A Drugs Question for David Cameron

18 September 2011

Though scarcely the main thrust of James’s most recent post, this is still notable:

Lib Dem conference delegates have just provided the press with a nice easy story, they’ve voted to set up a panel to look at the legalisation of cannabis and the decriminalisation of all drugs.

I know James is tweaking the press corps just as much as he is enjoying the Lib Dems living up to their reputation on these matters. Those wacky dope-fiends in the grow-your-own-pot party! Nevertheless, could it be possible that the sandal-wearing geography teachers (sorry, this stereotyping thing is contagious) are right? I mean, are the drug laws defensible in either moral or practical terms, let alone both? Perhaps they are (though I am not persuaded by arguments to that effect) but it is also the case that there are heaps of people who will, in private, admit they don’t work but for whom any change is, apparently, inconceivable. So failure must be the only option. The Lib Dems are hardly the only people to have had these thoughts.

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As we have had occasion to note before:

[W]hen [David Cameron] campaigned for the Tory leadership he said it was time for "fresh thinking and a new approach" to drug policy. He correctly noted that "Politicians attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator by posturing with tough policies and calling for crackdown after crackdown. Drugs policy has been failing for decades." While a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee he said the then-government should "initiate a discussion" at the United Nations to consider "alternative ways – including the possibility of legalisation and regulation – to tackle the global drugs dilemma."

Does the Prime Minister still believe this? Perhaps some friendly backbencher could raise this at the next edition of Prime Minister’s Questions?


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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    Nice think.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    ConservativeCabbie : 6.31pm

    Why do you suggest that I advocate that the law should not be enforced? I haven’t made any such suggestion, nor would I. I’m seeking a change to the law, not that the public should ignore it.

    Also, you know perfectly well that it is not democracy that I am questioning, just the assumption of some that the purpose of democracy is to give individuals who align with majorities the power to enforce their will over individuals who don’t. I rather think that Lord Acton had a point 134 years ago when he wrote:-

    “The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.”

    And as far as the onus of proof is concerned – well there is no “proof”, is there? But the accusation is there – if outlawing bad behaviour is a “good thing”, and if resistance to law can be successfully quashed by ever more enforcement, then why aren’t those who advocate such a policy against drug-taking similarly supportive of doing the same thing with alcohol? Particularly as alcohol abuse is numerically a far greater problem than drug abuse? In fact, if you really believe prohibition + enforcement is the cure for all social ills, aren’t you failing in your social duties by not making a song and dance about the lack of it in the area of alcohol?

    But there’s a genuine get-out, isn’t there? It’s possible to argue that perception of the rightness of the status quo is an important factor, too. There’s a social benefit in the general public believing that the whole of our law is principled and internally consistent – even though quite clearly it isn’t, and never can be – and so I accept that drug decriminalisation, if it is to happen, needs to be preceded by a public education programme as to why this is not the precursor to the end of society as we know it. But I can’t support the alternative, which is that doing the right thing is impossible because the majority is mentally incapable of understanding that it is the right thing. To me, that is to deny human capability, not to recognise its limitations.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Oh let it alone. Nobody knows what to do so just let it alone.

  • ConservativeCabbie

    @ Simon

    Sorry if my logic “devalues” an argument. I’m not sure building a strawman of “the wrong type of people” necessarily adds value but there you go.

    I can see that there is a large group of people who believe that the unilateral imposition of authority is the ultimate answer to all social problems,”

    That’s an interesting way to describe democracy.

    I fail to see how the prohibition side are showing “unreason” or are “irrationalist”. Why is the onus on us to prove that continued criminalisation is the right way when those that favour decriminalisation only have to assert “well everyones doing it anyway”? There is nothing “unreasoned” or irrational in arguing that the criminality is fact and should be enforced, that drugs are dangerous and present a moral hazard. To argue to the contrary is illogical. Now if those who oppose prohibition want to argue that despite all that, for reasons of civil liberties that we should legalise it anyway, then that’s fine and a worthwhile debate, I’m all for testing the authority of government on matters of personal freedom. However when arguments like “prohibition isn’t working” or “we’ve lost the war on drugs” are used to justify decriminalising then I’d suggest that those are the people you should be challenging for their irrationality. And if you want there to be consistency in our drugs policy then I’m all for that too. As the default position is that drugs are illegal, lets enforce that “consistently” until such time as the debate is won by the decriminalising crowd.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    ConservativeCabbie : 4.13pm

    “Just legalising drugs on the basis that alcohol is legal doesn’t seem like a particularly logical argument to me.”

