Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate

Bob Ainsworth is contributing to the drugs debate in a positive way today and should be commended for doing so, says Mark Thompson of the Mark Reckons blog.

Mark Thompson blogs at the Mark Reckons blog

The former Labour drugs policy and cabinet minister Bob Ainsworth has come out today in favour of legalising drugs. He said:

“Prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit.

“We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children.”

The former Home Office minister has been touring the studios this morning in advance of a Westminster Hall debate this afternoon where the issues will be discussed.

Mr Ainsworth’s approach in attempting to spark a debate on this issue has been applauded across the political spectrum with support from former deputy Conservative leader and cabinet minister Peter Lilley who wishes the issue would stop being used as a political football, as well as the senior Lib Dem MP Tom Brake.

This is notable as on most occasions in the past when a politician has spoken out about this issue in such terms there is often no support from political opponents and they are left seemingly isolated. It would suggest that careful thought and coordination has gone into the management of this call for a debate which given previous experience is perhaps prudent.

The current drugs minister James Brokenshire has responded in time honoured government fashion by dismissing the calls without properly engaging with any of the points that Mr Ainsworth and his colleagues have raised. Ed Miliband has also rushed out a statement making it clear that this is not Labour party policy.

Mr Ainsworth has been challenged on the media today as to why when he clearly feels so strongly about this issue that he did not speak out about it at the time he was a minister and was in a position to do something about it. He explained that he gradually came to change his view in office and that once he did his choice was a stark one.

To speak out and hence have to resign from government or to try and push from inside the tent to nudge policy in a more progressive direction. he chose the latter.

Given that under Gordon Brown, drugs policy actually became more authoritarian with the regrading of cannabis back to class B, the further banning of “legal highs” for which there was very little evidence to underpin the decisions, and the sacking of Professor David Nutt it is debateable how successful he was in doing this which he freely admitted in interviews this morning.

He has also been challenged as to precisely what regime should take the place of the current prohibition model. On this he has seemed a bit more sketchy suggesting different regimes for different drugs without being too drawn on the specifics but to be fair, he is simply calling for a debate in a broad way. It is not fair to expect an individual politician to have all the answers at the start of such a process.

The options can be discussed and debated as this process goes on. A good reference for this is the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation publication from earlier this year, “After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation”, which makes a number of suggestions about this and goes into great detail on all of the options.

Mr Ainsworth’s comments very strongly mirror the former Conservative minister Phillip Oppenheim, who said in an interview with me last year that he also tried to influence John Major’s government from within in a similar direction (with similar success).

The fact that numerous politicians once out of office seem willing to engage in sensible and constructive debates about the failings of current drugs policy and the possibility of radical reform does raise the question of how many current ministers feel the same way but are equally unable to speak out. There are even strong grounds for thinking this goes all the way to the top of the current administration.

Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg are on the record before they rose to high political prominence as being in favour of exploring the possibilities for liberalising drugs laws. Indeed I questioned Mr Cameron about this at a Cameron Direct event earlier this year before he was prime minister but he deftly distanced himself from his previously stated position.

Perhaps with today’s debate and politicians from all sides endorsing Mr Ainsworth’s approach we are approaching a tipping point in this country. It cannot have gone unnoticed that the largest state in the US very nearly voted to fully legalise cannabis last month and even though Proposition 19 did not pass, the medical cannabis laws in California and other US states mean it is almost de facto legal in many places there anyway.

When this is combined with recent statements from various respected international figures about liberalising drugs laws such as current and former Mexican presidents, whose country is terribly affected by the ‘war on drugs’, there does seem to be a feeling in the air that the time has come for a radical rethink.

Bob Ainsworth is contributing to this in a positive way today and should be commended for doing so.

24 Responses to “Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate”

  1. Annika Seabrook

    RT @leftfootfwd: Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: //bit.ly/gPa8G6 says @MarkReckons

  2. donmackeen

    RT @leftfootfwd: Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: //bit.ly/gPa8G6 says @MarkReckons

  3. Mark Thompson

    RT @leftfootfwd: Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: //bit.ly/gPa8G6 says @MarkReckons

  4. Shamik Das

    Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: //bit.ly/gPa8G6 says @MarkReckons on @leftfootfwd

  5. diana smith

    RT @leftfootfwd: Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: //bit.ly/gPa8G6 says @MarkReckons

  6. Harry Cole

    RT @shamikdas: Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: //bit.ly/gPa8G6

  7. gemma tumelty

    RT @shamikdas: Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: //bit.ly/gPa8G6

  8. Levent Akbulut

    RT @gemmatumelty: RT @shamikdas: Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: //bit.ly/gPa8G6

  9. Anon E Mouse

    I heard Ainsworth on the radio this morning and was surprised about how well he put his case. This article is bang on the money.

