A new policy from Labour means the war on drugs could soon end

Diane Abbott
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The next Labour government will launch a Royal Commission into “all drugs legislation”. Given the science and data suggests that society should treat drug use as a public health rather than a criminal issue, we could be close to ending the war on drugs in the UK.


Labour insisted it will follow the evidence, with shadow home secretary Diane Abbott saying:

We will establish a royal commission to review independently all drugs legislation and policy to address related issues of public health.

There is nothing more important than preserving the life of our citizens. Our current approach to drugs is simply not doing that.

In 2001, Portugal decriminalised possession of all drugs and the move has been highly successful. Deaths from drug use have decreased significantly, the rate of drug use among young people is down, and it had a positive impact on crime.

Speaking to The Canary in 2018, Avinash Tharoor of Drug Policy Alliance added that decriminalisation brought:

sharp drops in overdose and HIV transmission among people who use drugs. In contrast, the UK’s rate of drug overdose deaths is more than ten times higher than that of Portugal. We currently have the highest rate of annual drug-related deaths on record, yet we continue to needlessly criminalise tens of thousands of people for drug possession offences every year.

Read on...

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As our international research shows, the decriminalisation of drug possession produces positive social, health, and economic outcomes for all of society.

Attack on the working class

Speaking about the party’s new approach, Labour MP David Lammy said:

The war on drugs is funding gangs, fuelling crime, giving children easy access on social media and disproportionately criminalising working class young men.

The fact that post-decriminalisation drug use is down in Portugal demonstrates that prohibition doesn’t even work on its own terms. Not only does criminalisation not offer help to those dealing with drug addicition, it also doesn’t prevent people taking drugs in the first place.

Covering Labour’s commitment, the Times reports:

Party sources said a recent spike in drug-related deaths and the disproportionate effect of drugs policy on minority ethnic communities had driven the study.

Official statistics say the UK has a higher rate of drugs-related deaths than France, Germany or Ireland, while Scotland has the highest tally anywhere in the EU.

Punishing people who were abused as a child

Studies have shown that people who experienced high levels of childhood trauma are 4,600% more likely to become injecting drug users than those who experienced no trauma. We are criminalising people who need our help and potentially traumatising them further.

‘Powerful lies’

In a 2018 interview with The Canary, former government drug adviser David Nutt laid out reasons why the Conservative government can’t really admit the war on drugs has been what he deems a “lie”:

The drinks industry. Cannabis is a huge threat to the drinks industry… Cannabis is going to be the future alongside alcohol. But the alcohol industry in this country is desperate to… not give an inch. So that’s the big one.

He added:

the lies that have been told about cannabis are so powerful… It’s like discovering that your government had told you lies about… why we went to war… We’ve been fighting a war on drugs for 50 years. People don’t want to believe that they’ve been lied to… If you kind of admit that… they’ve been lied to on that

Labour’s proposal to begin an evidence-based drug policy is very welcome. Current drug laws are counterproductive, often jailing people who are self-medicating because of depression, traumatic experiences and other issues, thus pushing them further into a cycle of drug use. End the war ASAP.

Featured image via Wikimedia – PaulNUK

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  • Show Comments
    1. Finally a shadow cabinet (and soon to be government) willing to take this action. All sensible people have known this for 30+ years. Just a shame it’s too late for so many who have died or been criminalised.
      Well done Diane et al.

    2. Just imagine if relaxation of regulation on drug use were combined with universal basic income.

      A substantial proportion of current police and penal service resource could be put to better use, some heat would be taken off the NHS and social services, and much of the welfare system could be dismantled with the remainder devoted to hard core social problems. Some released resource could go towards better provision of care of the mentally ill, and coping in more humane manner with elderly people, and younger disabled, unable to be self-sufficient.

      Royal Commissions require considerable time before arriving at recommendations; that may be unavoidable. However, there ought be some relatively non-contentious measures based on documented experience in other nations which could be applied, possibly on trial basis, in the meantime.

