A glimpse at Tory drug policy?May 18, 2009 at 8:53 pm | Posted in British Politics, Drugs | 5 Comments
If you want to see what a future Tory government’s approach to drug policy might be, you could do worse than having a peek at a new report that’s just been published by The Centre for Policy Studies. Entitled ‘The Phoney War on Drugs’, author Kathy Gyngell essentially argues that the reason Labour’s attempts to curb drug use have failed is because they’re just not trying hard enough.
The report takes aim at the government’s long-standing policy of harm reduction, which works on the presumption that whilst there isn’t the public will for full decriminalisation, there’s also a limit to what a state can do to prevent people from putting poison in their bodies. With this in mind, the most prudent course of action is to reduce the social, economic, crime & health costs of drug addiction, and this inevitably leads to a greater emphasis on treatment and prescribing drug substitutes like methodone.
Gyngell argues that this focus on harm reduction has distracted from the state’s more pressing concern of stopping drugs from entering the country in the first place, being more dilligent in prosecuting dealers/users and promoting a culture of abstinence (a words she uses 30 times, fact fans) and zero tolerance. Naturally,the solution to this drug problem – as with every problem ever – can be found in the evergreen utopia that is Sweden (seriously, doesn’t that country do anything wrong?!)
There’s a lot to unpack here, and certainly far more than my blogging time allows, but there are a few observations I’d want to make.
First, the solutions offered here seem to be heavily reliant on greater statism. To improve our ability to stop drugs from entering the country will probably require more legislative action, increased use of police surveillance and escalating the state’s border patrols – all of which will pose profound questions for people concerned about individual liberty, the power of government and the potential misuse of anti-terror legislation to catch drug smugglers.
On top of that, it’s not likely to be cheap. Even if enforcing prohibition more effectively were to prove successful (by no means a certainty), you’d probably still see short to medium-term increases in state spending to improve our police’s ability to stop drugs and build new prisons. With all that in mind, you’re left wondering – as Pete Guither does – how this could ever be reconciled with CPS’ supposed mission statement of encouraging freedom, responsibility and limited government.
Second, I feel like Gyngell picks a soft target by simply attacking government policy. Even those on the opposite side of the drugs argument can see that current policy is mostly just an exercise in timorous, incrementalist bullshit, so attacking it from either left or right would’ve been pretty easy even for the most mediocre of researchers. No, the true test of her piece would’ve been how well it stands up to the counter-argument from anti-prohibitionists that you could reduce crime, health & other social costs currently associated with drug use/addiction by legalising, taxing and regulating those substances. Gyngell shies away from having that fight, which is a little bit of a missed opportunity for all concerned.
The reason I suggested that this report may one day inform the Conservatives’ approach to drugs is that I can only see this area going one of three ways. Once in power, Cameron’s government can either continue a Labour policy which not too many people on either side think has been a resounding success, decide that prohibition has been a costly folly, or decide that the state still hasn’t been tough enough on drug users/dealers. Out of all three, I suspect the latter conclusion will be the most convenient to reach, and if they do, god only knows what happens next.