Considering the toxic combination between drugs and politics

The history of drug legislation is a tale of disjointed incrementalism. A drug becomes a social problem, the media pick it up and politicians push something through to prove that they care.

So we have the three main parties manifestos at our fingertips for Election 2010. Covering all those big issues that we need to know about for when we head to the polls if May 6To me, it seems that the issue of drugs has flown a little under the radar. It’s an issue that affects so many others, poverty, children, education, health and of course crime.  With the recent mephedrone legislature that was pushed through surrounded in controversy I was interested in seeing how each party planned on what they could offer Britain and our drug problems. However as I scanned the pages of each I found myself pretty disappointed, and was reminded that we haven’t really moved on or developed a well grounded approach to illegal drug use.

From Labour’s “we will not tolerate illegal drug use” the Conservatives “we will give the courts the power to use abstinence related based drug rehabilitation” and the Liberal Democrats “the focus should be on getting addicts the treatment they need” they all come from a responsive angle and focus on how to handle proven drug addicts. The question of the philosophy behind banning certain drugs is left far behind.

Compare the view of 90-year-old US Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens, referenced an interview in the New Yorker last month, that cannabis laws are “reminiscent of the opinion that supported the nationwide ban on alcohol consumption when I was a student.”

The mephedrone legislation just a few weeks back demonstrated what an highly emotive subject drug misuse can be. Attention towards the issue grew from nothing due to its constant presence in the mainstream media, and politicians across the parties trumped each other with the toughness of the action they promised. Media moral panic leading to hurried legislation? It’s a regular occurrence with drugs as well as dangerous dogs, but this time the experts didn’t come along quietly. When yet another advisor, Eric Calin, resigned from the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) he explained it was due to there being:

“Little or no discussion about how our recommendation to classify this drug would be likely to impact young people’s behaviour. Our decision was unduly based on media and political pressure”

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats where quick to criticise. Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary labeled the relationship between government and the ACMD as “utterly shambolic” and the Liberal Democrats claiming the decision was based on media pressure.  If drugs, those suffering and those affected are subject to the political, perhaps the political should clearly state where they stand on the issue and but how they are going to approach it within their election promises. As the election polls claim an ever closer race, hopefully we will see each party pushed to make clear their stance on the these uncomfortable, but ever important issues.

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This piece of mine recently appeared in TalkIssues, where people who care about policies, not personalities debate the big issues concerning the upcoming general elections. Follow the hashtag #talkissues on twitter, or contact me if you’d like to get involved.

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