Twelve years ago, a promising young politician rose to speak in the British parliament. “I ask the Government not to return to retribution and war on drugs,” he said. “That has been tried, and we all know that it does not work.” He went on to criticise the government for “posturing with tough policies”, and “calling for crackdown after crackdown”, thereby “holding back the debate”. And when a vote was called, his was cast in support of “the possibility of legalisation and regulation”.
William Patey, British ambassador to Afghanistan from 2010-2012
25 June 2014
When Tony Blair deployed British troops in Afghanistan, ending the illicit production and supply of opium was cited as a key objective. In 2001 the prime minister linked heroin use in the UK with opium cultivation in Afghanistan. Yet after 10 years of effort with tens of thousands of troops in the country, and having spent billions trying to reduce poppy cultivation, Afghans are growing more opium than ever before. For the sake of both Afghans and British citizens, politicians must take responsibility for the failings of global prohibition, and take control of the drug trade through legal regulation.
The new Liberal Democrat minister responsible for drugs policy, Norman Baker, has refused to rule out a policy of legalising cannabis but said that it is not his prime objective in the job. "I think it needs to be considered along with everything else. It is not my prime objective and I am not advocating it at the moment. We should be prepared to follow the evidence and see where it takes us," he said.
A new poll out today by the campaign group Transform finds a majority now favour permitting cannabis use, while four in 10 Britons favour total decriminalisation and more than two-thirds favour a comprehensive review of all drug policies. Support cuts across political divisions and embraces readers of all papers. Current policies are staggeringly wasteful of taxpayers' cash. A report last year found more than £65bn spent globally each year on enforcement.
Divisions between David Cameron and Nick Clegg over Britain's "war on drugs" emerged on Friday after the Liberal Democrat leader said that current policy was not working and accused politicians of "a conspiracy of silence". He said Cameron should have the courage to look at issues such as decriminalisation or legalisation of drugs. (See also: Nick Clegg calls for royal commission on drugs reform)