The Tory Leadership Candidates on Drugs

by Jay Jackson

The incoming PM will have a host of drug policy issues that require his or her urgent attention, from ending the drug death epidemic, to expanding access to cannabis based medicines on the NHS beyond the current 3 prescriptions in 4 years. The rescheduling of psilocybin and other psychedelics to allow them to be used as medicines, the absolute state of our CBD and hemp industries and of course, all those silver NOs canisters lining our streets that Lord Sugar was so confused by.

With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about what the eight runners and riders to be our next PM have ever said about drugs. 

Rishi Sunak:

A self-declared ‘Total coke addict’ (that’s mexican Coke specifically) – the former Chancellor invested public money in cannabis companies, but has never spoken about drugs in Parliament

As an MP from the Osborne-Cameron wing of the party, he may be open to the economic arguments in favour of cannabis legalisation but it’s difficult to tell with Rishi. Despite being high profile for a number of years now, attempts to garner how favourable or otherwise Sunak is instinctively to the cause of drug policy reform have as yet delivered little in the way of evidence. 

His grounding in the Cameroon (that’s David Cameron not the African country) wing of the party – socially liberal, economically hawkish – in theory means he would be favourable to the cause of drug policy reform – one that Cameron himself nearly pursued in office and talked about at length during his race to become leader in 2005. 

One might suggest that having been to Winchester, then Oxford, and then worked as a banker he’s probably not lacked exposure to drugs, but ultimately whether he’s amenable to support the cause of reform is yet to be seen. 

Penny Mordaunt:

One of the surprise candidates in this election, who if ConHome polls are to be believed, now stands a serious chance of becoming the country’s third female PM, Mourdant has in the past pledged her support for alternative and Homeopathic medicines, but has only spoken in Parliament on drugs with regards to Somali gangs. 

Her social liberalism on other issues such as LGBTQ+ rights might suggest that she would look favourably on cannabis legalisation, and her previous experience as Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work might in theory mean she is open to arguments in favour of expanding access to medical cannabis. Certainly one of the candidates whom drug policy reformers can have more hope in.

Tom Tugendhat:

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee is an on-the-record supporter of medical cannabis, but has made a number of interventions in Parliament highlighting his view that “the drugs business… has blighted so many lives.” 

Unsurprisingly given his forces background and foriegn affairs speciality, Tugendhat’s interventions in the commons have mainly focused on drugs from an international relations perspective, like his comments below during a debate on Venezuela. 

“The drugs that the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) spoke about kill people in our country. The drug money that goes back into the FARC pays to train the IRA—at least it certainly used to—and that brought death to the streets of Northern Ireland. The links between the UK and South America may appear distant, but they are not.”

I think it’s fair to say that Tommy T would be extremely unlikely to support calls for drug policy reform, his army background means he has an instinctive authoritarian streak, and it’s likely that he’d pursue the war on drugs with renewed vigour, evangelising about the damage that he had personally seen drugs cause in countries such as Afghanistan. 

However, given his involvement in veterans affairs, he may be sympathetic to the specific cause of rescheduling psilocybin and other psychedelic substances in order to use them in new-and-emerging therapies for people (such as veterans and emergency workers) with treatment resistant PTSD and depression. The same also applies for Penny Mourdant.

Jeremy Hunt:

Former Foriegn secretary and current Health Committee chair Jeremy Hunt is one of the few candidates to have confirmed his partaking in drug taking in the past – albeit in a typically wet  manner. 

In 2019 He told The Times: “I think I had a cannabis lassi when I went backpacking through India.” Apart from this episode, Hunt, as Health Sec and Health Comittee Chair has seemed remarkably uninterested in issues related to illegal drugs; including recently, when at the New Statesman Politics Live conference I asked him about the importance of Overdose Prevention Centres, to which he offered an answer lacking in any substance whilst looking completely disinterested in the issue. 

He’s got no chance of winning anyway, so let’s move on. 

Liz Truss: 

The woman who famously ranted furiously about our importing of ⅔ of our cheese – wait till she hears about how much CBD we import. 

