Campaign group urges Labour to adopt seven policies on drug reform

Andrew Kersley

The Labour Campaign for Drug Policy Reform has renewed its efforts to force a change in party policy by unveiling seven specific recommendations for a public health-based approach to drugs use.

The campaign group, run by party members and backed by 15 Labour MPs and four MSPs, has today released a report that argues the “war on drugs has failed”.

LCDPR has called for a “new progressive approach to drugs” as research shows that drug-related deaths are at an all-time high in the UK with 5,546 people losing their lives in 2018 alone, representing a 47% increase on 2013.

The group has recommended that Labour adopt the following seven policies:

  • “Support an explicitly public health-based approach to drug use, moving away from a punishment-based model;
  • “Support the introduction of drug consumption rooms, life-saving facilities that prevent overdose deaths;
  • “Support the expansion of drug checking services, which informs users of what is in the drugs they are taking;
  • “Prioritise investment in treatment and recovery services that help people overcome addiction;
  • “Back police schemes that divert people found in personal possession of drugs out of the criminal justice system, crucially avoiding a criminal record;
  • “Engage seriously with worldwide discussions around the regulation of currently illegal drug markets; and
  • “Draw upon the evidence base from North and Latin American countries to explore the potential of regulating the cannabis market in the UK.”

Commenting on the new report, LCDPR co-founder and Manchester Withington Labour MP Jeff Smith said: “I’d like to thank the experts and everyone who took part in the consultation for a forward-thinking and constructive report.

“At this campaign’s heart is an acknowledgement that the war on drugs has failed, and that Labour in government should take a new approach, implementing drug policies which prioritise public health and harm reduction, and are rooted in evidence.

“Now that the recommendations have been released, we’re really keen to engage further with parliamentarians and the public on this and start a serious discussion about how Labour policy can better serve our communities.”

Research from LSE and drugs campaign group Release found that Black people are nine times more likely to be stop and searched for drugs, despite using drugs at a lower rate than white people.

The Labour campaign group has been supported by 15 MPs and four MSPs, including shadow ministers Alex Sobel, Rachael Maskell, Jess Phillips, Stephen Kinnock and Kerry McCarthy.

Commenting on the report, backbench MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy said: “I welcome this latest set of policy proposals. With the UK now standing as the drug overdose capital of Europe, it’s clear that a grown-up conversation about our drugs policy is long overdue.

“We should take a public health approach towards drugs which is evidence-based and outcomes-focused, diverting resources away from prosecution and enforcement and towards prevention to keep everyone safer.”

The new recommendations were drafted by an expert working group of leaders in the fields of addiction, health and policing, and is based on consultations with over 700 members of the public from across the country.

Co-author of the report and Warwickshire police and crime commissioner candidate Ben Twomey said: “For decades the UK’s drug policies have left children to be groomed and exploited, while the real criminals make millions.

“No-one defends the war on drugs anymore, yet in their silence, it continues to destroy communities and wreck lives. It is time for a public health approach that will protect children, save lives and reduce crime.”

The report also criticised the policy of random drug tests for employees, which was suggested by London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and backed recently by current Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Labour pledged in its 2019 general election manifesto to “establish a royal commission to develop a public health approach to substance misuse, focusing on harm reduction rather than criminalisation”.

Polling in July showed that 53% of people are in favour of a public-health based approach to drugs as opposed to criminal punishment. In a separate poll, the same number backed the legalisation and regulation of the cannabis market.

Keir Starmer argued during the Labour leadership contest earlier this year that he “wouldn’t immediately” decriminalise cannabis but said he had supported schemes where people were not arrested or prosecuted for use.

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