Recently I attended the Quakers in Criminal Justice Conference held at Hinsley Hall, Leeds. I went for two reasons: firstly I was to be appointed as the Editor to their Newsletter. I had been co-opted into the role some months ago, but this conference would make the appointment official.
The second reasons that I went was to discuss, learn and discern matters relating to the current drug policy, and how we as Quakers can assist in moving this forward. There was a very good selection of speakers who gave us up-to-date information from within their field of speciality. I will share some of what each speaker said in the following sections:
Professor Alex Stevens:Professor in Criminal Justice at the University of Kent. Professor Stevens talked through the issues surrounding possession of illegal drugs; and that while there is some tolerance towards small quantity of drugs in possession there is still a risk that they will be prosecuted. We looked at the models in use in some of the countries that have decriminalised drug use. These models fell into a few categories: make the drugs so boring that it is nothing special – we all know where to get them from, make drugs a health and not a criminal matter, and bring them down in price – which would deter the black market and those involved in organised crime.
Our second speaker was Peter McCall, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cumbria. He gave us an overview of the work he now does after describing his army career. During his talk Peter focused on the town of Barrow in Furness, a place that is divided into two classes by the employment available there – you either took the highly-skilled, well paid work for BAE or there was very little else. In Barrow the Cumbrian police have bought a flat and it is now run as a community hub. Peter went on to say how he justified spending the £98,000 against the cost of keeping an offender in prison – save two people from going to jail and the flat has returned the monies spent!
Danny Kushlick, Head of External affairs at Transform Drugs Policy Foundation gave our final talk. The group that Danny founded is concerned with the uncontrolled drug supply, and campaigns for their legal regulation. In his presentation he shared lots of information on why the current system is not working, and why there needs to be regulation that allows drug use to happen.
As a whole conference decide that we would adopt the phrase legal regulation as opposed to decriminalisation. We want changes to happen and that all drugs should be available through approved outlets as some drugs (tobacco and alcohol) are. Conference went on to write a final minute to our weekend, and I want to share that with you here.
The Final Minute of Quakers in Criminal Justice conference: (February 2019). We met to discuss, learn and discern matters relating to drug policy. The conference concluded having discerned the following Minute:
We feel strongly that the present drug policy causes harm as it is based on the criminalisation of people who use illegal drugs. We learnt that criminalisation is ineffective in reducing illegal drug use and that systems used to control drug use make no impact upon prevalence.
We understand that doing nothing is to condone the status quo and the harm caused by the current policy. Quakers in Criminal Justice understand that legal regulation will provide greater protection to people who use drugs. We need a health based system which encompasses harm reduction, health, social care and community resilience.
We consider that drug problems must be addressed alongside the problems caused by an unjust and unequal society. We believe it would be beneficial to have a regulated and licensed supply of all drugs. Public education is essential to convey that legal regulation would safeguard people who use drugs and the wider society as a whole – preventing deaths, drug related crime and reducing the involvement of organised crime.
We appreciate the deepening of this subject and we encourage Friends to explore how we can influence public opinion and political decision making. Friends can be in touch with the Quaker Decriminalisation Network about actions that can be taken.
This is a moral issue and Friends can be a force for change. We call upon Quakers in Britain to gain clarity on how to end the ‘war on drugs’.