My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness not only for introducing this debate but for her impeccable timing in doing so when we are waiting with bated breath for the Government’s revised drug strategy to be published.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I start my remarks by using the same words that I did when finishing our last debate on this subject, which is that it is uniquely not party political. In views shared across the whole House, there is broad agreement on the objectives of drug policy; where we differ is on how to achieve those objectives and how to balance the need to control supply with the better target of trying to reduce demand.
There have been two significant changes since we last debated this subject. First, the overwhelming evidence now shows us that the attempts to control supply have failed. We have been saying this for some years, but there is now hard evidence that they have failed, particularly in relation to cannabis. Secondly, this view is now the pre-eminent view. Whereas it was the view of the minority in the past few years, it is now, following the recent United Nations meeting in New York, the view of most people throughout the world. As has been said already, 28 American states, including California, and a number of European states are moving in the same direction—a direction which has been indicated by the Royal Society for Public Health, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said earlier. An all-party report today in the House of Commons also indicated the same direction.
All these reports are saying that we do not want devolution but evolution of our policy based on evidence. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform report, which has been referred to by many speakers, produces that strong, scientifically supported evidence. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking towards the medicinal use of cannabis for the conditions we have already heard about, such as chronic pain, arthritis, insomnia, fibromyalgia?
This is not a movement that requires a matter of principle to be changed. Following representations from the royal colleges and a number of doctors, the Home Office Minister with responsibility for drug policy in 1953 told your Lordships that heroin was a uniquely effective pain killer for those with terminal cancer and that, as a consequence, Her Majesty’s Government had decided to change their policy and that heroin was not going to be prohibited in the United Kingdom but was to be a controlled drug, as it is now, because it is the most effective drug for those particular conditions. The Minister in those days could not have known anything about the heroin addiction that was going to sweep this country over the next 40 or 50 years, but there has been little seepage of legal heroin into the black market. The Minister said, “It is both uncivilised and cruel for the Government to deny patients a drug that uniquely alleviates their suffering”. My father was the Minister making that statement. I agree with what he said then and, if he was here now, he would agree with it too in respect of cannabis.