Lord Ashcroft's David Cameron Biography Reminds Us Young PM Was A Drug Reform Revolutionary

Forget 'Chipping Snorton', Young David Cameron Was The Man Who Could Have Legalised Drugs

The first installment of Lord Ashcroft's unauthorised biography of David Cameron gave the British press enough salacious gossip for a year, but in the mad rush to cover the most lurid aspects of his allegations, drugs campaigners claim a more radical aspect of the story has been overlooked.

'Call Me Dave' claims that Cameron would occasionally smoke cannabis with friends while at university in Oxford, listening to the Seventies rock band Supertramp, and further allegations today claim that he now attends parties where drugs are openly used.

The image of a young Cameron who might have a liberal attitude towards drugs is not just another piece of gossip. It also reflects a young man who - until he became Prime Minister - was a passionate supporter of drug reforms, including the option of legalisation.

And drug reform campaigners, who have long lamented Cameron's lack of action on the issue since becoming PM, believe he still holds firms views on decriminalisation. The problem, they say, is a lack of pressure from other political parties to do something.

Cameron in 1986 with Dennis Thatcher, the late husband of Margaret Thatcher

The young Cameron called for "alternative ways" to tackle drugs when he became an MP, and criticised politicians for "posturing with tough policies" — a radically different approach from today's Prime Minister who all but ignored a historic discussion on drug laws last year.

An excerpt from Lord Ashcroft's book, published in the Daily Mail, details Mr Cameron's early personal crusade for drug reform, and how the future PM was deeply affected by the drug problems of a family member Ashcroft calls 'person X'.

"It is unclear when X’s problems began. What is known, though, is that X’s condition was a matter of great heartache for Cameron. It also explains why, soon after entering Parliament, he was prepared to stick his neck out on the divisive issue of drugs."

"The trauma that he and his family experienced as they battled to help a loved one undoubtedly coloured his perspective on the law. It also equipped him to comment on the extent to which the needs of addicts are being met."

The Ashcroft book also claims there is a report that X’s partner acted as a drugs mule, and died at an Argentinian airport when bags of narcotics burst in their stomach - but the author could not verify this without "undue intrusion".

As a backbencher, Cameron was "before his time" on drug decriminalisation, according to Danny Kushlick, Head of External Affairs for the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. But he notes that it's a side of the prime minister the country hasn't seen since he became leader of his party - and especially since becoming PM.

In October 2014, only 21 out of 650 MPs - and no Tory frontbenchers - attended the Parliamentary debate to discuss a report on drug policy, despite it being the first government report in history to highlight possible benefits of legalising drugs.

Lord Ashcroft is not the first person to raise Cameron's drug-taking or his stance on drugs, but he is one of the most high-profile.

"It wasn’t the first time Cameron had experimented with cannabis," the 'Call me Dave' extract published in the Daily Mail says. "At Eton, he’d been ‘busted’ for taking the drug, and narrowly avoided being expelled just a few weeks before he was due to sit his O-levels."

David Cameron has not been vocal on drug laws since becoming PM

In 2002, Cameron as a young backbencher who had just become a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

In an interview with the drug law reform website Users' Voice while he was part of the HASC, Cameron described how he and fellow MP Oliver Letwin were excited about the reform suggestions they were making. "Are we not mad if we don’t pursue a policy, which cuts crime, saves lives and improves public health and safety?" asked Cameron.

"I’d had a longstanding interest partly because I’m quite young, but also because friends of mine had had problems with drugs, so it’s something I’d had some contact and interest in. So on a personal level, I was interested in it, and on a policy level too. I mean it’s like the 'elephant on our doorstep!"

"We found some of the arguments of the legalisers quite persuasive; we are acknowledging that there may be a day when the balance may tip in favour of legalisation, and basically we wanted to have a genuinely open mind about this. To those that would say we were not brave enough, I would say, ‘actually, look at what we're saying about heroin.’ It’s about making treatment more readily available. The most important thing we did was to recommend expanding heroin prescribing.

"Surely the point of a good drug policy is about keeping users healthier and out of the criminal justice system. Actually, I sent a letter about all this to my strongest supporters, all conservatively minded as I am, and they didn’t find this too big a leap-of faith.

"That interview is just extraordinary," said Kushlick of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which calls for all drugs to be legal but regulated. "Cameron sounds like an overexcited puppy, which is very much not what his media management style is now. This is a guy who is passionately committed to a substantial change in policy. You just have this sense of these two young men, really interested in what then was radical change."

"It was a very different world, and they were well ahead of their time."

After his experience with person X, Cameron became a patron of a drugs rehabilitation charity in his constituency, called the Ley Community.

This, it is thought, could explain his passion and willingness to speak out on the controversial subject of drug reform.

He decided that drug laws would be his calling card.

Cameron voted to support the committee's 2002 report which 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".

"That's calling on the government, which he now heads, to initiate a discussion at the UN of alternative ways," says Kushlick, from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which campaigns for all drugs to be legal but regulated. "It's very clear - it's not only a call for a review but it specifically mentions legalisation."

Lord Ashcroft's biography states this on Cameron's views on drugs:

"He’s on record as saying that ‘State bans on anything’ are generally to be avoided.

It became apparent to colleagues that he inclined towards relaxing the law on some substances, and felt a new approach towards heroin addiction was required.

‘Safe injecting rooms at least get heroin users to a place where they can be contacted by the treatment agencies, so that the work of trying to get them off drugs can start,’ he argued."

But Cameron has rarely mentioned the issue since becoming the Prime Minster, and a debate on reforming Britain's drug laws last year (initiated by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas) didn't receive the support of the Conservatives last year.

His views on reform have not changed, Kushlick suggests, but political necessity means that he's unlikely to voice them again in his time leading the country.

"Without any pressure from Labour or the SNP, or the public, he is unlikely to shift," Kushlick says, saying that pressure from the US, which doesn't encourage partner nations to become more lax on drug laws, also plays a role in suppressing Cameron's revolutionary past.


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