Friday, April 16, 2010

Green Party Manifestos on Drug Policy, 2010 and 2005

In the penultimate installment in our review of party election manifesto commitments on drug policy  (see Labour, LibDems and Conservatives), today is the turn of the Green Party manifesto, published yesterday and titled 'fair is worth fighting for'.

The overarching analysis is something no other party has touched upon, recognising that inequality is a significant factor in determining health outcomes, including levels of drug addiction (Transform has raised this point in its recent CBA and Blueprint publications). This is a proposition laid out in more detail by the Equality Trust, drawing on the work of Prof. Richard Wilkinson, co-author of "The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone". The influence of Wilkinson's work on the Greens' thinking is very evident. Also uniquely, drug use is addressed in the "Health" section rather than being ghettoized solely as a criminal justice issue:
Simply making our society more equal will improve our health, without spending a penny extra on the NHS. Life expectancy, infant mortality, low birth-weight and self-rated health are worse in more unequal societies. Mental illness is much more common in more unequal countries. Drug addiction is more common in more unequal societies. Obesity is less of a problem in more equal societies like Japan and worst in the most unequal ones like the US. Better health is not a matter of ever-increasing spending on the NHS. A surer route, which can’t be disrupted by the need to bail out bankers, is to support simple things like good food, less competition and less stress." 

Drugs do also get a mention in the crime section, but again in the context of the need for greater equality, and with a clear call to treat drugs as a health issue:
To deal with crime we have to address why it occurs and what to do when it does. On the causes of crime we must first recognise that there is more crime in more unequal societies, and that by making our society more equal in the ways set out in this manifesto we will also make it safer. Second, we must act on the fact that over half of all crime is caused one way or another by misuse of Class A drugs, mainly heroin or crack cocaine. Radical reform of our drug laws will massively cut crime.

To address the causes of crime we would:
  • Treat heroin and crack addiction as a health issue and not wait for them to become a crime problem. We would offer treatments that may include prescription of heroin thus removing the cause of most petty drug-related crime carried out by the addicts and removing the market from heroin dealers.
  • Concentrate police and customs resources on the large-scale production, importation and marketing of these drugs.
So there is a welcome recognition that drug use should be primarily a health issue, and that it is the criminalisation of drugs that causes the huge secondary harms to society in terms of huge amounts of property crime. The clear need for more radical reform of the drug laws is made very clear as is the support for heroin prescription as central to reducing prohibition harms.

The last bullet point about focusing police and customs resources on Class A drug markets, suggests that they would not be focussed on other drugs, but, like the Lib Dems, is somewhat at odds with the rest of the analysis, essentially recommending a symptomatic response whilst ignoring the reality that prohibition is the primary cause of these markets.

Like the Lib Dems, the Greens have an official drug policy document which takes a rather more bold and progressive stance than you might assume from the slightly watered down version put forward in the Manifesto. Called "Drugs: A Realistic Approach"(2008) its analysis does not mince words:
"The prohibition of drugs doesn’t work. It does not protect society in any way, and makes it more difficult to minimise the harm caused by drug use. Addicts are treated as criminals, rather than patients in need of treatment. Every year, tens of thousands of people are put through the criminal justice system, needlessly paralysing the resources of the police, courts, and prisons. Families are torn apart, and people are made jobless and homeless just because they are criminalised by outdated laws. Drug barons are profiting from prohibition and using that money to corrupt those individuals and institutions that should protect society".
whilst amongst its more specific recommendations in one to:
"Take the drug trade out of criminal control and place it within a regulated and controlled legal environment."

The 2010 Manifesto call for a radical reform of our drug laws is welcome, but it is a shame that the Greens' long held commitments to legal regulation drugs is not made explicit. Like the Lib Dems there is a clear reticence to take debated and agreed intellectual positions to  the people, rather undermining claims to be parties of political boldness and change.

