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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Theresa May: The new UK leader’s drug policy

Theresa May is set to become prime minister of the United Kingdom tomorrow. While serving as home secretary, May has supported a prohibitionist approach to drugs, and has overseen the annual number of drug deaths rising to its highest level since 1993.

In 2010, Theresa May was appointed as home secretary, a cabinet position which involves leading the implementation of the government’s drug policies. In a 2011 letter sent to Release, the national centre of drug expertise, May declared a commitment to an “evidence based” approach to help “dependent users come off drugs for good”. In 2012, in a review of the Government’s drug strategy, May outlined plans to “protect the public from the harms that drugs can cause to individuals, their families and society as a whole”. Unfortunately, her rhetoric did not match up with results.

In 2014, two years after May’s vow to protect the public, the number of drug poisoning deaths in England and Wales rose to 3,346; representing a 28 per cent rise since 2012.

Converse to her claims, many of the drug policies implemented during her tenure were far from “evidence based”. For example, in 2014, she banned the production, sale, and possession of khat, a herbal mixture and mild stimulant, despite stiff opposition from scientific bodies.

The Advisory Council on the Misuses of Drugs (ACMD) reported that “khat has no direct causal link to adverse medical effects”, and that its prohibition would be “inappropriate and disproportionate”. Despite this guidance, May pursued the khat ban, telling Parliament that it was needed to “protect vulnerable members of our communities”. In her attempt to protect people, she pushed a £13.8 million industry into the criminal market, and threatened those who continued to distribute khat with up to 14 year imprisonment.

The khat ban was, however, not the final time that Theresa May created a lucrative criminal market in the UK. Between 2010 and 2015, the Government enacted legislation to ban more than 350 substances from being produced or sold, the Telegraph reported.

Then came the pièce de résistance of her drug policy approach, which was remarkably innovative; she banned almost everything. Even drugs that hadn’t been invented yet.


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