Truss backed the legalisation of cannabis as a student, and with strong links to the pro-legalisation world of Tufton Street, she holds potential for those of us seeking reform to drug laws. Apart from this nothing-y intervention about drugs education in schools, most of her parliamentary comments on drugs came during her time as Justice Secretary – mainly regarding drug use in prisons. 

This famously led to a stone cold classic case of hilarious war on drugs policy-making in 2016, when she advocated for the use of dogs to bark at drones in the hope of repelling them and preventing the supply of drugs into prisons.

She is also currently embroiled in a row regarding plans to legalise cannabis recreationally in Bermuda – a British overseas territory. The final decision as to whether assent can be given to the proposal lies with her, and her choice will provide the strongest signal yet regarding her views on cannabis law reform. 

Kemi Badenoch: 

The anti-woke warrior who won’t stop until every bathroom in the country is designated to one sex only, Badenoch is unlikely to be pro-drug reform given her culture war zealotry. 

Whilst she did argue against plans to permanently exclude those convicted of some drug offences from holding elected office, citing the importance of rehabilitative justice, she defended the police after the grotesque strip-searching of Child Q (a 15-year-old black girl in a London school incorrectly thought to be in possession of cannabis) earlier this year. Has posed for the cameras whilst accompanying her local police force on drugs raids, and she ‘doesn’t care about colonialism’ so is unlikely to be critically assessing the history of the war on drugs, or indeed anything else for that matter, any time soon.

Overall, there is basically no chance she’s an ally of the cause – it would be interesting to see her views on diversion schemes and other programmes designed to address the structural racism and resulting racial disparities in the justice system that she outright denies exist in any form.

Nadhim Zahawi:

The man who had taxpayers fund the heating of his stables might have experience using ketamine to sedate his horses if they got in a hot flush, but we know of little to suggest that Zahawi would change course with regards to drugs. 

Zahawi has denied ever taking drugs, and has gone hard on anti-drug rhetoric in an article for The Times this week. He pledged to ban drug dealers from driving for two years, and promised, wait for it… tougher sentences for Class A drug users. Why hasn’t anyone else thought of that one? His suggested punishments (such as taking away passports) are simply recycled from the Government’s drugs strategy and clearly indicate zero original thinking on the issue. 

In Parliament, he has advocated for a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drugs, and as Children and Families Minister, Zahawi spearheaded efforts to tackle the exploitation of vulnerable young people – an experience that, perversely, is likely to see him double down on the war on drugs, as opposed to actually learning lessons from his experience. He would likely lean on this experience as a justification for the crackdowns outlined in his Times piece. 

Suella Braverman:

The first leadership candidate to declare their intentions to run, a full day before Boris had even resigned, the Attorney General has already attracted ire for some interesting head-banger comments made during the campaign about, yep you guessed it, benefits claimants. 

Braverman has praised the ‘great results’ and ‘successful drugs busts’ that the current approach to policing the war on drugs delivers in her view, and like Boris Johnson, Kemi Badenoch and so many other drug warriors has of course cosplayed as a cop and been out on patrol herself. She also recently nearly doubled the sentence for a drug driver whom she felt had not felt the full force of the law.

All of the above suggests that Suella, should she become the next inhabitant of Number 10, would be extremely unlikely to pursue any of the sensible reforms to our drug policies that we desperately need. 


On the whole, it’s not a promising field of candidates from a drug policy reform perspective – or indeed pretty much any perspective for that  matter. 

Suella Braverman, Nadhim Zahawi, Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat are hardcore drug warriors, in whom we can hope for at best an expansion of the medicalisation of illicit substances. Our hopes therefore lie with Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt who luckily, at time of writing, are seen as the three favourites to make it into the final two. 

Truss’ upcoming decision on cannabis legalisation in Bermuda will be a crucial indication of her views on the matter, whilst with Sunak and Mourdant we’ll have to wait and see if they bow to the inevitable bloodthirsty pressure from the party membership and the right-wing press to lean into a ‘law and order’ agenda.

This piece was written by Jay Jackson, Head of Public Affairs at Volteface. Tweets @wordsbyjayj

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