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50 per cent of Conservatives support the legal regulation or decriminalisation of cannabis – now where’s that review?

By Peter Hoskin
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The Daily Mail has written up a new opinion poll on drugs policy, conducted by Ipsos MORI. “Just one in seven want drugs laws liberalised and majority say possession should remain criminal offence,” reads their headline – and it’s true. Looking at the full results, only 14 per cent of respondents think that “the law in the UK should be changed so that the possession of small quantities of illegal drugs is decriminalised.” (Although a further 21 per cent support limited trials of such a measure). 60 per cent think there should be no change to the law at all.

But the poll contains other findings that the Mail’s headline doesn’t capture. Turns out, 53 per cent of people support either the legal regulation of cannabis or the decriminalisation of possessing it. And that includes 50 per cent of those respondents who intend to vote Conservative at the next election. It also includes, as it happens, 46 per cent of Daily Mail readers.

Of course, health warnings might be slapped across these findings—particularly those last two, which are based on small subsections of the overall sample size—but they still suggest that there’s public support for a loosening of the laws around cannabis. And such support is, to my mind, perfectly understandable. As I detailed in a post last year, the Government’s ‘war on drugs’ is horrendously unbalanced: it has managed to cut cannabis use and raise prices, but seen harder drugs such as heroine and cocaine proliferate and become ever cheaper. I concluded at the time:

“This is why [David] Cameron shouldn’t be so quick to argue that ‘we have a policy that that actually is working in Britain.’ The policy may be working in the case of cannabis, but … that is the drug which most people are in favour of legalising. Meanwhile, harder, scarier drugs are hanging on and on.

And that, in turn, is one reason why the Prime Minister shouldn’t dismiss the decriminalisation of — or at least relaxation of the laws around — cannabis out of hand. Until some of that ‘police activity’ is focused elsewhere, we’ll always have a drugs policy that is skewed and insufficient.”

What’s needed now, as then, is a review of Britain’s drugs policy – as supported by 67 per cent of people in this latest Ipsos MORI poll. But I won’t hold my breath for one. David Cameron, like previous Prime Ministers, has set himself in staunch opposition to any talk, let alone consideration, of drugs decriminalisation. It’s a blinkered approach that denies not just public attitudes, but good policy too.

P.S. Ian Birrell argues in today's Guardian that "legalising drugs would be the perfect Tory policy"


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