The Liberal Democrats have made a manifesto commitment to decriminalise the possession of illegal drugs for personal use and introduce a ‘legal, regulated’ market for cannabis. The latter would ‘break the grip’ of criminal gangs and raise £1bn in annual tax revenues, says their manifesto document, which also pledges to repeal the controversial Psychoactive Substances Act.
Anyone arrested for possession of drugs for personal use would either be diverted into treatment and education as part of a ‘health-based approach’ or be subject to ‘civil penalties’, says Change Britain’s future, with the authorities concentrating instead on those who import, deal or manufacture illegal drugs. The Psychoactive Substances Act would be repealed as it has ‘driven the sale of formerly legal highs underground’, while the departmental lead on drug policy would be moved from the Home Office to the Department of Health.
The proposed regulated cannabis market would ‘introduce limits on potency’ and allow cannabis to be sold via licensed outlets to people over 18, the document states. The party previously commissioned an expert panel chaired by Transform’s Steve Rolles to produce a report looking at how such a market could work in practice (DDN, April 2016, page 4), and last month Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Norman Lamb wrote in DDN that the war on drugs was ‘a completely stupid approach’ (DDN, May, page 10).
‘The war on drugs has been a catastrophic failure,’ says the party’s manifesto. ‘Every year, billions flow to organised crime while we needlessly prosecute and imprison thousands of people, blighting their employment and life chances, and doing nothing to address the impact of drugs on their health.’
While the Lib Dems also state they would replace police and crime commissioners (PCCs) – ‘elected at great expense in elections with very low turnout’ – with accountable police boards made up of local councillors, the Conservatives’ manifesto says that they would widen the role of PCCs to include having them sit on local health and wellbeing boards to enable ‘better co-ordination of crime prevention with local drug and alcohol and mental health services’.
Perhaps predictably the Conservative document, Forward together, largely approaches the issue of substance misuse from a law and order perspective, stating that the party would create a national community sentencing framework to include measures such as ‘curfews and orders that tackle drug and alcohol abuse’, as current community punishments ‘do not do enough to prevent crime and break the cycle of persistent offending’. However, it also pledges to address the issue of racial disparity in police stop and searches, saying that the Conservatives would ‘legislate to mandate changes in police practices if “stop and search” does not become more targeted and “stop to arrest” ratios do not improve’.
Labour’s manifesto, For the many not the few, promises to ‘implement a strategy for the children of alcoholics based on recommendations drawn up by independent experts’ and states that prison ‘should never be a substitute for failing mental health services, or the withdrawal of funding from drug treatment centres’, but otherwise contains little on drug policy issues. ‘Labour should be the party that shouts the loudest about the need for drug reform,’ said treatment adviser at the Volteface think tank, Paul North. ‘Their political ideology should see drug reform as an opportunity to stand out from the rest of the field.’
Manifestos at www.libdems.org.uk, www.conservatives.com, www.labour.org.uk