Monday, July 09, 2012

Sun poll shows UK public wants to explore alternatives to drug war

Hot on the heels of UK Justice Minister Ken Clarke admitting we are "plainly losing the War on Drugs", comes a poll for The Sun newspaper showing the public agree - 86% of people now think that the UK has a serious drug problem.

When asked what we should do about it, 45% think the sale and possession of cannabis should not be a criminal offence, whilst 15% think the same about "hard drugs".

The poll also shows 46% of the public would support Portuguese-style decriminalisation of the possession (but not sale) of all drugs (with 32% opposing).

This rises to fully 60% of the public supporting limited trials of Portuguese-style decriminalisation of all drugs in some British cities - with just 24% opposing.

Transform has long argued that a key step needed to reassure the public, move forward based on evidence of what works, and provide politicians with cover to change policy, would be for the Government to commission a review comparing the current approach to drugs with alternatives. The Sun polled on this too.

58% of the UK public support a Government review comparing the current approach to drugs with Portuguese-style decriminalisation, and full legalisation, with just 22% opposing it.

In other words, there is a strong appetite for exploring drug law reform, as long as the public is given the reassurance that it will be done in a sensible, piloted, evidence-based way (as Transform is calling for) rather than suddenly and irreversibly - which of course no one wants.

There is also a crucial message here for politicians - the polls show that if they follow this approach they have nothing to fear electorally. There is majority support for both a review and piloted trials of decriminalisation across supporters of all parties, both genders and all socio-economic groups.

That is why tomorrow, when Transform's Danny Kushlick gives evidence to Parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into drug policy, he will ask them to recommend that the Government immediately commissions a full review of drug policy, exploring all the alternatives.

After 50 years of the current approach, and many billions spent, just 8% of people think that the UK does not have a serious drug problem. Even Ken Clarke conceded last week that he had no “blinding insight” about what we should do next.

Under these circumstances, a review is surely the most basic requirement for good public policy making. It would also help the significant proportion of the public unsure about how best to proceed to make up their minds too.

Our Government would not even be taking a lead internationally. Latin American leaders initiated such a review through the Organization of American States in April - with the agreement and involvement of the United States.

In short, a comprehensive, independent review of our approach to drugs is something all political parties can and should back - for the sake of everyone.

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