

Drug policy is a fast changing and increasingly vital aspect of public policy. When our Chair, Crispin Blunt MP, asked me to undertake the CEO role at the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group (CDPRG), we agreed two things: 

  • first that CDPRG would be completely independent in its thinking and 

  • second, that thinking would be exclusively based on where the evidence takes us. I do not come at this with any agenda, I have an open mind and a wish to reflect the evidence and reduce harm.

CDPRG is a new professional organisation. We will provide a policy forum promoting evidence-based assessment and discussion of drugs policy.  Our overall aim is to facilitate authoritative and informed consideration of current prohibition policies and any reforms which could reduce the public harm caused by drugs. 

We believe there is enough existing evidence to support the urgent need to offer earliest access to medicine derived from cannabis for British patients where there is evidence of efficacy.  The view the medical cannabis has a role in treating some conditions has been confirmed by the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies. More work will be required to ensure it is delivered to patients in the simplest and safest way possible, but there are many examples to review from around the world.

The focus of our work is therefore to inform and educate Government policymakers as well as policy influencers on the centre right of British politics. This latter group has historically tended to be the most resistant to almost any reform in this policy area.

Globally, drug policy has entered an era of dynamic change with widespread reforms taking place.  From North America to South America, Europe to Africa, a wealth of new evidence is emerging from these changes and we will examine the unfolding data. In doing so we will facilitate a transparent debate into ways in which it may best inform future UK drugs policy. Our aims will be to set out the evidence within a context that indicates ways of achieving the most substantial positive outcomes for individuals, families and communities by reducing harm.

We have a fantastic team of researchers and communicators and we will also draw on the knowledge of an unremunerated Policy Advisory Council. Our Policy Advisor Council are world-leading specialists with scientific, medical, economic, legal, ethical, human rights and law enforcement expertise. Individually and collectively they have a major contribution to make to what we believe will be the most informed debate ever in the UK on drug policy.

We are transparent as an organisation about who supports us. Our donors include companies who currently supply medicines derived from cannabis to legal, regulated markets. CDPRG will draw on their substantial knowledge of the medical science and the regulatory framework in different jurisdictions around the world to improve consideration of any future UK regulatory framework for medical cannabis.

Because our focus is on evidence-based policy, we cannot in logic set out with pre-conceived models for future UK drugs policy.  But we start from the perspective that the evidence suggests the current, long standing, prohibition policy is not successful. The aim of any new policy must be to reduce net harm and - where medicine is concerned - to raise net benefit to society in the broadest sense.

We come from the perspective of fully understanding that this is an extremely complicated and difficult area of policy to get right. It is extremely unlikely that perfect solutions exist. We also understand that drugs cause enormous damage and suffering to individuals, families and communities in many, many ways. In addition to this human cost, there is also a huge economic cost to the country. 

Opening up the debate on finding better ways ahead through evidence-based policy is essential to reducing human misery and redirecting our nation’s resources in more rewarding avenues of public service investment.  

Either through lack of will or opportunity, most politicians have avoided the need for this informed debate. The CDPRG will facilitate and promote it by publishing research, including an annual attitudinal survey of the UK’s views on drugs. The first of these will be available in the next few weeks. We will publish a regular programme of research papers, that draw on unfolding evidence from around the world of what is working and what is not.

We will draw heavily on the huge wealth of knowledge and research that is gathered within our Policy Advisory Council.  We will publish articles, blogs and new educational information that will challenge and engage influencers and thinkers.

We will run policy events and seminars to bring the best knowledge and thinking from the UK to each of the many challenges, and we will take every opportunity to be on platforms and in the media to make sure the evidence is at the forefront of policy debate.  

In doing so we will work closely with all groups, (left or right, public, private or third sector) that wish to engage in an evidence-based debate. We have already been engaging with communities and families around the country whose lives have been impacted by UK drug policy, and will continue to do. Watch the video to see the impact that the UK’s current approach has had on individuals and families, and be sure to sign up to our mailing list for updates on our work.