The influential Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) is set to recommend a Royal Commission on drugs policy amidst an ever growing call for change to our national drug strategy. The HASC has been taking evidence for a year which concluded with a global conference on 10 September.
The eagerly awaited report wasn't set for release (and was embargoed) until Monday 10 December, but it fell to the Mail on Sunday to break the story via a "leak". The Mail reported that the HASC report was 'paving the way for legalisation' - in truth, this is a grossly inflated version of what the report is actually set to recommend. The HASC Chair, Keith Vaz MP, took to twitter to impart some perspective by saying:
From what has been understood, predicted, and speculated, the report shall call for a Royal Commission. In essence, Royal Commissions are there to circumvent intransigence and to deviate from the standardised party politics. Ironically, one of the aspects that has been addressed in the HASC evidence is that of media interaction around drug policy. There's a common consensus that certain aspects of the press have dabbled in their addiction to hyperbole to such a degree that it has influenced politicians. With the Leveson Report still echoing in the ears of certain aspects of the feral press, this latest fracas will certainly not improve relations, and may well prove that the certain parts of press have an incontrovertible interest in inflating drug policy news.
The last time a Royal Commission was called for on drug policy was that of the 9 March 2011; Lord Norton of Louth raised the issue in a question for short debate - the call for an evidence lead policy was to such an extent that the word evidence was used 42 times in only an hour. The response to the call for a Royal Commission was, at best, dismissive. Lord Norton later commented that he was disappointed with the result.
The HASC are no strangers to recommending new measures: in 2002, David Cameron was part of the now infamous report that recommended that the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways--including the possibility of legalisation and regulation--to tackle the global drugs dilemma.
David Cameron has also gone on record saying:
"Politicians attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator by posturing with tough policies and calling for crackdown after crackdown. Drugs policy has been failing for decades."
The most recent HASC raised headlines when notable figures such as Russell Brand, Sir Richard Branson, and Peter Hitchens gave oral evidence. Not so publicised were the sessions with former Chief Constable, Tom Lloyd, Niamh Eastwood from Release, and Danny Kushlick from Transform Drug Policy Foundation.
With voices growing in Latin America for a change in drug policy, and the unprecedented news that the Latin American countries will be heard at the UN, it's hard to deny that a change in mood is now palpable. Adding weight to the UK domestic drug policy is the findings from the UKDPC who have reported in their Politicians' Views on Drug Policy publication that 77% of incumbent MPs do not believe that our current drug policies work.
Perhaps the final egg to the mix is the fast-tracked reforms that we've witnessed in Colorado, Washington State both of whom voted to fully legislate on the sale, production and taxation of cannabis in much the same way as alcohol. Flint and the Grand Rapids also voted to decriminalise specified amounts of marijuana for personal possession.
The HASC report, however, could well recommend an unprecedented move: the shift of drug policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health - this would prove to be a key and decisive move that may lay the foundations to a health lead approach to drugs. Eyes now turn to the Home Office and the Prime Minister to what the reply will be. The implementation of a Royal Commission and its subsequent findings would not be available until around 2015 - what this may do is to place a firm onus on the next government to act. Indeed, it's also possible that drug policy will be a key component to the 2015 general election campaigns.
Whatever the conclusion to the HASC report, it's already gotten interesting coverage, and it can be assured that, if nothing else, it's going to be a talking point for a some time to come.
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