Either Michael Gove Should Be Charged With Possession, Or We Must Admit Our Drug Policies Need Dire Reform

Of course no one is seriously arguing Gove should face prison for a decades-old drug offence – but believing others should be punished for the same crime is inherently unfair.

In Scotland, an admission of guilt is not sufficient to ensure a conviction; corroborating evidence is required. However, this is not the case in England and Wales, where a confession alone can put you behind bars.

Consequently, shouldn’t Tory leadership candidate Michael Gove’s admission that he has – on multiple occasions – taken cocaine surely be enough to secure his conviction? This passes one of two tests used by the CPS to decide whether an alleged crime should be prosecuted. The other being whether a prosecution would be ‘in the public interest’.

In the book Beautiful Boy, David Sheff recounts his family’s struggles with their son’s methamphetamine addiction. Sheff describes how his first instinct was to come clean about his own drug use (he had taken cocaine and meth while at college). This, he reasoned, would provide him with legitimacy in the eyes of his son. His son would respect the wisdom of his experience. He would listen to him when he said ‘stop’.

He was wrong. And in the book, he goes on to tell us why. When Sheff, a wealthy and successful journalist, admits historical drug use, he becomes a powerful example of why drugs aren’t dangerous. No matter how many times he says ‘you’re ruining your life’, it’s impossible to escape the fact that he took the same drugs and his life is far from ruined.

The same is true of Gove. His illustrious career is a counter-argument to those who claim cocaine is bad, dangerous, or destructive. For every parent, social worker or health advisor telling a young person to stop, Gove is there showing them why they might continue.

Bringing charges against Gove would flip this dynamic. Rather than being an example of why taking cocaine is okay, Gove would become a high-profile reminder of why taking drugs – and breaking the law – is never okay. This is clearly in the public interest. And with both tests now satisfied, shouldn’t Gove be charged?

He is not alone, of course. Fellow MP Boris Johnson’s claim that he ‘sneezed’ when taking cocaine – and therefore did not actually consume any – is irrelevant; possession, not inhalation, is the crime. So he should face charges too.

If you disagree, then perhaps you should ask yourself why? If it’s because these crimes are historic, then consider the lifelong consequences for those who are convicted. These may include imprisonment; bars from roles in the armed forces, law enforcement, healthcare and education sectors (thanks to a ban Gove himself oversaw as education secretary); and lifetime bans from countries such as Australia and the United States.

These limitations on liberty do not expire on a pre-defined date, whereupon the crime is considered ‘historic’. Contemporaries of Gove’s who did not evade capture will still be suffering the consequences today. It is not immediately clear why he should not suffer them too. There is no statute of limitations in the UK. Gove (and indeed Boris) should be charged.

Of course, no one is seriously arguing that Gove, or anyone else, should be prosecuted for a drugs crime committed decades ago; but why should others continue to be punished for committing the same crime just as long ago? Is it because they got caught? Are we seriously rewarding the Goves of this world simply for being better criminals?

Politicians confessing to using drugs has become so common that it’s almost cliché. Yet these ‘criminals’ oversee departments and agencies which openly discriminate against drug users. Worse still, they continue to unanimously and irresponsibly promote non-evidence based drugs policies, which in many cases are doing more harm than good.

This is inherently unfair, and one of two things should happen. Either existing laws should be enforced fairly – which should include prosecuting Gove and others – or we must accept that existing drug policy is in dire need of reform.