Having recently resigned from his post as home office minister, Norman Baker, the Liberal democrat MP for Lewes, gave a lecture at Sussex titled “UK Drug Policy Reform”.

The talk was organised by the Lib Dem society, and covered many of the misconceptions surrounding this topic, as well as possible ways that it could be improved. States in America such as Colorado have recently voted to legalise cannabis, and Nick Clegg has said that he would support decriminalisation of the drug. This shows that support for rethinking the way in which society deals with drugs is growing, and this discussion has never been more relevant.

Baker worked on and published a report into the effects of drug legalisation while working at the home office, with the findings of this report and resulting disagreements with Conservative home secretary Theresa May eventually leading to his resignation a couple of weeks ago.

The lecture focused on this report, and the main thing that it discovered was that drug use is not affected by the severity of laws. For example, Portugal has decriminalised all drug use, and has seen addiction rates halve since the policy was adopted. In addition, countries

such as Croatia with more severe legislation have seen relativity little change in drug use as a result. It is not therefore clear that the “tough love” approach the best way to conduct drug policy.

So if tough laws don’t help, then what should we be doing to combat Britain’s drug problem? The solution according to Baker is: treat drugs as a health issue, rather than a criminal issue. He suggested that we allow cannabis to be used for medicinal purposes, as well as providing proper rehabilitation programs for those suffering from drug addiction. He did however dismiss arguments

for legalization of drugs. Many would raise concerns about the large amount of taxpayers money used to police drugs, and the dangers of an unregulated underground trade. He did acknowledge that there may be logic to this position, but that it would be too risky, making clear that he was in favour of a health based approach, not full legalization.

The talk wasn’t without its controversy, however. At one point, the talk was interrupted by protestors in support of free education, their anger directed at the Liberal Democrats’ U-turn on tuition fees since entering government.

 

Fraser Coppin

 

Comment: ‘Decision of the campaign for Free Education to disturb the talk was misguided’

 

The Campaign for Free Education made a mistake in protesting against Liberal Democrat Norman Baker MP during his talk on drugs policy on the 13th of November.

I’m not a Lib Dem and never have been. I remain furious for their betrayal of hundreds of thousands of students in the Parliamentary vote to raise tuition fees in December 2010. I was protesting for free education at the demonstration for free education last Wednesday in London. But the decision of the Campaign for Free Education (or whoever made the decision on it’s behalf) to disturb the talk was misguided and knee jerk.

Yes, a campaign for free education must feel a certain urge to step in if a Coalition grandee strolls onto campus to talk to students. But the circumstances were simply not right. The leaflets handed to us by the campaign members were entitled “Why you shouldn’t listen to Norman Baker”, citing the failures of the Coalition in representing student’s interests in Parliament as reasons not to listen.

But Baker’s talk was on how the criminalisation of drugs and drug laws in general in the UK are not working, and how they are failing our society along with thousands of people with drug problems.

This is following on from an international study Baker oversaw in the Home Office, which concluded that there is no correlation between the criminalisation of drugs and a decrease in their use.This is something worth listening to. 

The war on drugs has failed, and although he may have some dodgy friends in Westminster and failed us in the past, this specific issue must be debated and talked about without interruption from hot heads.

Sussex’s greatest strength as a student body is a fervent political voice and passion for campaigning for what’s right. By disturbing the talk, a Lib Dem Society event, rights to free speech and free expression were briefly suspended. But no matter how briefly it may have been, we can never let it happen at Sussex.

 

George Leith

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