On Thursday 15th March the York Union welcomed the Conservative Member of Parliament for Reigate, Crispin Blunt, to discuss the need for global drug policy reform. Blunt is currently the Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform, which aims to promote evidence-based reform of national and global drug policy with an emphasis on health. In his address, he advocated the need to change national and global drug policy.
Crispin began this discussion with the admission that, in his youth, he had had very little contact with recreational drug use. It was not until he enrolled in Durham University after leaving the army that he first encountered common drug use. After a further stint in the army, Crispin was elected in 1997 as the Member of Parliament for Reigate in Surrey. In 2010 he was appointed the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Youth Justice, a position which he held until 2012. Under this position, Blunt visited prisons, and admits his shock at the high levels of drug addiction in prisons, citing the queues for methadone present in many prisons he visited.
This part of his parliamentary career began his overt advocacy for evidence-based drug policy reform. Crispin’s original argument began with a comparison of global drug probation to 1920s American alcohol prohibition. In the USA, prohibition of alcohol led to huge crime increases, as people drank and produced alcohol illegally; as well as major health problems, as people poisoned themselves with homemade liquor. Blunt argued that this is what is happening on a global scale with drug prohibition.
During his speech, Crispin highlighted some of the statistics which back his argument. Currently half of acquisitive crime in this country is driven by drug addiction; and the subsequent justice and health costs to the state are estimated to be in the region of £13.5 billion. On a global scale, around half a trillion dollars per year are thought to be in the hands of criminals as a result of the drugs trade. In Mexico, 25,000 people die each year as a result of global drug prohibition, with violent gangs cashing in on the illegal drugs trade. In the USA tens of thousands die from fentanyl poisoning each year. Blunt even suggested that Afghan support of the Taliban during Western intervention was partially the result of the British crackdown of the drug trade in the region removing people’s livelihoods. Every year in Britain, teenagers lose their lives to unmonitored drug supply chains and violent drug driven crime in our cities. As Crispin sees it, global drug policy is a catastrophe, and the need to revise it is hugely important.
So, what did he suggest should be done? Using heroin as an example, he suggested that such substances would be highly taxed, which would then be able to fund the cost of any subsequent medical treatment needed. He also suggested that, if legally buying heroin, you would only be able to take it in a medical facility, where treatments, trained staff, and support for addiction would be available. In terms of more common drugs, such as cannabis, he would restrict sales to above an age where minds had fully developed, the example used was age 24, in an attempt to prevent growing mental health problems in young people. In the Q&A session that followed, Blunt acknowledged the need for further discussion into how exactly such regulation would occur, and the exact policy that could be implemented. He also strongly emphasised, if nothing else, the need to legalise drugs which have been proven to have medical benefits.
In an unusual turn of events, I found myself generally in agreement with the Tory MP (although the same can’t be said for a host of his other political beliefs.) Generally, the arguments for drug policy reform seem sound, with more money (theoretically) going into public services, lower prison numbers, and the ability to monitor supply chains and the exact content of drugs. In a world of drug reform, people would be able to choose the exact doses to take, confident in the breakdown of chemicals in the substance. Supply chains would be in legal hands, meaning less risk associated with drug taking.
However, there still seems to be moral questions to ask. In terms of addiction, is it right to be making money from personal problems? Crispin continuously highlighted the need for being held responsible for one’s choices and actions as one of the main factors behind reform, but this seems to completely dismiss the varying mental health and addiction problems behind drug related health issues. Given the record of the Tory party for spending public finances, how likely is it that under this government profit from a legal drug trade would find its way back to public health and justice services?
Evidence-based drug policy reform is already underway in many parts of the world, with a report by the USA and Canada expected to be released soon. Given the influence of these two world powers, it seems somewhat inevitable that we are facing a world where drug use is, at least partially, legalised. The arguments for are strong. Drug reform, if done correctly, has the potential to make a dramatic change to the lives of many. Should legalisation happen, we must ensure that our government approaches new legislation, and the aftermath of such legislation, in a way that creates positive change, and not corporate corruption.