      1. Trouble is that politicians come under alot of pressure from lobbyists for the pharmaceutical and drinks industries and many of them have substantial share holdings in these profitable companies. Hence the Faux outrage and the ‘think about the children’ mentality.
        50 years of oppression and punishment has resulted in no end to the Drug War, a drug war based on political motives instead of health and wellbeing and initiated in 1971 by tricky dickie to control the anti vietnam war protests and the rise of the civil rights movement. They were so scared of us then that they shot dead several students at Kent State uni in Ohio. That was 1970.

    3. I like the article, and agree with the above posters comments, and I would like to add that maybe the Labour party could have the Royal Commission also cover prescription drug abuse by the Pharmaceuticals/GPs, which would also be of great benefit to UK healthcare.

      Growing up I was always told that Marijuana was a gateway drug to harder drugs like cocaine and heroin, no one, and I really mean no one informed me that some Prescription drugs can do the same. When I was 29 I was diagnosed with clinical depression and put on Seroxat (a Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor – marketed elsewhere as Paxil), which after 6 months made me so depressed (due to missing one tablet) I became suicidal in thought, and turned to self-harming to cope.

      Seroxat ruined my life by creating an addiction (in me) so powerful that the UNHCR listed it as more addictive than Heroin. Glaxo Smithkline Beecham was successfully sued for millions in the USA and Australia (among others), but here in their home country, they just got a telling off from a Judge, whilst all the victims were left ruined and uncompensated (no thanks to Panorama either).

      As a result of the failure of Seroxat, I tried Marijuana to try and ease my pain. It didn’t cure me of depression, but what a relief it brought, and continues to bring, all these years later.

      So for me, I started out squeaky clean, no drugs, no alcohol, no smoking, just good clean living, then within 6 months of being diagnosed and prescribed Seroxat, my life was turned upside down, and any which way my distraught mind would take it. I came off the rails, and if I hadn’t have tried Marijuana, I think things would have been even worse for me. In a very real sense, Marijuana saved my life, where Seroxat was ending it.

      Now to me that is ironic, I set out in life to be a law-abiding, non-addicted citizen, good job, family and 3 children, all of which I had until I started taking Seroxat.

      Seroxat (hard drug) became my gateway drug to Marijuana (soft Drug). It was Seroxat that created the conditions to destroy my life, and Marijuana that saved me from total destruction.

      I have been honest and upfront about my smoking habit to all, even police officers, doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists, friends and family, even strangers. I am not a criminal, I am the victim of a prescription drug which changed my personality, cost me my marriage, religion, career, self-esteem, family and friends, and led to the condition worsening from clinical depression to Bi-Polar disorder (which was removed 3 weeks after diagnosis due to my refusal to go on Lithium, and electing to try therapy first). Eventually I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, and have given up on the NHS regarding my mental health since (I would have been better off in denial than ever accepting someone else’s help).

      So many people, since these events took place (doctors, lawyers and more), have insisted that my problems originated with smoking Marijuana, yet none of them has been able to prove to me that Marijuana has backwards time-travel capabilities, but still their arguments persist – it’s the Weed wot dunnit.

      I didn’t try Marijuana until over a year after starting prescription drugs, the vast bulk of the injury I suffered occurred within 6 months of Seroxat. Can anyone explain how weed can have been the cause of my issues before I even started smoking it? Sadly too many people have a trigger mentality, they see or hear the word ‘weed’ or ‘Marijuana’, and then that’s all they have heard and continue to hear, even worse is that most of those who have done that to me are so-called professionals.

      I whole-heartedly agree that the war on drugs is a waste of money, but part of me thinks the War on Drugs needs to be applied the other way, on prescription drugs that are purposely made to have an addictive quality. It’s also about time that they paid back the public money they were given to develop those drugs, all of it.

    4. My sympathies to Shaolin12, he is not alone in his distress due to legal psycho medicines but to address the article, the main dangers from recreational drugs is the unpredictable strength and the poisons that dealers use to cut the product. A legalised and regulated market would solve those problems instantly….Keith Richards puts his survival down to the fact that as a junkie he was able to afford pharmaceutical grade heroin to feed his habit.
      SSRIs work by increasing serotonin in the brain but the brain recognises the excess and cuts down it’s own production to maintain homeostasis so that after around eight weeks you are back to square one. Stopping the drug then or later means you have less serotonin that when you started the course of treatment resulting in even worse depression than when you started.

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