A group of Labour MPs are calling for the decriminalisation of drugs and the possible regulation of the UK cannabis market.
The party’s drug policy reform group has urged Labour to take a ‘better approach’ to the war on drugs in the UK.
This includes ending the criminalisation of those who use drugs and ‘exploring the potential’ of a legalised and regulated cannabis market.
In a report published on Wednesday 23 September, the Labour Campaign for Drug Policy Reform (LCDPR), which was established in 2018 by MPs Jeff Smith MP and Thangam Debonnaire – now shadow housing minister – set out its recommendations for party policy.
It called for MPs to support a ‘public health-based approach to drug use’ and to back police schemes to decriminalise those found in possession of drugs.
It also reported a need to expand research programmes into ‘medicines derived from controlled drugs’ and encouraged politicians to ‘engage seriously’ with worldwide discussions to ‘explore the potential’ of regulating the UK cannabis market.
Highlighting the need to build a fair criminal justice system, the group urged Police and Crime Commissioners and Mayors around the country to look at local law enforcement and make it clear that those possessing or cultivating cannabis to meet a ‘genuine medical need’ should not be charged.
The report said: “One of the main factors impeding efforts to help people who use drugs to stay healthy, and to support their recovery, is the criminalisation and stigma attached to all drug use.
“Arresting and punishing people who use drugs costs the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds per year, gives criminal records to tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding people, and makes it harder for those struggling with addiction to access help and turn their lives around.”
It added: “Labour should therefore be clear that it will end the criminalisation of people who use drugs and make this a matter for public health, not the criminal justice system.”
The reports recommendations are the result of a number of public meetings across the UK, attended by hundreds, and are supported by a number of Labour MPs and MSPs, including several shadow cabinet ministers.
It has been described as a ‘progressive move’ by drug reform campaigners and welcomed by those advocating for patients to have wider access to medical cannabis.
Former chief drugs advisor to then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown and now chair of the Drug Science scientific committee, Professor David Nutt, commented: “Drug Science welcomes this progressive move by Labour that appreciates the reality of the current failed system and recommends evidence-based alternatives.”
Another of those who showed their support for the recommendations is Carly Barton, the first UK patient to receive a private prescription for medical cannabis and the founder of Cancard, a new scheme due to launch in November to protect medical cannabis patients from arrest and prosecution.
Carly told Cannabis Health that Cancard was set up with the full backing of cross-party delegates, including many Labour MPs.
“Cancard exists to prevent needless arrests of people who are consuming medicine simply to be well,” she said.
“We are in support of the latest Labour Party recommendations, they couldn’t be more clear on this issue. Patients are at the end of being able to tolerate anymore fear around criminalisation, MPs can’t justify it and Police don’t want to be in the situation that they find themselves in.
Carly added: “We will continue to work with all political groups to ensure the patient’s voice is heard and we are more effective at making the necessary changes in law.”
Responding to the report on Twitter, Detective Chief Inspector Jason Kew, the Thames Valley Police lead for Drugs, Exploitation and Harm Reduction, who is also backing the Cancard scheme, added: “An awful lot of evidence based sense here. I wish, apolitically, that drug policy wasn’t politicised.
“Great to read a commitment to explore what works internationally and supervised injecting facilities are prioritised too.”
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