    In government I though Ainsworth was unsuited in defence, useless as I remember but as he explained on the politics show his stance on drugs is to be commended – especially how he wants a debate on the matter, something so sadly lacking at the moment.

    Like IDS for the Tories and his work with Frank Field, it’s as if some MP’s almost transcend politics when they are in opposition without the tribal nature of the commons.

    I even agree with Ainsworth about the nasty way Labour seem to be drifting back to smearing and back biting against their own party but I put that down to the ineffectual leadership of the dithering Ed Miliband…

    Ainsworth’s BBC Link: //www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12009914

  10. Rick Muir

    RT @gemmatumelty: RT @shamikdas: Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: //bit.ly/gPa8G6

  11. Brummie Protestor

    RT @leftfootfwd: Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: //bit.ly/gPa8G6 says @MarkReckons

  12. Martell Thornton

    Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: This is notable as on most occasions in the past w… //bit.ly/hh0nSP

  13. Barry Biddiscombe

    Bob Ainsworth is just talking sense. Why haven,t we learnt from history, prohibition in the USA led to local armed conflict only removed by legalisation of the supply of alcohol. Illegal drugs are the cause of major world wide conflicts. How many troops and law enforcement personel have been killed or injured in the last year? Is there any end in sight? Legalising drugs would remove the vile promotion of drugs to children.

  14. Laurie Bowen

    Whenever I talk about the failed War on Drugs . . . I always end with saying ” and that’s why Prohibition was Prohibited in America”.

    We don’t follow the principal anymore, and one reason that is . . is because there is more money to be made when it’s forbidden.

  15. John

    Once politicians ar eno longer under the influence of the Daily Mail and look at the utter failure of our war on our own citizens over drugs anyone with any sense can see that not only has it failed but it has made the dangers from drugs far worse. Our streets are full of violent gnagsters who make money froma monolpoly that we have not only crearted but protect by keeping the distribution of drugs illegal. Our prisons are full because drugs are illegal our property is likely to be stolen because drugs are illgal, addicts die because drugs are llegal ( they are ful of adulterants more dangerous than the drugs themselves ) young men and woman prostitute themselves because drugs are illegal. why oh why are the Politicians the last ones to realise that there policys are wrong

  16. The Drugs Laws Don’t Work « Expansive Psychology

    […] Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate (leftfootforward.org) […]

  17. Mr. Sensible

    My views on this matter remain unchanged, and I think Mr Ainsworth is being at best irresponsible, but certainly I think he is wrong.

    I believe he talked about going down the proscription route as an option, something which would be completely unjustifiable at a time when the NHS is being told to make savings.

  18. TransformDrugPolicy

    Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: Left Foot Forward blog (inc Blueprint plug) //dlvr.it/BXvCZ

  19. Kelly

    RT transformdrugs: Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: Left Foot Forward blog (inc Blueprint plug) //dlvr.it/BXvCZ

  20. Change the World

    RT @gemmatumelty: RT @shamikdas: Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: //bit.ly/gPa8G6

  21. James Vanderwal

    Prescribing dangerous drugs would save the NHS boatloads of money. Drugs are not inherently expensive. It is only because of their illegal nature that dealers are able to keep prices high – they hold a monopoly.

    Prescribing would bring chaotic users into contact with support networks, something which is currently very difficult. NHS costs from health consequences caused by contamination (search anthrax heroin for more information) would be eliminated, and overdoses would be reduced as users would know the purity.
    In the longer term, ‘hard’ drug dealers would be driven out of business as users refused their impure, dangerous and overpriced wares.
    Users buying ‘soft’ drugs would stop coming into contact with ‘hard’ drug dealers (driven out of business by loss of profits), gradually eliminating the possibility that users might be introduced to ‘hard’ drugs because of drive for profit or from a free sample.

  22. Change the World

    RT transformdrugs: Ainsworth should be commended for reopening the drugs debate: Left Foot Forward blog (inc Blueprint plug) //dlvr.it/BXvCZ

  23. Kim Tan

    Ed Milliband’s response to Ainsworth is disappointing it shows that he’s another politician stuck with the old views. He’s not readical, he doesn’t trust people to choose what’s right for themselves, and he isn’t interested in the science and evidence that shows clearly that current drugs policy is a disaster. I voted for him in the leadership election. And I’m very disappointed at what I’ve seen so far.

    Perhaps Ed Milliband needs to see the article below. Or have a conversation with Professor David Nutt. Or even Bob Ainsworth – he’s in the same party, I believe.

    Link to the article:
    //www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1893946,00.html

    Excerpt…
    Portugal, which in 2001 became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

    The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.

    “Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”

    Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal’s drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

  24. Mr. Sensible

    John, in my view it is far from certain that that would change if they were made legal.

    And James I think that is a bit of a simplistic way of looking at it.

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