Drugs Policy Goes To Police Minister.
This must be indicative of the attitude that we can expect from the new Conservative government. It would seem that this is a hardening of drugs policy as being a criminal justice issue rather than something to do with health.
Ironically, Penning is MP for a constituency that takes its name from the long history of cannabis cultivation in the UK. Hemel Hempstead means Hemel’s cannabis farm. Cannabis hemp was, of course, one of the most widely grown agricultural crops prior to the 20th century for its tremendous value as fibre for rope and textiles. Its history as a source of medicine has been largely forgotten but it was widely used and as many as half of all medicines in the British pharmacopoeia once contained cannabis. Without doubt cannabis was used as a recreational drug as well but the experiment of prohibition which began in 1928 has obscured all this history.
Penning is on record as a hardliner on drugs policy. In February 2015, he publicly rebuked Mike Barton, chief constable of Durham, saying:
“I do not agree at all with the chief constable of Durham. I have told him so and I will continue to tell him. Drugs are a scourge in our society and we must do everything we can to crack down on them.”
He has also twice submitted written questions asking how many deaths there have been from cannabis. Of course, on both occasions the answer has been none but it reveals a worrying lack of knowledge and suggests a readiness to listen to or even promote evidence-free scaremongering. He has also been responsible for the dreadful drug driving legislation, widely criticised by all informed parties and a classic example of bad lawmaking driven by the tabloid press rather than by evidence.
So this is very worrying and depressing news for those interested in drugs policy reform. CLEAR will be reaching out to Mr Penning through our network of supportive Tory MPs and we will be seeking a meeting as soon as possible to present our case. Most urgently we will seek his support for allowing the prescription of medicinal cannabis by doctors.
This reinforces my view that CLEAR’s strategy of engagement and persuasion is the correct way forward. Protests and making demands never have worked and never will, particularly with ministers like Penning.
Sometimes it seems that some UK politicians are oblivious to what is happening in the US, Uruguay, Israel and across Europe, not just on access to medicinal cannabis but on wider drugs policy reform. That will be another objective; to educate and inform him of policies that more enlightened jurisdictions are pursuing and the great benefits for public expenditure savings, new tax revenue, health, crime and Tory values of individual liberty and free enterprise.