UK’s undeclared war: drug legalisation could change the game ahead of the elections


It’s a never ending battle over drug laws between Tories and Lib Dems, which is far from being over. But, who has more to gain from it and will they ever reach common ground? Bianca Caministeanu investigates.

Drugs aren’t a new deal anymore. From taking your morning coffee to having a drink at your favourite bar, the line between habit and addiction is often blurred by them. Look at Weeds or Breaking Bad (a show so talked about, that it feels sinful not to watch) and you would almost instantly realise that drugs are a routine. They’re part of our lives, part of our society and the government’s strategy of controlling their spread is almost too good to be true. Why? Because it doesn’t exist.

A year ago, Prime Minister David Cameron tackled this issue at an O2 call centre in Cheshire. ‘‘What we are doing is working. I don’t believe in decriminalising drugs that are illegal today. I think one of the biggest problems we have got right now is the problem of so-called legal highs; drugs are being sold openly which can have real dangers, for particularly young and I want to see us have tougher powers so that we ban these legal highs, take them off the high streets and protect more of our young people.’’

As one of the ‘young people’ mentioned in Cameron’s speech still living in student halls, I doubt there is enough awareness of the serious, harmful risks of using ‘legal highs’. Every day, more and more people are becoming addicted to drugs. Yet, somehow there are few who actually know what they’re exposing themselves to. Whether it’s peer pressure, curiosity or something else, people need to be on guard when they use drugs because it’s a slippery slope from feeling good to losing the will or power over your actions.

In fact, this is a tricky subject because people can never decide whether to talk about it openly or just mentally block it. It’s almost as if keeping your mind busy with distractions, might mean that you could erase all your addictions away, when in fact it’s quite the opposite. In the absence of any kind of resolution, the Lib Dems seem to prove that waging war against drugs inevitably leads to compromise.

According to Norman Baker, Home Office minister for the Liberal Democrats: ‘‘We need to protect the public from the danger of these substances, but we also have made it clear that we will not criminalise possession for personal use.’’

Now, imagine the police catching you red-handed with drugs and in a matter of seconds, getting a get out of jail free card. This might soon become a reality, if the Lib Dems’ campaign of reforming drug laws gains momentum.


‘‘Locking somebody up in prison for a matter of weeks because they happen to possess a Class B or a Class C drug is a nonsensical approach. It doesn’t change their attitude,’’ added Norman Baker.

Let’s take a look at Portugal. Apart from being a good holiday spot, in Portugal drugs are legal and are a very much discussed topic. It’s also a place where drug addicts are not treated as criminals, but more likely as patients with a health problem. No matter how shocking (or not) this approach may seem, by 2012 marijuana use has dropped to about 2.7% , cocaine to 0.3% and heroin to less than 0.2%.

Moreover, a Home Office report published in 2014 reveals evidence that there ‘‘is no apparent correlation between the ‘toughness’ of a country’s approach and the prevalence of adult drug use.’’

‘Approach’ is the key word here because even though the British government may consider reforming drug laws, it would still have trouble finding the best way to tackle this issue in May’s upcoming elections. So, what would be the benefits of a system where drugs are legal?

To begin with, the government would have some control over the drug trade market and if the demand for drugs will be reduced, the same thing will eventually happen to the production of illegal drugs. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it will eliminate violence on the streets or crimes, but it could represent a crucial turning point for our society.

It is hard to predict what people would do if, suddenly, they would have the power to use drugs without hiding, though it might actually mean less than before, because no matter how much of a ‘‘forbidden fruit’’ drugs might appear to be, legalising them would significantly reduce their importance.

Another point to remember is that drug addicts are often, regarded as a majority and this is one of the key factors that could win an election. Say what you want about this ‘game plan’, but there’s no denying that legalising drugs could bring a lot of votes for the Lib Dems (or even, the Green party who are strongly advocating for decriminalising drugs). That is, if they succeed in getting their message across to the right audience.

A recent British survey led by Opinium Research revealed that ‘‘93% of drug users (more than 14 million people) have used marijuana’’.

The survey, also showed that a majority of 52% would support making the same drug legal ‘‘for both medical and non-medical use’’, a scheme which is already running in two states of America (Colorado and Washington).

However, results of the same survey revealed that 61% opposed to the idea of legalising or decriminalising certain currently illegal drugs, while only 39% were in favour.

With this issue far from being ended, a recent article written by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, adds to the debate of whether drug addicts should be treated like criminals or as victims of unfortunate circumstances. Published in ‘The Guardian, the article states: ‘‘Prison cells are still used for people whose only crime is the possession of a substance to which they are addicted. This costs a lot of money, which could be better spent on treatment and on redoubling our efforts to disrupt supply.

‘‘As in investment, the war on drugs has failed to deliver any returns. If it were a business, it would have been shut down a long time ago. This is not what success looks like.’’

Then, how does it? At the moment, words are not enough. People need to understand what and who they’re voting for and even though both Tories and Lib Dems have had plenty of time to take action, drug addiction is on the rise.

Both parties have promised a lot ahead of elections. But, how much of these promises are an accurate reflection of our attitudes, when it comes down to drugs? All of this brings us back to the Home Office report, which doesn’t stand a chance against the Tory party. Yet, the report gathered significant data, as well as reactions of different approaches to drugs policy.

It also discloses: ‘‘Treating possession of drugs as a health matter rather a criminal one does reduce drug-related deaths and HIV/AIDS infection rates and does not lead to a long-term increase in drug use.’’

Since the release of this report, the problem of legalising drugs continues to remain a big question mark. On one hand, it’s an option for a never-ending war on drugs (that for many years was usually seen as a ‘‘taboo’’). On the other, you can’t address this matter without considering the risks, along with the powerful effects that drug use causes to your mind and body.

As we’re getting closer and closer to the elections in May, the pressure is on for both Tories and Lib Dems. Statements will be made, opinions will be formed and a lot of MP’s will have to battle for what they stand for. What we know for now, is that legalising drugs is a stepping stone for Tories and a possible tool for Lib Dems. And, for us? Well, let’s not forget that promises will still have to be delivered.

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