I have been an advocate of a more progressive approach to drug policy in this country for a long time. The current laws just aren't working and the fact that there are about 100,000% more heroin users now than in 1971 when the current drug laws came into effect is but one of a myriad of facts that prove this.
Monday, 15 June 2009
However this is one area where politicians are terrified to say anything for fear of being painted as "SOFT ON DRUGS" by the press and their parliamentary opponents who seemingly never fail to oblige whenever one of them does briefly pop their head above the parapet. This all seems to stem from a perception that the public will not stand for any sort of liberalisation. But I wonder if that is the case.
I have noticed a number of times recently when I have heard or seen this issue debated that the majority of people taking part seem to agree that the current system has utterly failed and a significant number seem very open to (or even fully advocating) the idea of liberalisation of the laws. I am talking about looking at the comments posted after articles in newspapers and listening to debates on the radio. I recall one such debate on Victoria Derbyshire's Radio 5 phone in show last year which was ostensibly about the reclassification of Cannabis from class B to class C and virtually every caller said that was a stupid debate, that the real debate should be whether they are legalised and in their view they should. There were numerous different people of different ages in the space of about 20 minutes on the phone in. Something similar happened on an "Any Answers" phone in on Radio 4 last year.
I came across this article today by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, a very well respected journalist who is asking if it is time to seriously discuss legalising drugs. I mention it not so much for the article (which is good and worth reading) but for the comments below it. I have only had time to read about the first 100 or so (out of 400-odd at last count) but they are overwhelmingly in agreement that drugs should be legalised. There are lots of very well thought out and argued reasons for this. I would say 70% or 80% of the comments are in favour.
Now of course this is just a few anecdotal instances I have noted but I think this could be significant. Politicians act as if there is a huge groundswell of feeling against even talking about the potential for reform in this area and I am just not seeing it. This seems to be a classic case of the political and media classes conspiring with each other to keep debate about a particular issue completely under wraps and I cannot for the life of me fathom why this should be.
I accept there are arguments on both sides for this but the argument never seems to be had. When was the last time you heard a senior politicains seriously engage with the issues on this subject? The last time I recall the question being raised on BBC Question Time, Liam Byrne responding for the government came out with a load of nonsense about how ecstacy is dangerous because he is a father or something along those lines. Completely failing to engage with the issue and appealing to emotion, a classic non-argument. The only person on that panel who actually engaged with it was Monty Don, a TV gardener!
I wonder when politicians will realise that public opinion has already moved way outside the confines of the narrow strictures they have imposed upon themselves?