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Students, academics and professionals convene in fight for drug policy reform

Speakers at the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference Photo: Joseph Tynan

Students from across the country came together for a conference at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) last weekend, to discuss the future of activism on drug policy in the UK.

The Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) conference took place from Friday 20 to Sunday 22 April.  A number of influential figures who attended the conference gave talks and took part in discussion panels relating to the key concerns about drug policy. All speakers who attended felt that the goal of the activism was to end the current prohibitionist system.

One talk, hosted on the Saturday morning, was given by a PhD student at the London School of Economics (LSE), who provided some of the economic history of the drug market. He outlined the way in which prohibition prevents market equilibrium. He also talked about how the prohibitive government policy is an attempt at complete regulation, but it effectively creates a black market system of complete deregulation.

He said: “prohibition is essentially corrupting”, and outlined how addiction creates an inelastic demand curve, which means that higher prices increase profit without reducing demand much. He also referred to bribes to politicians and law enforcement officials, as well as the fact that large sums of money end up in the hands of a small minority of criminals whom, he said, “the government are effectively subsidising”.

Another talk, later in the day, was given by a PhD researcher for David Nutt, the ex-head of the drug advisory body, who was fired for voicing his controversial views on drug policy. The talk was about the neurological effects of psychedelic drugs.

The researcher’s recent studies suggested that psychedelic drugs, such as LSD and magic mushrooms, reduce activity in the parts of the brain related to introspection, neurosis and depression – the processes which he described as “the narrative self”.

He cited this reduced activity as the reason for the effectiveness of the administration of these drugs by psychotherapists in the 1950s and 1960s.

Tom Lloyd, a former police and crime commissioner for Cambridgeshire, spoke in support of the drug policy reform movement.
He asserted that his long-term goal is for there to be graded control and regulated supply of each drug. He stated: “It’s easy to argue that much of the action around drugs does not decrease crime – in fact it increases it. ll drugs are worse because their production is in the hands of criminals.”

He also suggested that a short-term realistic goal that activists could set themselves is to raise the profile of the debate. here were also discussions about legal highs, the benefits of marijuana for people suffering from diseases, and the language around reform.

One speaker talked about avoiding the word ‘legalisation’ as, he asserted, the public associates it with the “myth about hedonistic motives for reform.” He said: “When you tweak the language it affects the debate”.

Two students from the University of Sussex who attended the conference plan to set up a Brighton SSDP group in the next academic year. They aim to work alongside local MPs, Caroline Lucas and Mike Weatherley, who are both members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy reform.

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