    Nor to me Cabbie. But you knew that, so why devalue the discussion by making a false point?

    The suggestion I make is that we need to divide the discussion of drug prohibition between the issues directly related on the one hand to to drug usage and the criminality caused by prohibition, and on the other hand the perception that the social policies we pursue need to be logically consistent. What we seem to do at the moment is completely ignore that there is a consistency element in support of the continuation of prohibition, and because this is ignored in the debate, we end up with the prohibition side having to propose more and more unreason in support of their position.

    I’m quite prepared to accept the argument that at the moment the general public is unready to be presented with the conclusion that authoritarian prohibition of drugs is a policy that doesn’t work. I can see that there is a large group of people who believe that the unilateral imposition of authority is the ultimate answer to all social problems, and that resorting to such a policy has guaranteed positives, but no negatives. The fact remains that this view is balderdash, and the fact that so many don’t appreciate this should lead to a process of re-education, not the suppression of good and effective policy for fear of upsetting a bunch of irrationalists.

  • ConservativeCabbie

    @ Simon

    “Why the difference? Could it be because that unlike alcohol, most drug users are “the wrong sort of people”?”

    Or more likely that one has been legal for ever and is part of the societal fabric whilst the other has always been illegal. Just legalising drugs on the basis that alcohol is legal doesn’t seem like a particularly logical argument to me. On the other hand, arguing that drugs are by their very nature debilitating and should therefore stay illegal is to my mind more logically persuasive.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    Axstane : 12.34pm

    “The real point about drugs such as cocaine, heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana is that like tobacco they are addictive. But whilst tobacco affects health it does not stop people from being productive members of society – it does not rot their brains and reduce them to moral degradation.”

    What about alcohol? Used improperly, it certainly does rot their brains and reduce them to moral degradation, and I suggest that in overall numbers the social problems caused by alcohol misuse are far greater than the social problems caused specifically (ie not by its prohibition) by drug misuse. Yet we choose to address the alcohol problem bottom-up, but the drug problem top-down. Why the difference? Could it be because that unlike alcohol, most drug users are “the wrong sort of people”?

  • Axstane

    I quote from the Scientific American on the drugs issue in Portugal – read carefully – “Under the Portuguese plan, penalties for people caught dealing and trafficking drugs are unchanged; dealers are still jailed and subjected to fines depending on the crime. But people caught using or possessing small amounts—defined as the amount needed for 10 days of personal use—are brought before what’s known as a “Dissuasion Commission,” an administrative body created by the 2001 law.

    Each three-person commission includes at least one lawyer or judge and one health care or social services worker. The panel has the option of recommending treatment, a small fine, or no sanction”.

    The proposed legalisation of all drugs sits strangely in a country which has made it a criminal offence to smoke tobacco in public places. It is convenient to repeat such mantras as that Prohibition didn’t work in the States or that is we make drugs legal they will be cheap and so crime and major crime gangs will wither. The real point about drugs such as cocaine, heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana is that like tobacco they are addictive. But whilst tobacco affects health it does not stop people from being productive members of society – it does not rot their brains and reduce them to moral degradation.

    A lot of the problem is the porous borders we have. Added to that we have bent coppers and the theory of leaving the small-fry alone so that one might be led to Mr. Big. When Mr Big is caught, a rare occurrence, he is replaced by a clone within weeks.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    London Calling : 2.40am

    I think you’re a bit unkind to Cameron. There isn’t a “right answer” here, because different people place different importances on different things. There is certainly a section of the population whose thoughts are primarily sectional and systematic, and who look at drug policy from the point of view of does this work, are the desired outcomes largely being achieved, could the desired outcomes be better achieved with another approach?. But there is also another group which doesn’t find it easy to focus fragmentally, and which is concerned that the abandonment of authoritarian proscription in drugs, particularly if it is obviously successful, will upset the basic assumption upon which the top-down authoritarian system of government is based.

    The answer, I think, is to build the concept that different problems respond to off-the-peg solutions in different ways, and that while an effective drug policy needs to be bottom-up, there are other areas of social policy that will work best from being structured top-down.

    But then, I’m obviously the sort of person who’s happy with fragmentation, and I don’t really have an answer to the question “Can you guarantee that getting drugs policy right won’t mean that we are forced into getting a lot of other policies wrong?”

