A Conservative MP has said the government needs to rethink its approach on the criminalisation of drugs, and suggested substances like heroin should be legalised.
At an Institute for Economic Affairs event labelled: UK Drug Reform: Is it time to rethink drug policy? at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, panellists debated whether the “war on drugs” was working – and discussed the medicinal potential of illegal substances like cannabis and magic mushrooms.
Crispin Blunt, the MP for Reigate, argued that illegal drugs should be legalised to enable medical research into the substances – and also to shut down the illegal drug trade which fuels crime and poses health risks as they are unregulated.
He also argued against an authoritarian approach on illegal drugs, arguing society cannot "arrest yourself out of the drugs problem”.
“It would just be more intelligent, probably, to try and manage that process in a way where you are enabling people to make informed decisions to understand the risk – and not… driving them to become part of the illegal criminal supply chain outside society,” said Blunt.
When asked if it should be legal for a consenting adult to shop online to buy opium or a lump of crack cocaine based on this reasoning, Blunt said it could be made available legally in a regulated environment.
“That would be for the regulators [to come up with the rules]… that the state should then apply around that particular drug,” said Blunt.
“It might be that you would allow people access to heroin – legal access to heroin – but you’d insist they take it under medical supervision in a particular facility – so that you can ensure that the drugs they are taking is actually heroin.”
Blunt also said politicians that take a singular “drugs are bad” approach are doing the public a disservice.
“We’ve got to take the fear out of the discussion about this issue,” he said.
“Because if it is simply dealt with as a headline… ‘Drugs are bad, they are all banned’… and then we turn our eyes way from the consequences of that as a policy – which are truly [shocking]… and don’t engage with the detail, then frankly we are unfit for office.”
The MP lamented that the usage of medicinal cannabis in the UK has been almost non-existent, and said it is urgent more research is done into the health benefits it can have for those with disabilities.
Last week, it was announced that a pioneering 'Heroin Assisted Treatment' programme in Middlesbrough was to close due to a lack of funding, three years after it opened.
The programme, the first of its kind in England, gave entrenched heroin addicts two daily doses of diamorphine and had been hailed as having a dramatic impact on the local community in its first year.
Niamh Eastwood, Executive Director of Release, the UK's national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law, described the decision as "stupid".
Blunt’s remarks came hours after group of Conservative police and crime commissioners argued at the conference that cannabis should be reclassified from a Class B to a Class A drug.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, David Sidwick, said cannabis was a “gateway drug” and was “driving harm” in communities.
“If you look at the young people in treatment, the number one drug they are in treatment for is cannabis,” said Sidwick.
In Scotland, where health is a devolved issue, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh has recommended the introduction of a drugs consumption room and a heroin-assisted treatment programme in all major centres in Scotland.
The organisation said in March 2021 that serious consideration should be given to decriminalising drug use to help tackle the “national emergency” of drug-related deaths.
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