Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Almost two thirds of people think drug users should not be criminalised

Interesting result from a recent YouGov poll on drugs. The following question was asked:

Suppose people use illegal drugs but have not committed any other crime. In general, should such people be treated as criminals and brought before the courts, or should they be treated as people who may need medical treatment and other forms of support?

And the responses were:

  • They should be treated as criminals and brought before the courts: 30%
  • They should be treated as people who may need treatment and other forms of support: 62%
  • Don't know: 7%

So more than two thirds of those who expressed a view and nearly two thirds of all respondents think that drug users should not be criminalised.

Given this sort of finding, I find it bizarre that politicians and ministers are still unwilling to enter a serious debate about decriminalising or legalising drugs. The reasons I hear again and again are that it is politically difficult to do so and that's why most senior politicians are not willing to engage with it. But how on earth can that be true when the majority of people actually think drug users should not be being criminalised? And what does it say about our political structure that these people and that view are largely being sidelined? A shrewd politician would surely be able to find the words and the approach to go with this very strong grain of public opinion?

So who from the senior ranks of all parties is going to step up to the plate and speak for two-thirds of the British public on this subject?


asquith said...

Not Cameron, if his "answer" to Julian Huppert is to be believed. As usual his fear of the tabloids prevents him from doing what he must know to be right.

The coalition seem to think that they are fighting on so many fronts that this isn't an issue that's worth bothering with given the ill-informed hatred that would descend on them from the tabloids, and the opportunisitic Labour shite that we can already envisage. Politically understandable, perhaps, but a disappointment still.

Anonymous said...

Personally I'm hoping that schemes such as this is Brighton ( will go ahead and open up the political space for change at the national level.

Anonymous said...

What proportion of people would express a preference for lower taxes?
Politicians probably do need to debate this more, but they do have a duty of care to save people from themselves... An open debate with the medical (and other) facts openly reported and challenged would help to inform both sides of the argument.

Mark Thompson said...

@Anon2: Probably quite a lot of people would express a preference for lower taxes but the consequence of that is fewer/worse public services so politicians have to balance it out.

In the case of stopping the futile and expensive "War On Drugs" that would actually save money and it has been shown in places like Portugal that the harm caused by drugs can actually be reduced when liberalising the laws. The evidence strongly suggests it would save money and save lives/improve health. Now there is strong evidence the majority of the public are behind it. I'm not clear what there is rationally to stop this going ahead at the very least on a trial basis.

As for your point about "duty of care to save people from themselves" well as I have already pointed out the evidence suggests there would be less harm from decriminalisation/legalisation than there is currently. But I would also ask if you are right, why are alcohol and tobacco which are much more harmful than substances like cannabis and ecstasy still legal? There is no coherence or consistency in current policy and that muddled thinking exposes the wider problems with drug policy. It is not based on evidence at all.

Rory said...

Mark - is it me, or are more and more people coming to the view that the war on drugs has got to end?