05 May Students For Sensible Drug Policy

It sometimes feels like we will never bring about any meaningful drug law reform. Every time we take one step forward, we then take two steps back.

First of all there is a seemingly apathetic and skeptical public who have been taught to believe that zero tolerance and a punitive approach will best protect society from the harms of drug use. Secondly, we have a powerful, socially conservative media base who unwittingly or not have engaged in a culture war on those calling for reform, painting reformers as part of a liberal intellectual elite who wish to destroy the fabric of a moral and sober society. Thirdly, there are our politicians who will often toe the party line on drugs, not wishing to be painted as soft on drugs or worse condoning drug use. Many of these same politicians suffer from what the Transform Drug Policy Foundation calls green room syndrome, expressing in private a complete agreement with the sentiments of the drug policy reform movement but as soon as the cameras are switched on condemn us and continue to spout the dogma of the prohibitionist agenda.

It was due to my own experiences witnessing first hand the hypocrisy and great damage of our drug policies and a frustration with the lack of grass roots initiatives to address this issue within the student movement that I sought to build a youth and student drug policy reform movement in the UK. About four years ago now, alongside some friends at Leeds University Union we set up our own branch of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance campaign. Earlier initiatives to set up wider drug policy reform campaigns were met with umming and ahhing by our student union. One application to set up a Harm Reduction campaign was rejected without a clear explanation. After our first year focusing on cannabis law reform under the LCA’s banner, we decided to join the international student drug policy reform movement and set up the first group of Students for Sensible Drug Policy in the UK.

We now have groups across the country and recently at our European conference in Manchester held a panel on the cannabis campaigns in the UK – alongside Clark French and Cure Ukay, Peter Reynolds shared his experience as an activist and announced the formation of CLEAR – the Cannabis Law Reform party.

Cannabis is the most widely used prohibited recreational drug. For some people it is also a medicine that eases the pain and suffering caused by numerous diseases. Due to its popularity, its prohibition is the central plank of the war on drugs and as such must be a primary consideration for those wishing to change all of our drug laws.

Historically the cannabis law reform movement has sought to build a sense of a cannabis community whose interests they were defending. This definitely has its role in building awareness of the rights of people who use cannabis as consumers and I will always support grass roots initiatives which constructively bring the issue into the public eye.

There have been times these events have also given a negative impression of the campaign. On too many occasions festivals have been organised with a lot of good will from the grass roots but with very little to no activity throughout the rest of the year. Individuals would write letters to their members of parliament and get disappointed with a standard response, and that person would do nothing else from then on. We have to be determined and we have to be willing to push for incremental reform, this includes fighting to support medical cannabis and decriminalisation before legalisation.

We are now witnessing a renaissance in the grass roots drug law reform movement in the UK, with the continued expansion of SSDP chapters onto university campuses and the birth of CLEAR, there is far more activity than there has been in many years. I personally hope that we will all be able to continue to work together in the spirit of reforming a broken system and that means we must engage people from their point of view.

We must all take responsibility to learn the best arguments for reform, we must know our rights before the law, we must be willing to learn how to choose our battles and know how to present the right public image. We must organise public meetings, join local community initiatives, set up street stalls engaging the public, talk to our friends and family, regularly speak to our representatives and above all challenge misinformation in the media.

I believe that the rights of all people who use drugs must be defended because it is prohibition that exacerbates harms, and with this in mind we must acknowledge that as with every medicine, cannabis may not be right for everyone. This means we need legal regulation to protect consumers and children. By working together throughout the year we will build a healthier and safer United Kingdom.