By Bob Ainsworth MP
Over the last couple of decades, the United Kingdom hasn’t had a proper, rational debate on drug policy. The mantra has always been prohibition, prohibition, prohibition. Whenever the words decriminalisation and legalisation enter the debate, they are dismissed.
After the publication of the government’s disappointing Drugs Strategy, now is the time to open up that debate. That is why I triggered a debate in Westminster Hall and called on the government to consider all the options on drugs policy.
Why now though? Why didn’t I say these things when I was the Drugs Minister? The first reason was that I came into the job in 2001 with a traditional view of drugs policy; that prohibition worked. As I came to realise that, quite frankly, wasn’t the case, I was bound by collective responsibility, which comes with ministerial office. I had a choice; gradually move the policy on or cause a tiny splash by resigning. I chose the former and we made progress on treatment and education as a result.
So what am I calling for? That’s simple. I believe that we should have an independent, evidence based review on drugs policy that looks at all options, including decriminalisation and legalisation.
We need to drop the dogmatism and evaluate what works and what doesn’t. David Cameron said the same, as part of the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2002. But when he became Tory Party Leader he felt he had to deny his clearly held beliefs.
We need to realise that only when we start being grown up about the alternatives to prohibition will we make any progress on drugs policy. Then and only then, can we save many lives up and down our country and across the world.
Bob Ainsworth is Labour MP for Coventry North East. He was a Home Office minister in the last government responsible for drugs policy and more recently secretary of state for defence.