How the new party manifestos will tackle the problem of drug use in the UK
This week has seen the three main political parties launch their election manifestos for the coming election on may 6th. The current political trend of concentrating on style over meaningful substance has undoubtedly been the key theme of this election campaign and is no more prevalent than in the drugs policies outlined by the three main parties.
The most seemingly "progressive" policies appear to come from the Liberal Democrats. They claim they will base their future government policies on the advice and recommendations given by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) which will be made independent from the government. The party also claim they will change the ministerial code stopping government ministers "bullying or mistreating advisers" which has allowed them to distort evidence and statistics for their own political ends. They have also emphasised the need to focus on rehabilitation and the treating of drug users rather than opting to incarcerate them. The desire to base their future policies on scientific evidence rather than caving in to public opinion which is more often than not, generated by the waves of sensationalist stories coming out of the tabloid press seems like a reasonable party line and is a clear step in the right direction. However, the chances of them forming a government with a majority strong enough to achieve these goals is more than slim.
The manifesto with the least detail on future drug policy is the Labour party. Instead of having any real objective about how to deal with drugs and the public health issue that surrounds it, they have sought to highlight what they have done during this term in office rather than what they'll seek in the next term. Their manifesto highlighted how they reclassified Cannabis from class C back to class B and how they acted to ban legal highs, which will be coming into effect in the next few days. Both moves where opposed by the ACMD and resulted in a number of major resignations from the council by some of the countries leading drug experts.
The conservative party has a slightly more developed drug policy than Labour. While taking a similar line to Labours manifesto on the need to create a temporary ban on new legal highs, they have opted for a more abstinence based drug rehabilitation approach. The idea of piloting prison rehabilitation trusts was also mentioned albeit in a rather vague, confused manner. There was also some mention of how a newly created "Border Police Force" would help to stop the inflow of drugs whilst also promoting the use of the (largely untested) drugalyser technologies enabling police forces to test for drivers under the influence of drugs.
Implicit in these manifestos is the notion that the UK's drug policies over the last few decades are succeeding and as such their is no need or political will to try and tackle the issue. However, critics of the current policy from across the political spectrum have been forthright it arguing the case for a drastic reformation of how the government approaches drug policy, including many members of the governments own council of experts. With "anti-social behaviour" being a central campaigning issue and the recent furore over mephedrone raising the public awareness of the issues that need to be tackled, all three political parties have missed a golden opportunity to differentiate themselves from the rest of the political class. Unfortunately, it seems no matter who wins the election, the struggle for a rational, evidence based drug policy which doest criminalise vasts sections of the population is still a long way off.