Caroline Lucas has been gathering information from a wide variety of sources in order to put pressure on the national government to reassess current UK drug policy and consider an evidence based approach.
In particular, the MP has been exploring what works well in the city and talking to drug users, health professionals and the police about how to reduce drug related deaths and the harm caused by drug misuse.
She said: “I am looking to see whether there is any potential with the government’s Localism Bill – soon to become the Localism Act – to allow local areas to put in place different approaches to the one pursued nationally.
“There are more drug related deaths in Brighton and Hove than anywhere else in the country – with opiates like heroin featuring strongly – so that feels to me like a very good reason to find out what more we could be doing.”
Lucas has conducted a number of meetings with individuals in the city, culminating in a high-level round-table event which included the Chief Superintendent of Brighton and Hove Police.
“One example of a very simple way to make a difference is working with GPs to limit the amount of prescription drugs they administer in one go. This makes it less likely that drug users will use them alongside recreational drugs, or that they might make their way onto the black market.
“The bottom line for me is how do we address the harm that is associated with drug addiction?
“We know that prohibition isn’t working, and therefore I think it’s our responsibility to look at other ways forward.”
The Pavilion MP expressed her belief that, with local support for an evidence based approach, there could be enough momentum to place pressure on national government to alter their policies.
Whether or not Brighton and Hove might become an isolated case of regional decriminalisation would need looking at carefully, from the perspective of any benefits or disadvantages in relation to reducing drug related harms.
Lucas highlighted the problem that people in high-powered positions tend to backtrack on their original position in regards to drug policy, identifying David Cameron as a key example.
“It’s immensely difficult to enact change when we have a tabloid press which is so opposed to reform in this area.”
She stated that setting up a commission or similar local body to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of the current approach would be one way to examine the efficacy of national policy.
Referring to a recent UN report which illustrated that prohibition is not working, she said: “The more we can gather evidence about whether the current regime is working or not, and using that as the basis for future policy, the more hope there is of reducing drug related harms.”
Lucas highlighted the high numbers of people in prison on drug related charges and the costs of the current policy as self-evident examples of the need for change.
“Drug misuse should be treated as a health problem, not a criminal one.
“The amount of money we are spending on a failed drug policy is crazy.
“Even if Government won’t reform drug policy from a harm-reduction perspective, maybe they’ll consider reforming it from a cost perspective.”
She outlined why she believes a decriminalisation framework should be the first step, but that ultimately a regulatory system is required in order to get to grips with dealers.
“I’m not suggesting that anyone of any age could go to a corner shop and buy whatever they want – my end goal would be a regulated system. ‘Legalisation’ is all too easily open to misinterpretation.
“Alcohol can be very damaging and I wouldn’t suggest it is legal for anyone of any age to buy it anywhere – the right thing is that it is regulated.
“The underground world of drug-dealing which currently exists is a mafia network which profits the people in charge, but all too often wrecks the lives of drug users, their families and the communities in which they live.”
Caroline Lucas is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform.
The group also includes Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove, who has also been encouraging debate about the effectiveness of the current policy.
Caroline Lucas expressed optimism that, with more people highlighting the failures of the existing prohibitive framework, there is a possibility that drug policy could be reformed over the next few years.