You don’t have to look far in Bristol to see evidence that our current approach on drugs is not working. In the year from summer 2017, our ambulance service received close to 1000 emergency calls related to the use of spice alone.
From needle waste in our parks, to addictions funded by burglaries and shop-lifting, to hospitals treating overdoses, to children drawn into criminal activity from drug running to knife crime, it is clear that there are many ways the ‘War on Drugs’ has failed.
Bristol is not alone. 2018 saw more than 4000 drug-poisoning deaths across the UK, and the National Crime Agency estimates that drug trafficking into the country costs the public purse £10.7bn per year. Estimates suggest anywhere from a third to over a half of all acquisitive crime may be linked to drug use.
That’s why I was proud to support the new Green Party policy on drugs when it came to be debated at our Party Conference in October 2019. Green Party members, including doctors and elected representatives as well as campaigners for legal drug regulation, have spent over a year consulting experts and stakeholders, and gathering evidence of best practice from around the world, to put together a policy based on radical common sense.
So what is the Green Party proposing? Legal regulation and control of all drugs – not because they are safe but because they are dangerous. The current failed system of prohibition has wreaked much the same havoc in current day Britain as the prohibition of alcohol in 1920s America.
Huge sums currently pass through the hands of dangerous criminal gangs around the world, states such as Columbia and Mexico are destabilised and people across the world die unnecessarily from using drugs of unknown strength and purity.
Green policy accepts that people have always used drugs and always will. People whose use of alcohol and other drugs becomes problematic frequently have equally problematic backgrounds and often terrible histories of abuse and neglect.
The current system of prohibition pushes them towards the courts and criminal justice system rather than to treatment and compassion. We are treating some of the most vulnerable people in our society with appalling cruelty.
People who use alcohol and other drugs are entitled to know what they are ingesting – how strong is it? Where does it come from? Who made it? Regulation would therefore help protect both workers’ rights and keep users safe – currently if you take a pill you have no idea whether it is the equivalent of a half of shandy or a bottle of scotch.
Speaking as a parent of two teenagers, our young people in particular deserve better and to be kept safer. Businesses selling some currently illegal drugs like cannabis would be brought under control of licensing authorities, just like venues where alcohol is sold. Others would be made available in pharmacies in limited doses.
This would require a change in the law at the national level, but much is being done locally already. Organisations like The Loop offer drug testing services at festivals so users don’t die of ignorance. The police – having seen first-hand the consequences of prohibition – are increasingly offering treatment options rather than arresting those in possession. Here in Bristol, Green councillors have called for a safe drug consumption room, to give drug users a safer space with access to sterile needles and specialist support.
The failed ‘War on Drugs’ rhetoric serves nobody other than politicians intent on looking tough. Let’s take a rational, sane and most of all compassionate approach to drugs instead.
Fi Hance is the Green councillor for Redland
Main photo by Katie Button