  • ConservativeCabbie

    “Well, it is certainly evident current drug policies around the world has done little, if anything, to curtail the supply and useage of so-called ‘illegal substances’.”

    I don’t understand this argument. Is this the measure that should be applied whether or not we continue with a policy? We’ve failed to contain rape and ethnic cleansing. Do we apply the same philosophy?

  • Token Ma Weed

    The main influence for the Lib Dems voting on this subject is Portugal – Portugal changed their drug laws 10 years ago and have released information showing that they are winning the ” war on drugs ” , drug use is down in some areas by 50% , so for all you misinformed people leaving comments saying the lib dems are mad you should look in a mirror and then get your facts right before you comment . And if you want things to stay as they are in the UK you are just agreeing with our leaders that its easier for kids to get drugs now than ever YOUR KIDS CAN GET DRUGS ANYWHERE . But if you look at Portugal their kids cannot get drugs so easy because the Government is in charge and not some criminal looking to get your child hooked . I suggest the fake David Cameron here takes his head outa his ass like the real Cameron should , thats the real Cameron who said before he was PM that the drugs laws in the UK needed changed because they have failed . I wonder why hes changed his mind ? I smell corruption or that big cheque he cashed from GW pharma changed his mind for him .

  • FvH

    Perhaps a lovely speech by Dave will make everybody feel better about the whole thing!!

    • davidraynes


      1148 hours Boulton introduces e-mail questions from viewers:

      AB This is a question now from David Raynes
      who says: Does Mr Cameron personally now support re classifying cannabis back
      to Class B.

      DC Yes…I think we should. We had a discussion
      about this in our Shadow Cabinet some time ago and made very clear that was our
      policy. I think the main reason is because the sort of cannabis now being
      smoked is so strong and there is such a link to mental health issues that it
      should be Class B.

      AB The point that David Raynes makes is that
      you were in the Home Affairs Select Committee which actually recommended going in the other direction.

      DC I think there was a lot in that committee’s
      report that was very good particularly on treatment. Actually we were saying that education and treatment were the absolute keys but I think on
      reclassification we got it wrong on reflection, because I don’t think we spent
      enough time looking at the strength of the cannabis, the skunk and the
      super-skunk and the stuff that is now being, being err, now being smoked is so powerful and I think that the Ian Duncan-Smith report that I commissioned on social breakdown, I think that the work
      that did actually and looking at drug strength and the connection with mental health I think is very serious.

      AB You see in this you’re backing Gordon
      Brown (Labour Prime Minister) and he as far as we can tell is ignoring the
      advice of his own drugs experts.

      DC Well in the end politicians have got to decide and my point to Gordon Brown would be, look get on and make a decision, you know you’ve had the reviews, you’ve had the expert opinion, in the end it is a judgement that you as a politician have got to make. Our judgement is clear, re classify to B. I think he should get on and make a decision.


  • London Calling

    A panel will be set up by the Lib Dems to look at the legalisation of cannabis and the decriminalisation of all drugs?…This is a joke right?…or is this just a ploy to win back all those student votes lost on the tuition fees fiasco, not that I’m suggesting all students are pot heads, and not all geography teachers wear sandals, or corduroy trousers or have bad breath…:)

    David Cameron has boomeranged on so many issues, my guess is you can add this one to the swing also…. All things in moderation won’t kill you, alcohol is a drug and we know what harm excessive drinking causes, what I don’t understand is why people want to be constantly smashed, is it part addiction and part escapism? Sensible people may indulge in a glass of wine or two, or have a joint to relax, I don’t have a problem with that at a party or in private, I have witnessed it, however it’s all out of control now and the streets are riddled with fake drugs and all kinds of mixed chemicals that isn’t controlled and to ignore the problem doesn’t mean it will go away anytime soon.

    Anyhow, nothing will change…this is just another side show…roll up…roll..up…read all about it…

  • David Cameron

    I would say to the right honourable gentleman that I am not in favour of decriminalisation or legalisation of drugs. Drugs do terrible harm to our communities and families and we must do all we can to tackle the root cause of drug addiction, because frankly, punishment isn’t always the answer.
    So, decriminilisation: No. Strong, effective, community based solutions: Yes.

  • Colin Cumner

    Well, it is certainly evident current drug policies around the world has done little, if anything, to curtail the supply and useage of so-called ‘illegal substances’. A re-think of the whole issue is long overdue. Perhaps legalisation and regulation may have greater efficacy-at least it could be trialed, surely?

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