It's time to address the glaring anomalies and take a fresh look at the UK's drugs policy
SNP MP Ronnie Cowan, the Vice-chair of the APPG on drug policy reform writes of the recent admissions from Conservative leadership candidates: "These are politicians that have fought to maintain the pernicious and discriminatory drugs policy that the UK has maintained since 1971 and yet they don’t believe it applies to them or their friends".
Some say confession is good for the soul. Whether it is or is not it does seem to be the latest chic accessory to the Conservative and Unionist Party leadership pageant. Candidates have been rushing to admit that in the past (it’s always in the past) they have taken an illegal controlled drug. But this new-found honesty must be a quandary to them. How can they confess to breaking the law? More than that how can they confess to breaking a law they continue to support?
How can a person admit to taking a class A drug for which the maximum sentence for possession is seven years in prison and not ask if it is time to review the law? I can only presume they sought some heavy legal advice before feeling confident about the need to come clean.
And let us be absolutely honest, if the candidates were not going to tell us, there are plenty of supporters of other candidates that would have. This is not a case of remorse or guilt. No one is defending their action other than to say it was a mistake and I won’t do it again. And most shockingly no one is saying I did this, it is not a big deal, we should be debating the UKs drug policy. Because, in the current climate, that would be as good as admitting you were dropping out the race.
These confessions are dripping in hypocrisy. These are politicians that have fought to maintain the pernicious and discriminatory drugs policy that the UK has maintained since 1971 and yet they don’t believe it applies to them or their friends. And that is the problem at the heart of the matter.
The possession and use of illicit drugs is a UK Government policy used to persecute those living in areas of social deprivation. When we should be looking to help people with problematic use through harm reduction, treatment and wrap around support, we are instead focusing on opportunistic politicians scrambling up the greasy pole with their naked ambition on show for everyone to see. They will say that theirs was a victimless crime but that requires ignoring the brutality of the supply chain and the destruction of human lives at every stage of it. Not just the users but the growers, traffickers and dealers.
The violence used to enforce control continues to escalate and human trafficking is supported and financed through it. A kid in a council estate caught with a few grams of cannabis for personal possession is faced with a criminal conviction that will harm his employment opportunities for the rest of his life, but rich men in penthouses can snort cocaine until they pass out safe in the knowledge that their peers are doing the same and a that the law of the land is only for those that can least afford it.
It is time to address the glaring anomalies and take a fresh look at the UK's drug policy. Ninety percent of people who use recreational drugs do not live chaotic lives. Of the ten percent that do, the majority have suffered physical, psychological or sexual abuse.
We can’t continue to persecute people who are self-medicating to offset the pain they are experiencing; we must start to change the mindset of many by demanding that people, such as those who deem themselves fit to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, acknowledge that the drugs policy of the UK is deeply flawed and that they have demonstrated this already by their own action.
Ronnie Cowan is the SNP MP for Inverclyde & Vice-chair of APPG on drug policy reform
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.