‘The UKs drug policy should be a health issue not a criminal justice one’

Maybe in an ideal world everybody would be so happy and content, so free of stress and anxiety, so confident and assured that there would be no requirement for alcohol or indeed any recreational drugs.

But we are not there and we never have been.

Throughout history for a variety of reasons people have taken drugs.

A hundred years ago, you could buy cocaine, heroin or morphine in pharmacies and department stores.

During the First World War, Harrods sold kits with syringes and tubes of cocaine and heroin “For the boys on the front line”. That was under what was termed the ‘British System’. It was a light touch approach to drug consumption. One of tolerance and treatment.

But in 1971 through the misuse of drugs act criminalisation became the name of the game.

The result has been years of violence, tensions, organised crime and a monumental increase in addiction. 

On the up side, recently we have seen a change in the U.K. Government’s approach to cannabis.

From a stance that said ‘cannabis had no therapeutic value ‘The UK Government have become better informed and with that new knowledge we are progressing towards medical cannabis under prescription in the U.K.

There are many hurdles still to overcome regarding the medical expertise and availability of the correct products. But we are now moving in the right direction.

When it comes to recreational drugs we are still running up against a brick wall.

Last week Canada joined nine states of the USA and Washington D.C. to legalise recreational cannabis. They have taken a different approach in various states regarding age limits. Some Canadian provinces will allow people to grow their own, limiting them to 4 plants, other provinces do not allow home growing. We should be looking to those parts of the world to gather evidence and decide if their approach is beneficial and if we should follow suit.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comment was particularly pertinent. When he said: “We are not legalising cannabis because we think it’s good for our health. We are doing it because we know it’s not good for our children. We know we need to do a better job to protect our children and to eliminate or massively reduce the profits that go to organised crime.”

For me, that is the mind set we need to adopt.

Canada has the same problems we have but like Portugal and Uruguay and others they have taken a different approach to providing a solution. And it’s not ‘drugs for everybody’ it’s regulate the marketplace to take away the control from the criminals.

In July 2017 the UK Government published its Drugs Strategy.

And they announced they were going to appoint a recovery champion.

A Recovery Champion whose role was defined as someone who “will be responsible for driving and supporting collaboration between local authorities, public employment services, housing providers and criminal justice partners.”

There is still nobody in the role so nobody is coordinating those aspects of the support and recovery programme?

I find myself wondering if there is a U.K. government harm reduction recovery programme.

Before we can take a constructive approach to our drugs policy.

We must acknowledge that of the 10% of users that become problematic users the majority have suffered physical, psychological or sexual abuse.

We must acknowledge that problematic use is higher in areas of social deprivation.

We must accept the responsibility of trying to find solutions and acknowledge our failures.

We need to help people with problematic drug-use, with harm-reduction treatment and wrap-around support.

We should. Have a network of safe drug consumption rooms throughout the U.K.

The emergency services should carry naloxone and be trained in its use.

And most importantly the UKs drug policy should be a health issue not a criminal justice one.


We can continue to criminalise users, driving them into the hands of unscrupulous dealers while ignoring the atmosphere of fear that they live in. And all we will do is marginalise them, stigmatise them and ostracise them.

We have lost the war on drugs.

Our own drugs policy saw to that.

We need to change our mind set and we need to ensure we are in a position to win the peace.

Ronnie Cowan MP