While marijuana reform has swept across America this year, and has begun to gain serious traction in other European countries (notably Spain, Germany, and Italy), the U.K. has lagged behind.
That may be coming to an end and it is expected that some kind of drug reform policy will be debated as the UK goes to the polls in a general election next year.
At the beginning of December, former Conservative Party deputy leader Peter Lilley voiced a public call for cannabis reform in the pages of the Daily Telegraph. His argument that current policies about cannabis are both punitive and largely counterproductive was actually part of a larger comment about overall Tory platform issues, but this is a big one that affects many downstream, not only in the U.K.
Lilley’s arguments, from the right side of the political spectrum, may be a surprise to those in Britain who believe that the topic, particularly in both the U.K. and the U.S, is the rallying cry of the Left. This year, in particular, it is not.
One of the most publicly fought battles over reform in the U.S. this year on a federal level, has been the debate about continued funding of the federal DEA, the agency tasked with drug interdiction on a street level in the U.S., and their ability to continue to prosecute federal laws in states where voters have now made some kind of marijuana, for use either medically or recreationally, legal. It appears that this measure is likely to actually be implemented this year. The House and Senate have now apparently reached agreement on the two versions of the Appropriations Bill in which this measure is included and the policy has remained intact. This development is being hailed already as a major step in the direction of federal reform by U.S. advocates.
But it will also not stop there. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Tennessee, has been, particularly, this year, the most vocal “right winger” in the U.S. to support cannabis reform at all levels. Earlier in the spring, both he and fellow Senator from Tennessee, now Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, also clashed with the DEA over the halt of imported Italian hemp seeds bound for state farmers. Arch conservative and state’s rights advocate from California’s Orange County, Republican Dana Rohrabacher, is also known for his strong libertarian views on legalization of marijuana for any reason.
In the U.K., however, where even medical use legislation has repeatedly failed to gain political traction, mainstream politicians are free from the pressures of state politics and changing realities on the ground in the U.S. and many have continued to advocate a hard line, law and order approach. That said, of late, it also appears that those who espouse Conservative principles are more than a bit worried about the impact on voters tired not only of the status quo but who actively question such policies on the grounds of not only medical efficacy but personal privacy and freedoms.
In late October during the first major debate in the House of Commons on legalizing drug laws in over a generation, Liberal Democrat and crime reduction minister Norman Baker led the way but the charge was not limited to those on the Left then or since. Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo also has appeared on BBC 1 of late to discuss similar themes.
Prime Minister David Cameron, despite admitted experiences with recreational drugs in his youth, and occasional diatribes about the failures of politically expedient “tough on crime” approaches to drugs, including marijuana, ran in the last general election in 2010 on a party platform free of drug law reform.
As of this writing, the PM also insists that there is no pressing need for further reform as his party’s policies are succeeding.
by Marguerite Arnold