He’s changed his tune dramatically
“Legalisation campaigners welcomed Mr Cameron’s stance, saying he recognised that current policy, which involved criminalising users, had failed.”
Now there is a sentence I don’t think any of us thought we would see. It’s from an independent article written in 2005 that documented the radical views of a ‘tory contender’ and his critical view of the current policy.
The war on drugs is a term that often gets thrown around when discussing the matter of reform and legalisation. It’s a clever term, it allows the governments to show themselves as taking a very proactive approach to something, while at the same time attaching stigma in the minds of many, so that drug use is forever seen as a threat to society and its wellbeing. But the term also has another effect, it drives the argument into a “with us” or “against us” mentality, that the entire issue must be in black and white, either we persecute all drug users or we go to the other extreme and completely decriminalise all drugs.
This is what gets us stuck in the position we’re currently in. We’re on the losing side of a war we didn’t want, and the only way forwards is for people in government itself to speak out in favour of reform. As long as this issue remains a black and white debate this will be difficult to do, as politicians will not want to risk both their reputation and their careers by throwing their support into an issue that is likely to get them into trouble by contradicting the party line.
Occasionally there are those who show the courage to come forward, but they are often marginalised and the rest of the party can be quick to explain how their views do not reflect those of the entire party.
And ten years ago, David Cameron was one of those politicians.
He’s changed his tune dramatically in his rise to power in British politics, having started from a highly critical stance on the government drug policy, to being an outspoken advocate for continuing his war on drugs. This isn’t a recent change, his first official comments on the drug war date all the way back to 2002, back when he was a member of the Home Affairs select committee on drug use. Speaking then he said:
“I ask the Labour government not to return to retribution and war on drugs. That has been tried and we all know that it does not work.”
He also agreed with the following recommendation issued to the government by that same committee:
“That the government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways – including the possibility of legalisation and regulation – to tackle the global drugs dilemma.”
This wasn’t a short lived phenomenon for Mr Cameron. He seemed to really believe in this particular cause and continued his pursuit of his goal to make other politicians listen to the idea that reform was not their enemy, and was, in fact, a legitimate way to deal with the wider issue. During the 2005 Conservative leadership contest, he actually used the issue to his advantage. He didn’t want to continue the drug war, he wanted to dismantle it and try a new approach.
Here we are, ten years later and now our prime minister is against any and all attempts at reform of the drug policy in the UK. Could this possibly be because now that he is at the very top, his views need to reflect those of the party? Obviously we can’t say for certain, but it does seem as if he is no longer speaking his own mind on this particular issue.
A common question journalists like to ask politicians is whether or not they have ever tried drugs. Their reactions are almost exclusively a befuddled attempt to try and dodge giving a coherent answer that usually translates to a somewhat vague no (the most famous of course coming from none other than president Bill Clinton: “I smoked, but I didn’t inhale.”). David Cameron on the other hand has been somewhat more open about the fact that in his past, he has of course used drugs. In an interview in 2005 when asked whether he had ever used drugs, he said that people were allowed to “err and stray” in their lives. Of course we all know that’s not even the least bit true. The possession and distribution of drugs in this country will lead you to being charged with a criminal offense. It makes him sound cool to admit to using drugs, but he gets to have his cake and eat it too, because he also now wins the support of those who wish to keep all drug use illegal.
So we have a politician that began his career by being more open about his past than most would ever dare, and even pushed for drug policy reform. When he became prime minister it should have been a great day for the reformists, but his complete overhaul of his policies has left us back where we started.
We know that David Cameron has changed his mind on this issue, now opting for moral disapproval over science and real evidence. He had the chance to make a real difference especially once he became the most politically powerful man in the UK, but instead he chose the cowardly path of staying in line with the rest of his party, so once again we find ourselves subject to opinion, rather than fact.