Labour leader Keir Starmer says he doesn’t support decriminalising cannabis - but experts don’t agree

Monday, 22nd February 2021, 1:33 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd February 2021, 1:33 pm
Labour leader Keir Starmer says he doesn’t support decriminalising cannabis - but experts don’t agree (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has said he does not believe there is a case for decriminalising the possession of cannabis, as he has seen “too much of the damage that sits behind drugs”.

Mr Starmer said that, while there may be a case for schemes which give cations for “low level crimes”, the Government’s current policy on drugs is “roughly right”.

Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge, Mr Starmer was asked: “Do you think there’s a case for decriminalising cannabis possession?”

He replied: “I’ve never subscribed to that view, when I was Director of Public Prosecution, I prosecuted many, many cases - or my team did - involving drugs and drug gangs and the criminality that sits behind and it causes huge issues to vulnerable people across the country.

“There were some initiatives in some parts of the country where cautions were given for low level crimes, I think there may be something in that. But in principle I’ve seen too much of the damage that sits behind drugs for me to go down that route.”

‘Roughly right’

Mr Starmer said that the UK’s current drug policy is “roughly right” but there is “always room for a grown up debate about exactly how we deal with these cases”.

He added: “But what sits behind drugs is the criminality and the gangs. If I look in my own constituency at some of the issues in relation to knife crime, which is blighting the lives of young people, sitting just behind that are county lines and drug running.”

‘Extremely frustrating’

The Labour leader’s comments have been met by frustration from drug reform campaigners, who argue that legalising and regulating cannabis would disrupt and eventually force criminals out of the trade, and help those who need support to access it.

The drug reform campaign group LEAP UK described Mr Starmer’s comments as “extremely disappointing” on Twitter.

LEAP, or Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, is made up of current and former members of law enforcement, from undercover officers who were involved with policing the drug trade to senior figures such as police chief constables and police and crime commissioners

Speaking to JPIMedia, co-Executive Director of LEAP UK, Jason Reed, said: “Now more than ever it’s crucial that we look at the evidence around our drug laws. There are a number of ways in which our current approach has failed with disastrous consequences: The advent of the aggressive county lines model, whereby organised crime groups recruit children into their supply routes, is fully down to our current drugs policy.

“The diversification of supply routes is due to the fact that drugs have never been more profitable owing to the prohibition and a perpetual cycle: with every attempt to crack down, it only serves to increase prices at street level, with the next organised crime group ready to corner the market, and street-level violence also becomes an inevitability.”

He added: “To address decriminalisation is to actually address a compassionate policy which acknowledges that addiction is something to be dealt with through health services and empathy and not punishment.

“It’s no wonder we have the highest drug-related deaths on record in the UK. Evidence-based reforms save lives and this is why it’s always disappointing when policy makers fail to understand the issue in favour of the tried and tested ‘look tough on drugs’ approach.”