Last week Jeff Smith MP and I launched the Labour Campaign for Drug Law Reform. We are both heavily involved in cross-party work on drug policy reform but we also want our party to look at arguments which reflect Labour values.
Why have we set up this campaign? Because the prohibitionist approach to drug laws (the “War on Drugs”) has created many victims. And those from the most disadvantaged communities are suffering the most.
Current drug policies make people vulnerable, risking their health and safety. And it goes beyond drug users. A lot of people who never take illegal drugs are suffering from the impact of the drugs trade. We want to help end their misery.
A growing number of voices from across the political spectrum are now demanding a different approach to our drug laws. These calls for reform have many different aims: making drug use less dangerous; supporting those with health problems; denying organised crime its main source of funding; preventing unfair criminalisation of people from disadvantaged backgrounds; and reducing the burden on our over-stretched public services. What unites these perspectives is an understanding that current drug laws are not working for anyone – except professional criminals.
I have been arguing strongly for reform in this area. During my time as an MP I have met a wide variety of organisations and experts to explore evidence-based responses to the use of drugs. As part of this work, I took part in the BBC documentary series Drugsland in 2017.
This all points to the fact that public policy around drugs must engage with the world as it is. It must be realistic about the fact that drug use cannot be eradicated. However, harms from drugs can be reduced significantly, and we must be open-minded about how that can be achieved. Many Labour councils and police and crime commissioners are already exploring approaches that can be implemented under the current (extremely outdated) legal framework, such as drug consumption rooms and heroin prescriptions for addicts. The Labour campaign will explore these measures and other responses to prevent harm.
These issues are being pushed up the public agenda. Recent news stories about children with epilepsy being denied access to cannabis oil-based treatments are one example. Some countries, including Canada are moving towards more progressive approaches to drugs. Unfortunately, our government is slow to act, leaving many people and communities in the UK suffering.
Nonetheless, recent progress does give me hope. I recently spoke in Parliament on drug safety testing at festivals. These schemes test substances and provide information for people intending to consume them. After receiving information, a lot of people dispose of their drugs, ultimately removing dangerous substances from circulation. During the Parliamentary debate I asked Home Office Minister Nick Hurd to clarify the legal status of these schemes – and he agreed to inform police forces that these initiatives should be allowed to go ahead. This is an important milestone.
At the launch of the Labour Campaign for Drug Law Reform last week, several inspiring speakers set out how we can lead on these issues and offer real change. There are no policy prescriptions, merely an acknowledgement that the status quo is not working for so many people our party represents and we need to change this.
The Campaign will provide a forum for discussing these wide-ranging issues. We will be gathering views, evidence and good practice, disseminating it via our website and speeches at Constituency Labour Party meetings. We will also be holding a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference.
For more information and to sign up to our campaign, see www.labourdrugpolicy.com. Please spread the word!