This morning I was asked for a quote for a briefing being prepared for MP’s by the Centre for Social Justice in preparation for a debate in Parliament tomorrow (31st October). This is what I said:
“The levels of alcohol-related problems, from anti-social behaviour and domestic violence to liver disease and deaths, have increased massively since the relaxation of licensing laws. Anyone advocating a relaxation of the drug laws should really look at the evidence of what happens when harmful substances are made more easily available. Consumption will increase and increase.
“Rather than joining the race to have Europe’s most tolerant drug laws, we should have the ambition to become the number one country for recovery in Europe.”
With hindsight, I think I should have used the word “liberal” rather than “tolerant”.
Whenever someone calls for such a debate, and when the phrase “evidence-based” is used as often as it is being used in the run-up to this debate, it usually is shorthand for decriminalisation, if not legalisation.
In sponsoring this debate, I believe that my own MP, Caroline Lucas, is honourable and well-intentioned. But I think she is wrong. As with similar ‘debates’ the focus tends to be on decriminalisation, not on treatment and recovery. I guess I would have a more positive attitude for debates such as these if those advocating them started by being clear about the harm drugs cause (forget the criminal justice aspect for a moment), how drugs are a negative reality in our society, that abstinence is the overwhelming ambition, that abstinence-based treatment has been shown to work.
I would have loved Caroline to have sponsored and promoted a debate about the need for adequate funding of abstinence-based treatment and the need for non-prescribing treatment for young people. I like Caroline a great deal, I enjoy her company, I admire and respect her, I think (along with David Lepper) she is probably the best constituency MP I have ever had. I am, however, sad that we seem to have this fault line between us.
(A couple of weeks ago I was the target of a co-ordinated campaign of abuse for expressing similar views in responding to a statement from another local MP. The evidence I got from that experience is that many of those who will support Caroline Lucas in this debate (although certainly not Caroline herself) are not interested in debate, rather they resort to intimidation and bullying. In my case it hasn’t worked.)