The 2010 manifesto does, however, offer marginally more than in 2005 when all that was proposed on drug policy was:
"Restitution for the victim and the community and rehabilitation of the offender are key ingredients of the Green approach to justice. While prison plays an important role in the criminal justice system, it should not be used as a way of simply holding people with long-term drug addiction, social and mental health problems."
 and, under a bullet list introduced with:
The Green Party will develop and invest in a range of crime reduction and prevention measures that focus on tackling local sources of potential crime and improving the safety  of our communities. These measures will address the social and environmental causes of crime and will include:
the proposal of:
  • Demarcating drug-taking as a health rather than a crime issue
...although, no details are given as to what this might entail in practical terms. So similar, but even less detail or engagement with the debate around regulation/prohibition.


Sunshine Band said...

Best of a bad bunch - why is nobody talking about the positive side of drugs and whatever happened to individual liberty as part of the debate?

Jock Coats said...

However, there *is* still an issue with making it a health issue, and that is to infer that drug use, even if not criminal, is still necessarily "problematic". So you then need to distinguish between "problem" use, which is injurious to health (assuming the state's role is to protect us from our selves in the first place) and then to conclude that if it does not cause any such manifest problems then it is, by implication "acceptable" drug use.

Sunshine Band said...

Shows a lot of naievity, but compared with what we see from the others it's different class. They ought to go through it as it's a mish-mash of ideas, many out-dated. I don't like the idea that we should focus resources on Class A - that's akin to agreeing that a) prohibition works if enforced hard enough b) that there is any factual basis for such a drug classification relative to harm. Nothing I can see about the equality issue being actually about drug discrimination.

It's all negative focus as well - why is nobody talking about the positive side of peaceful drug use and whatever happened to liberty as part of the debate?

Steve Rolles said...

SB - even if those are ideas that have legs intellectually they probably wont play well politically, so its probably understandable that they chose to focus on practicalities rather than philosophy.

Sunshine Band said...

Steve, I'm not interested in 'spin' and I'm sure there are millions out there who are just wanting integrity. It is akin to patronising the electorate. The government demonstrate their need to hide the evidence about drug facts from the public, as you know they think the truth will get in the way of the message, they hide documents and sack experts that say uncomfortable things. I see the point that prejudice is so deep that it is too much of a shock to people to suggest that alcohol should be classed as more dangerous than LSD, but surely a manifesto for the future must not pander to this, rather to open the door to research and a better approach. I don't see them trying to do that here to my satisfaction. Taken at face value, this manifesto could be taken as a declaration of war to clamp down on magic mushroom users for example. Anyway - I find the idea of a party extolling the merits of cognitive liberty appealing, it goes across so-called left and right really. When you look at the mephedrone stuff the govt published - equality issues / impact assessment etc - you can see, they don't give any credit for the drug having any positve use at all, despite obviously thousands of people enjoying it, or just wanting it. They don't see any equality issue in clamping down on these users absolutely. This is where the greens and UKIP could have made a stand, won respect, found a core of people that have been dismissed by 'electoral profiling' to find common ground issues, but they singularly failed to do out of misplaced IMO 'not playing well politically' - aka fear, fear of action actually. How can we instill an attitude of possibility into the movement for reform? Everything is played down with 'reality checks' in my experience by too many. Hope Danny will grasp the nettle with his campaign and not just talk about harm reduction, unintended consequences, dangers of alcohol etc and choose to set the debate alight. Everyone seems to feel the need to be so Calvanistic about the issue.

Nice People (in fact almost all people) Take Drugs. So what, why not, they enjoy it, get over it!

Steve Rolles said...

There are issues around fear certainly but also issues around what can usefully be put center stage in a concise summary format of a manifesto. I would have been happy with just good policies as a starting point.

Jake said...

Sunshine Band raises a good point; maybe if one of the political parties (such as the Greens) had stood up to be counted and been brave enough to say the truth, it could have been a starting point for talking about the white elephant. If anyone attacked their views they could have easily produced evidence showing just who was right... hopefully prompting debate?!

Steve Rolles said...

The greens may not be running with it in their election campaign but they do unambiguously have published and public policy of legally regulating drugs - none of the others can claim that. They deserve credit for that at least.

Jake said...

Very good point! I suppose that people are just frustrated that it once again won't be brought up as a political point - the general public rarely look beyond manifestos (if they actually look at them at all!)... so may have been a bit of a missed chance for a bigger impact?