Volteface Report Cited In Parliamentary Debate On Drugs

by Abbie Llewelyn

Yesterday, the House of Commons debated national drug policy, following the government’s announcement of their “new” drug strategy last week. It received biting criticism from both sides of the house, with strong arguments made against prohibition from a number of MPs, including Conservative MP and former criminal justice minister Crispin Blunt.

In his energising speech to parliament, Crispin Blunt MP citied Black Sheep, a policy report written by our very own Lizzie McCulloch. He said:

“A recent report by the drug policy think tank Volteface makes the case for a legal regulated cannabis market in the UK to improve support, guidance and access to treatment for people experiencing problematic cannabis use. They found that the current illegal and unregulated market means that cannabis users are hidden from health practitioners leaving them fumbling around in the dark trying to find them.

“Among people showing signs of cannabis dependence, only 14.6% have ever received treatment, help or support specifically because of their drug use. And 5.5% had received this in the past 6 months. The report says that a regulated market would provide opportunities for more public guidance, packaging controls, products which vary in potency, research into cannabis culture and consumption to improve interventions and reduce stigma to enable access to services”.

Blunt called for a Royal Commission to fully examine the evidence on drug policy and this was echoed by others throughout the debate.

Another powerful speech came from Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, a long-time supporter for evidence-based drug reform. He spoke about a range of issues including the rising numbers of drug-related deaths, the criminalisation of people with mental health problems and the war on drug’s disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities. He concluded:

“I make this plea: do not claim that the case for change is irresponsible, but bring about change because it will save lives, it will reduced HIV and hepatitis C infection, it will protect people better, it will end the ludicrous enriching of criminals, it will cut violence in our poorest communities, it will end the self-defeating criminalisation of people who have done exactly the same thing as successful people in government, in business and in all walks of life, and it will raise vital tax revenues. Follow the evidence. Do not perpetuate the stigma and the fear. End this catastrophic approach to drugs policy.”

There was also some discussion around harm reduction initiatives such as The Loop, a not-for-profit drug testing service that has started to operate at festivals in the UK. Labour MP Thangham Debbonaire praised these initiatives, saying:

“I was told by The Loop project that, as a result of its work, not only are people better informed about what they might be taking – whether or not it has been cut with impurities, including concrete – but if they discover that a substance is unsafe to take, they hand in quantities of drugs voluntarily. It is a way of cleaning up the supply of very unsafe drugs, as well as giving people the information they need to make a well-informed choice about whether, when and how to consume drugs”

Other interesting moments in the debate included Labour MP Paul Flynn encouraging civil disobedience when it comes to cannabis law. He recalled a time when Elizabeth Brice, a multiple sclerosis suffer who campaigned for medicinal cannabis before her death, came to talk in parliament. Whilst she was there, Flynn helped her make a cup of cannabis tea on a House of Commons terrace. He condemned the law that forbids seriously ill people from taking their medicine. He added:

“I would call on people, and I know we aren’t supposed to do this as members, to break the law. To come here and use cannabis here and see what happens and challenge the government, the authorities to arrest them and take them in.

“That’s the only way it’ll get through the common mind of the government which is set in concrete and the whole law is evidence-free and prejudice-rich.”

These MPs, among a significant number of others, voiced the many arguments made by advocates of drug reform. Whilst the government’s drug strategy seems to be refusing to budge from the prohibitionist agenda, this should give hope that there are people in the seats of power that will support a sensible overhaul of our disastrous drug policy.

Words by Abbie Llewelyn. Tweets @Abbiemunch

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