A creeping sense of despair is felt by many of us as Kier Starmer talks about the ‘smell of weed’ ruining peoples' lives whilst quoting Thatcher in his recent ‘anti-social behaviour as a virus’ rhetoric. This is only matched by the wilful ignorance of the Conservatives who have chosen to ignore the advice from their own experts, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and ban nitrous oxide. In stark contrast, The Green Party’s approach is informed by evidence and not political ideology. An approach that puts harm reduction, community safety and an opposition to profiteering at the very heart of drug policy.
With a deluge of social and environmental crises ripping through society and the planet, to continue to engage in ‘the war on drugs’ is profoundly tragic and serves only to fill us with fear and hopelessness. The Green Party supports an end to this war.
Whilst the Conservatives and Labour peacock around who is toughest on crime, the most vulnerable in our society continue to sink into deeper poverty, as the middle class shrinks away and the rich stockpile the wealth. It doesn’t take an economist to work out that the £6.9 billion of taxpayer money spent annually on a failed system could be more responsibly distributed.
As co-leader of the Green Party, Carla Denyer, highlighted earlier in the year that the policies that both Conservative and Labour have been pursuing for the last 50 years have been shown time and time again to be a failure; instead causing more harm to people and the planet. The tragic death of Olivia Pratt-Korbel by Thomas Cashman could likely have been avoided if the drug market was legally regulated. Leaving it in the hands of criminals only encourages violence. One only has to look at the illicit trade in cocaine and its devastating impacts on local ecologies to know that only through a legally regulated system could proper controls be monitored and enforced. Meanwhile, drug deaths continue to rise year after year under prohibition.
Surely a legally regulated system would encourage more drug use? Maybe, but it is worth considering that the majority of people who use drugs do so safely. Problematic drug use is often the result of socioeconomic deprivation, trauma and/or mental and physical illness. A public-health approach to drug use would provide support for people who use drugs problematically; at the same time, it would address concerns about the impact of drug use on wider communities. For example, providing Safe Consumption Rooms for people who inject drugs would provide greater safety for users while decreasing the number of discarded needles in parks and other public places. In addition, much crime associated with problematic drug use would decrease if drugs could be accessed legally.
In a week which also saw the home office win a battle to suppress a report from its own expert advisors recommending decriminalisation for possession of all substances, one has to ask what are the real motivations behind both Conservative and Labour’s desperation to continue fighting for this lost cause? Perhaps prohibition acts as the perfect vehicle to distract the public away from the real issues in society?
When Black people are nine times more likely to be searched than white people, despite being statistically less likely to use substances, there can be little doubt that UK drug policy is rooted in racism. Perhaps when Starmer says ruining lives he is referring to cases like 15-year-old ‘Child Q’ who was strip-searched without parental consent by two female police officers after being accused of smelling like weed by a teacher whilst on her period?
Furthermore, if we reformed drug policy whilst reducing the number of young people and others vulnerable to exploitation through our policies around social welfare, education, youth services, housing and wellbeing, so-called ‘county lines’ would cease to exist. In spite of police chiefs wanting to decriminalise drugs, we continue to see police forces pat themselves on the back when they have had a ‘successful’ drug bust. But this just clears the path for the next group to fill the void.
Prohibition actually does very little to protect young people. They are left vulnerable to the illicit underground market which requires no age verification and no controls over the purity of substances.
Firstly, we as a society have to accept and embrace the fact that young people experiment with drugs and alcohol. So it becomes vital that we prioritise harm reduction strategies over the bankrupt ‘just say no’ approach. We live in a globally connected, rapidly changing world where young people can freely watch a documentary about the benefits of psychedelics on Netflix or a Masterchef-style cooking programme with cannabis as the main ingredient. As they face an increasingly unstable future the least we owe them is an honest drug education which also highlights the joys associated with sensible drug use. This is impossible to deliver under prohibition.
Humans have always used a variety of substances to modulate reality. Whether for spiritual reasons, creative reasons, medicinal reasons or just to relax after a day of toiling, this will never change. It is, essentially, what makes us human. Bodily autonomy is a human right. So it becomes incumbent on the government to guide and advise on best practice. Not to criminalise.
We are in no doubt that drug policy reform is at the core of social and environmental justice. It is not a niche topic. There will be no societal change until drug policy is reformed.
All current prohibitive policies offer is an illusion of control. In reality, there is no control. Prohibition is chaos. The Green Party’s drug policy offers the control, guidance and respect for human rights that is so desperately needed in these trying times. Trust us. We’ve got this.
Follow the Drug Policy Working Group on Twitter @GreenDrugPolicy.