It is a pleasure to follow my colleague, Ruth Smeeth.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Ben Bradley on securing the debate, and I welcome the opportunity to further my own efforts to counter the blight of drugs in Stoke-on-Trent South. Indeed, I recently met the Minister’s colleague, the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, to discuss the scourge of gangs, particularly those who are pushing and are profiteering from the misery caused by Spice. I also discussed the significant escalation of another synthetic drug in Stoke-on-Trent, Monkey Dust, to which Ruth Smeeth referred. I am grateful to Home Office Ministers for their work to address the growing challenges we face.
Stoke-on-Trent has been hit with an unenviable reputation as a centre for Monkey Dust abuse. The human cost of this awful drug and the gangs pushing it is a problem for the city. Shockingly, it is reported that it is possible to purchase Monkey Dust for as little as £2 in Stoke-on-Trent, which is even cheaper than the drugs to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield referred. Even more worryingly, it has a highly hallucinogenic reaction, with cases of people jumping off buildings. In grotesque fashion, these miserable substances are also known as “super spice”, “herbal smoking” and “designer drugs”.
We must tackle the legacy of synthetic drugs, especially cannabinoids. The reactions to these drugs are often unknown, as has been discussed. People have died straight away from taking them. The consequences of the illicit drugs trade hit residents, who live in fear of gang violence, and add to the terrible challenges faced by those already struggling with the vulnerability of homelessness. The communities of Meir and Fenton in my constituency are now witnessing some of the highest levels of antisocial behaviour in the whole of Staffordshire. That is totally unacceptable, and my constituents should not have to put up with being terrorised by those committing offences.
Unfortunately, these dreadful drugs are often a corruption of research into alternatives to more traditional drugs such as cannabis. That research began in response to the legal ban on using cannabis for medicinal purposes. That ban on natural cannabinoids prescribed for medical purposes is rightly being lifted by the Home Secretary. I agree entirely with our police and crime commissioner, Matthew Ellis, that Monkey Dust—or plain Dust, as it is known in Stoke-on-Trent—and other synthetic cannabinoids used for what is laughably called leisure use must be reclassified as class A at the earliest opportunity.
Of course, reclassifying Dust will not in itself solve the problems of gangs—pushers will still promote gang activities and push drugs in our communities—but those who push Dust, which is a brutally dehumanising drug, should be held to greater account for their actions and face greater deterrent sentencing. That is especially important considering the drug’s exceptionally low street value, which fuels increased availability to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
That reclassification needs to be part of a wider push that includes much more action on preventive work to reduce the root causes of drug abuse and addiction. That should involve the police, local authorities, health services, schools and third-sector organisations working together to address the wider issues in our communities. In addition, there needs to be a wider conversation about how we divert young people from gang culture in the first place and protect the vulnerable, who are targeted by drugs pushers, from being criminally exploited.
We need to bring greater purpose to people’s lives and help them to take advantage of the opportunities opening up from our growing economy and record low unemployment. I am continuing to work on that with local partners in Stoke-on-Trent. I was out with Staffordshire police, housing officers from the local council and Stop Loan Sharks only last Friday in the East Fenton area. I was pleased to meet a number of local partners at Ormiston Meridian Academy in Meir recently to see what more can be done to improve things and provide facilities in the community as a distraction to antisocial behaviour, gangs and drugs.
We need to look closely at why people in employment, and even those in fulfilling employment, are attracted to drug abuse—it is not only those in the most disadvantaged communities. Sadly, class A drugs are part of designer lifestyles and have been for many years. Unfortunately, synthetic cannabinoids are just a new manifestation of an old evil. I will finish by mentioning that, should the Minister ever have time in his diary to visit Stoke-on-Trent, Commissioner Matthew Ellis and I would welcome the opportunity to show him some of the issues on the ground.