When my son Jake died from a heroin overdose in 2014, eleven years after his younger brother Roland’s death from the same cause, it didn’t occur to me that I would become a member of a working group for drug policy in a political party, and yet that is what happened. And now the revision of the Green Party Drugs Policy that we’ve been working on has been submitted for Autumn Conference.
I am in the working group as a representative of Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control. I was already a Green Party member, so it made perfect sense.
Our organisation, which is a campaign of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, says: ‘Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control is an international network of families whose lives have been wrecked by current drug laws and are now campaigning to change them.
‘No one doubts that drugs can be dangerous – that’s why we should do all we can to prevent children and young people from taking them. But banning drugs and criminalising those who get involved with them causes even more harm.
Let’s accept that many people use drugs, and let’s make it as safe as possible for them to do so.
‘Drug-gang violence, countless lives ruined by criminal records for possession, and entirely avoidable deaths from contaminated street drugs – the damage caused by the current approach can no longer be ignored.
‘We need to move beyond fear, discrimination and punishment, and towards drug laws that are centred around honesty, compassion and health.’
I believe that I would not have become a bereaved mother if we had had the more humane drug laws that Anyone’s Child (and the revised Green Party Drugs Policy) proposes. Ultimately, we hope for drugs to be legally regulated. This would keep people safer, take away a lucrative market from organised crime, and save public money.
We have branches in the UK, Belgium, Mexico, and Kenya. Most of our families have been affected by death from drugs, but some have been affected by a prison sentence, or by being unable to obtain the cannabis that would alleviate a medical problem.
We campaign by telling our stories. It seems that this is often a more effective way of getting people’s attention than any amount of dry facts and statistics. We do this in person at events and conferences, or on videos or podcasts or in print, on social media, in newspapers and magazines, and on TV and radio.
We encourage others to take action too. Many of us did this when we concentrated on action during June. Some of us walked the Thames Path National Trail from Cookham over six days, ending up at Parliament. During this time we held an event at Maidenhead organised by Chief Inspector Jason Kew of Thames Valley Police. We talked to people who joined us along the way, including local councillors and Vince Cable MP. On the final day of the walk, from Battersea Park to College Green, we were joined by more people, including Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones.
At Westminster others joined us, including Caroline Lucas and other MPs. We ‘planted’ hand-made flowers to represent the 1,500 people already lost to drug deaths in the UK in the first half of 2019, and we were addressed by supportive MPs of five different political parties – Labour’s Jeff Smith, Plaid Cymru’s Ben Lake, Lib Dem Alistair Carmichael, the Conservative Party’s Crispin Blunt and the SNP’s Ronnie Cowan – along with Green peer Jenny Jones. A choir sang ‘You’re the Voice’ to us, and around 50 people went to see their MPs; we always encourage people to write to their MPs and make appointments to see them.
So we spread the word, wanting to change drug laws so that other families will not suffer as we have done.
We hope for drugs to be legally regulated. This would keep people safer, take away a lucrative market from organised crime, and save public money.
In my own story, there are so many factors due to government policy that I believe led to the disastrous course of my sons’ lives: easy availability of drugs at an early age because of the illegal market; escalation on to more dangerous drugs due to encouragement by that market; Jake’s criminalisation for possession of cannabis; treatment options not quickly available to Roland when he asked for them; no availability of Naloxone; fear of the law preventing Roland’s companions calling 999 when he overdosed; and a lack of easily accessible facilities where Jake could have gone for counselling and possibly heroin-assisted treatment when he relapsed.
And, of course, there was the way our lives were affected over many years because of what was happening with our sons – the constant anxiety and the shame I felt, which made me unable to talk to anyone about it.
This could have all been so different with drug policies that treat drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal one, taking away the stigma, helping those with problematic drug use to live stable lives and stopping the dreadful tragedy of the deaths that increase year on year. Last year the figures for the UK were showing around 10 drug deaths per day, and they’ve increased again since then.
All of this is why I was glad to be asked to join the Green Party’s working group for drug policy. The revision that has been written includes short-term policy and long-term policy – harm reduction measures that can be taken even as the law stands currently, and legal regulation of drugs which will require the law to be drastically changed.
People have always used drugs. We can’t stop them using drugs. Punitive drug laws don’t work to stop them and, if they’re intended to keep people safe, they don’t – in fact they make matters far worse. So let’s accept that many people use drugs, and let’s make it as safe as possible for them to do so.
For more on the Green Party’s drugs policy working group, follow @greendrugpolicy on Twitter.