Transform Drug Policy Foundation has released results from an Ipsos MORI poll showing that 53% of the British public are ready to 'legalise or decriminalise' cannabis. The findings received various different reports from the mainstream press, including the Daily Mail's usual flavour of distortion.
Transform's findings, which can be seen in full here, run parallel to a number of other polls conducted on public opinion and drugs. In 2010, the Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform commissioned a poll based on three questions:
- Light Regulation (drugs sold in the same systems as tobacco and alcohol)
- Strict (Government) Control & Regulation (in essence, new methods of regulation based on harm minimisation, education and health)
- Prohibition (our current style of 'control' and drug policy)
Each option was carefully explained, and with each paradigm fleshed out. The latter option of prohibition, of course, leaves criminality in control of markets, potency, quality, and profits. When the question was framed around a fuller picture the results were ground-breaking: 70% of those polled supported regulatory methods.
Transform Drug Policy Foundation's thorough questioning and findings matched previous polls from YouGov who found that 60% back a Royal Commission - as called for by the Home Affairs Select Committee - and 54% were in favour of Portuguese style decriminalisation. If this wasn't enough, the UK Drug Policy Commission found that 77% of MPs believe that our current drug policies are ineffective.
For years drug policy has been polarised, fuelled by emotive energy, knee-jerkery and faux outrage. The distinct acrid flavour of an issue devoid of evidence and wholly based on ingrained belief, drugs conjure an inherent instinctive reflex. The last ten years have seen a shift in mood and how we deal with the turbulent subject matter. Transform's recent poll results go to show that a reasoned and explained debate lends itself to a rational outcome. To ask a nuanced question is to receive a more reasoned response. The time has come to dispense with our dusty 'legalise or not legalise' discussion as this provokes a non-debate and an almost literal fist-fight of a discussion due to its lack of finesse.
To extend the theory further, we only have to look to Professor Nutt's findings from 2009 in'Estimating Drug Harms: A Risky Business'. Professor Nutt found in his MORI polls that over half of those quizzed wished for stronger categorisation of cannabis, with 32% believing that cannabis should be reclassified as Class A. This seems to fly in the face of recent findings, but it does need to be borne in mind that this MORI poll was around the time of 'skunkification', incessant press coverage, and Gordon Brown's reclassification from Class C to B. Rather obliquely, when polled on what the penalties should be for possession, over two-thirds wanted Class C level penalties or lower. There's a distinct dichotomy here: despite wishing for higher classification, there was repudiation for penalisation. Nothing made sense. This adds weight to the notion that the public do not want to see individuals suffer or be subject to incarceration. When the onus is placed on people as opposed to drugs, we start to see a very different shape of debate.
Based on my own anecdotal experience, it remains a point of contention to pitch a cannabis debate on 'to legalise or to not legalise' - the only result to come from this brand of discourse is our already existing prejudice. We're now reaching a national maturity that's enabling us to grasp the realities of what current policies infer, and what benefits we could glean from reform. There's an old adage: "To the believer, no proof is required; to the sceptic, no proof is sufficient". Drug policy now exists on an eminent pedestal of evidence from the most erudite of figures. In the recent months we've seen yet more weight added to an already laden cart of public opinion to radically overhaul our approach and attitude towards drugs, and their users.
So, despite public opinion now in favour of trialling regulatory models or decriminalising possession, the government still shrouds itself in rhetoric and the rather disingenuous notion that our current policies are working owing to a fall in use of cannabis. This sentiment is quite astounding and requires an in-depth explanation to convey its falsity - suffice it to say I will follow up with a fuller explanation in the coming weeks, but one rebuttal can be found from Narcomania's co-author, Max Daly, and ISCD member, Fiona Measham, in an article entitled: 'Britain Has Not Simply Fallen Out Of Love With Illegal Drugs'.
With report after report, evidence upon evidence, call upon call for reform, this is matched with rather heavy elephant in the room of the government's drug policy that's not supported by anything other than belief. On 26 October, Caroline Lucas MP asked the home secretary to whether there will be an assessment into trends and falling usage. The response? Well, the short answer being no; no such assessment or statement will be made. It's hard not to spot full intransigence on the issue. The government and home secretary are happy to fly in the dark on the issue using nothing but assumption.
Caroline Lucas MP has now started an e-petition calling for a long overdue impact assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 - a piece of legislation that's been unrelenting in its arbitrary application for over 40 years. Surely, surely, we can all agree that it's now time - at the very least - to embark on this impact assessment so as to truly count the cost of UK drug policy for the first time in nearly half a century. After all, it's now the majority opinion of the British public.
To support the call for an impact assessment, please sign here: Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 - Impact Assessment