Comment: Time to end the war on drug victims

People who are dealing with social problems, exacerbated by drug use, feel that they cannot seek help


This is an amended version of a speech delivered at the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference, where the party voted in favour of legalising recreational cannabis use.

Five years ago it was a pleasure for my first conference speech to be in support of our sensible, evidence based drugs policy, including decriminalisation of drug usage. This policy is one of the key reasons that I am a Liberal Democrat. This issue is only being talked about by our party.

A few years back, I was in an abusive relationship with a violent partner. The abusive behaviour was made worse by alcohol and drug use, in particular cannabis use. Because alcohol is legal, this issue was raised and support was offered.

But until I took the decision to leave and seek police help, cannabis use was never mentioned because it’s illegal. There was never any question of support being available, as admitting to being a user would cause someone even more problems.

I grew up on one of the most economically deprived council estates in the country. I also worked there for a while, in the local community pharmacy. I can tell you, drug usage is pandemic. In the most vulnerable parts of society, it is everywhere. This is a reality.

Now if people are having social problems exacerbated by drug use, and they feel that they cannot seek help anywhere for them, because they will be criminalised and penalised, this is wrong. It cannot be allowed to continue.

What I learnt during my time working at the pharmacy, is that every substance we consume, whether it’s for medical reasons or not, carries a risk. Some people will suffer from side effects.

Wouldn’t you much rather have people able to know about the risks and be informed and educated about problem signs to look out for? That they knew where and how to get help, and that they felt comfortable to get that help? This is what we need to do.

I am fed up of hearing the phrase ‘war on drugs’, because it’s not a war on drugs. Drugs are doing very nicely thank you! It is a war on drug victims. That is what has been happening for decades.

There are many reasons to decriminalise drug usage and to develop a regulatory framework for the sale of cannabis: economic, social, health, education and the liberal reasons. Once we’ve adopted this policy we need to go out and make this case to the public.

If you support this, then be vocal. Don’t be afraid of social backlash, because this is the change that this country needs and it needs it now.

Elizabeth Adams is a domestic violence campaigner and Liberal Democrat activist for Stratford-upon-Avon.

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