With the 2019 general election fast approaching, a lot of media coverage will focus on each party’s Brexit policies. Drug Science would like to offer a different perspective, what do the six highest polling parties promise to do to address the UK’s failing drug policy. This is what each party has publicly announced relating to their drug policy in the run up to the 2019 election.
Our founder, Professor David Nutt – “This election is vital for the future of our country for many reasons, and drug and alcohol policies are one of the most important. To my mind the only parties that have a truly honest and sensible approach are the LibDems and the Greens. So if this is your key issue then vote for them.”
The Conservative party have historically taken measures that punish, rather than support, people who use drugs. Since 2010, the Conservatives have cut public spending for drug support services throughout the UK. In 2017, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs stated that “local funding is the single biggest threat to drug misuse treatment recovery outcomes” and that the “quality and effectiveness of drug misuse treatment is being compromised by under-resourcing.”
As part of their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives identify drug use as part of their “plans to cut crime” which indicates that they continue to regard drug use as a criminal issue (therefore under the remit of the Home Office) rather than an issue to be dealt with by the Department for Health and Social Care. Their manifesto pledges to “tackle drug-related crime, and at the same time take a new approach to treatment so we can reduce drug deaths and break the cycle of crime linked to addiction.” These vague commitments do not commit to specific policies; therefore, we do not know what the ‘new approach’ to treatment would entail. However, based off their track record of disregarding evidence-based harm reduction, we can only assume that this will be more of the same.
Despite its contemporary relevance, the conservative manifesto does not refer to medical or recreational cannabis policies. Many patients will find this disheartening as they continue to fight for access to medicinal cannabis.
The Labour party recently launched their 2019 manifesto which sheds some light on the party’s position on drug policy. However, the content was rather vague, avoiding commital to specific policies.
Firstly, the manifesto states “We will address drug-related deaths, alcohol-related health problems and the adverse impacts of gambling as matters of public health, treated accordingly in expanded addiction support services.” This could indicate that matters relating to drug use would be delegated to the Department of Health and Social Care rather than the Home Office (as they have been in the past). Furthermore, a promise is made to establish a”Royal Commission to develop a public health approach to substance misuse, focusing on harm reduction rather than criminalisation.” Once again, this is a positive step, but fails to commit to any harm reduction strategies. Furthermore, a Royal Commission is a lengthy process that will take years to conduct before actual change is implemented. Drug-related deaths are on the rise and countless more lives will be lost waiting for this commission to conclude. A public health approach to substance misuse, focusing on harm reduction is needed as soon as possible to avoid further harm.
Secondly, “alcoholic drinks will be labelled with clear health warnings. We will review the evidence on minimum pricing.” The appropriate labelling of alcoholic drinks is something that Drug Science has advocated for since it’s inception. We would hope that this includes a mandatory calorie warning and other health-related warnings similar to that of tobacco packaging. For more information on alcohol policy, see our podcast episode on this topic.
Lastly, the Labour manifesto states that “We will progress clinically appropriate prescription of medical cannabis“. This is not particularly noteworthy due to the fact that the term ‘clinically appropriate‘ could be interpreted in a number of ways. In our eyes, clinically appropriate would mean that it is prescibed for a range of different conditions on the NHS for free. However, The National Institure for Health and Care Excellence would disagree.
Of the three most voted for parties, the Liberal Democrats position on drug policy is the most dissimilar to the current approach to drug policy.
The Liberal Democrats promise that they will create a “regulated cannabis market in UK, with a robust approach to licensing, drawing on emerging evidence on models from the US and Canada“. Using an evidence-based approach to formulate a recreational cannabis market would not only make the current cannabis market exponentially safer, but it would also generate tax revenue which could help fund public services. We would hope that the Liberal Democrats would include a social equity program and the expungement of previous cannabis convictions within their recreational cannabis market. This regulated market will “introduce limits on the potency levels and permit cannabis to be sold through licensed outlets to adults over the age of 18.”
Similarly to the Labour manifesto, the Liberal Democrats are looking to move “the departmental lead on drugs policy to the Department of Health and Social Care,”
Moreover, they commit to “invest in more addiction services and support for drug users.”
The Liberal Democrats also intend on imposing decriminalisation for personal possession of drugs by diverting “people arrested for possession of drugs for personal use into treatment, and imposing civil penalties rather than imprisonment.“
Finally, the Liberal Democrats “encourage more clinical trials of cannabis for medicinal use to establish a clear evidence base” whilst “allowing those who feel that cannabis helps to manage their pain to do so without fear of criminal prosecution.” Although we would argue that there is already a strong evidence base for the medicinal use of cannabis, rescheduling cannabis would facilitate further research into its benefits.
Scottish National Party
The Scottish National Party (SNP) want to be able to develop their own national drugs strategy that devolves powers to Holyrood. With the highest amount of drug-related deaths in Europe, it is no surprise that the SNP are keen to move away from the ineffective drug laws of the UK.
In 2016, Glasgow City Council proposed the introduction of Drug Consumption Rooms (DCR’s) to tackle their increasing number of opiate-related deaths. This suggestion was quashed by the Home Office, who refused to permit the council to do so.
Since that time, a vote was unanimously passed by SNP members to decriminalise all drugs if the Home Office devolved powers to the Scottish Government.
The Brexit party has very little to offer in terms of drug policy. Their policies relating to drugs are encapsulated in one sentence in their manifesto “Target the menace of County Lines drug dealers, gangs and the growth of knife crime.” Similarly, Drug Science has a one-sentence reply to their drug policy plan – they do not have one other than to perpetuate the currently failing criminalisation of vulnerable individuals.
The Green Party has the most detailed and holistic drug policy plan. There is not space in this article to address each of their initiatives. Drug Science recommend that those interested in drug policy should read through their policy statement, however, we would like to highlight a few key points.
“Diversion from the Criminal Justice System” diverts people found with small amounts of drugs to public health initiatives rather than the criminal justice system. Diversion will avoid giving people who use drugs a criminal record and instead will provide access to drug services.
“Devolve decision-making on whether to open Drug Consumption Rooms (DCR’s) to police, health services and local authorities.”
“Central government funding should be provided to support Heroin-Assisted Treatment (HAT) for patients for whom other forms of Opioid Substitution Treatment have not been effective’”
“Make herbal cannabis available on NHS prescription, produced by government-employed cultivators“.
“Make substantial public funding available for research into psychedelic drugs as adjunctive therapies for mental illness and addiction“.
“Replace prohibition with a legalised, regulated system of drug control…for the production, import and supply of all recreational drugs.”
The quotes above are just a few of the initiatives that the Green Party hope to enact. Doing so would be a complete overhaul of the UK’s approach to drug policy.