Image Courtesy of: Kent Socrates
University of Kent Professor Alex Stevens and the Executive Director of Release Niamh Eastwood were interviewed on the failure of drug policies to tackle drug use on Wednesday.
The talk was organised by Socrates at Kent, the SSPSSR’s student society, the University of Kent’s Psychedelic Society, and the Kent Contemporary Discussions Society.
The talk started with opening speeches from both of the guests.
Stevens criticized the approach of the Conservative government in the last ten years towards drugs.
He argued that all governments should adopt a “public health approach”, which would treat severe drug users as patients instead of a social menace.
He linked the cutting of funding for drug treatment services and the cutting of the welfare state to the increase in drug related deaths.
Eastwood primarily focused on the issues of race and class. She emphasised how black people are nine times more likely than white people to be stop and searched for drug possession.
Moreover, she highlighted that poorer areas such as Glasgow were singled out as places where the British government has let individuals down.
Eastwood explained that these divides are especially an issue because those sentenced get criminal records, decreasing their life prospects.
Questions and Answers
The final part of the discussion was a question and answer session.
This largely focused on what the approach should be towards drug policy in the future. Both Stevens and Eastwood argued that their preferred policy was the decriminalisation of all drugs.
They were uneasy with a full legalisation of drugs. They feared that this would be exploited by big business who would favour profits over the consumer’s health.
At the end, both were pessimistic at the chance of drug law reform.
Stevens argued that Boris Johnson will appeal to his socially conservative base on this issue while Eastwood made it clear that the international regulation of drugs would be extremely difficult.
In October last year, Stevens quit the Home Office’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs Act (ACMD), arguing that its selection process for members was becoming increasingly political.
This was just months after Eastwood’s revelation that the Home Office blocked her application to join the Council. This was due to tweets where she criticized the Home Office’s drug policies.
The Home Office’s website notes that the ACMD is “an independent expert body that advises government on drug related issues”.
Its aim is to carry out “in-depth inquiries into aspects of drug use that are causing particular concern in the UK”.
Stevens and Eastwood argued that the Home Office follows its own prejudices, rather than implementing the findings of experts.
Both were particularly critical of the Home Office because drug related deaths rose by 17 percent in 2018, which is the highest annual leap in England and Wales since records began.