Drugs and e-cigarettes: criminalise, legalise, regulate? Here’s what Lib Dem members think…

by Stephen Tall on April 28, 2014

drugsLib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 830 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

Two-thirds of Lib Dems back legalisation of ‘soft’ drugs…

With regard to “soft” drugs such as cannabis, which of these statements comes closest to your own view?

    9% – The sale and possession of such drugs should remain a criminal offence as now

    22% – The sale and possession of such drugs should remain illegal but should be regarded as a minor offence, rather than a criminal offence (a policy sometimes called ‘decriminalisation’)

    64% – The sale and possession of such drugs should no longer be illegal, and could be taxed/regulated (sometimes called ‘legalisation’)

    2% – Other

    2% – Don’t know

There’s remarkably little support for the status quo among according to our survey of Lib Dem members: not even 1-in-10 want sale and possession to remain a criminal offence. Some 22% favour the half-way house of decriminalisation, but an overwhelming 64% want to see full legalisation. Here’s a sample of your comments…

• Soft drugs lead to hard drugs
• But ‘Possession with intent to supply’ should still apply to those cultivating or manufacturing large amounts of such drugs. The maximum penalty is currently 14 years.
• The government could raise taxes from this
• Legalisation should happen only if provision remains regulated under medical supervision.
• All drug use, legal and illegal, should be regarded as a health issue and doctors permitted to prescribe and/or administer to addicts using a controlled commercial source and in safe circumstances. The sale and distribution of drugs, including cannabis, outside of this area, should remain prohibited. In time, nicotine should be added to the list of restricted substances.
• If it is legal, we can provide better heath advice.
• Drug prohibition has failed and is a huge waste of public money. A new strategy is needed based on education
• Legalise, standardise and tax
• The production, supply and distribution of all drugs , without exception, must be brought under effective legal control immediately. Anything less than this reform is a waste of time.
• Prohibition of “drugs” has been shown to be inefficient for policing, health and financial reasons. A well regulated “drug” regime that provides those wanting to take drugs safely the ability to do so will provide the country with better outcomes in many areas.
• War on drugs is really just a way of criminalising large parts of the population. In the US, it looks racist.
• Regulation and taxation, then we can treat it as a public health issues rather than a criminal issue.
• Possession should be decriminalised, but not the sale
• Like tobacco it is harmful to health but taking it is a personal decision.
• Possession should be legal, but sale should be heavily regulated and punished where regulations are not followed.
• Cannabis should be completely legalised
• It should only happen in coordination with the rest of Europe.

… But split on ‘hard’ drugs: 45% support status quo, 45% support reform

With regard to “hard” drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine, which of these statements comes closest to your own view?

    45% – The sale and possession of such drugs should remain a criminal offence as now

    20% – The sale and possession of such drugs should remain illegal but should be regarded as a minor offence, rather than a criminal offence (a policy sometimes called ‘decriminalisation’)

    25% – The sale and possession of such drugs should no longer be illegal, and could be taxed/regulated (sometimes called ‘legalisation’)

    6% – Other

    3% – Don’t know

When it comes to ‘hard’ drugs, however, Lib Dems are divided. A plurality in our survey favour the status quo of continuing criminalisation (45%). But an equal proportion opts for reform, with 25% wanting full legalisation and 20% opting for the half-way house of decriminalisation. Here’s a sample of your comments…

• Sale should remain a serious offence. Possession should not.
• Prohibition simply doesn’t work.
• The categorisation of some drugs as “hard” cam be highly misleading. More people die each year from abuse of paracetamol than from heroin.
• Government interventions should be based on public health considerations
• These drugs are a very different kettle of fish to soft drugs and serious harm can result from their use
• The Swiss example is one we could look at. Have Heroin etc available on prescription.
• I think there’s a difference between possession and possession with intent to supply.
• Making hard drugs offences “minor” is the worst of all worlds, as it would make it easier for criminal organisations to make money from drugs trafficking. Better to legalise with regulation.
• Make all drugs subject to prescription so doctors are in charge of them. They could then be prescribed to addicts but kept away from children and not abused for recreational purposes.
• legalise them all.
• Get the drugs off the street.
• supply cleaner drugs and help those on hard drugs.
• The least harmful are LSD, Psilocybin and MDMA. Are these (because they are class A) “hard drugs”? If so, they should be legalised at least at the same time as cannabis which scores much higher on the harm scale developed by David Nutt. Heroin and crack cocaine are really symptoms of prohibition. Legalise all and see the market for the least safe versions of such drugs disappear.
• The war on drugs has been a dismal failure. I remember the old system when if you were a Registered drug addict, you could get a prescription of medically clean heroin. Most registered addicts worked, and there were only about 2000 in the whole UK. There was very little crime, and almost nobody died (partly because the drugs were not massively adulterated). I think it may have been Einstein who said that keeping on doing the same think when it clearly didn’t work was a sign of madness.
• Should be more options for treatments and amnesty’s in certain circumstances.
• I would not want these drugs to be easily available, but for those who are addicted they should be available and the state should monitor who is using them to help them end their addiction.
• The current system makes the problem worse. We should revert to the system where drugs could be prescribed to registered addicts
• We had an effective means of dealing with drug addiction until 1968 with drugs available to users from pharmacies. We should go back to a system similar to that perhaps with special places to use them.
• Give people the information and let them make their own choice (again) …

Majority say e-cigarettes should be regulated as medicinal smoking cessation patches or gum

Electronic cigarettes contain a nicotine-based liquid that is vaporised and inhaled by the user, providing a flavour and physical sensation similar to smoking a cigarette. They do not contain tobacco, which means there is no tar – it is the tar in ordinary cigarettes that kills. Some say that e-cigarettes will lead to a reduction in people smoking tobacco cigarettes. Others say they are a gateway to smoking tobacco cigarettes. Which of the following statements do you agree with most regarding e-cigarettes?

    54% – They should be regulated in the same way as medicinal smoking cessation patches or gum

    20% – They should be regulated in the same way as products such as food

    14% – They should be treated the same as standard tobacco cigarettes

    1% – They should be banned entirely

    3% – Other

    9% – Don’t know

An interesting response here: over half (54%) of Lib Dems supported the regulation of e-cigarettes as medicinal smoking cessation patches or gum. This was the option Lib Dem MEPs successfully defeated in the European parliament on the grounds it would would have increased e-cigarettes’ cost and reduced their availability in many countries. Their accepted amendment saw e-cigarettes treated in the same as standard tobacco cigarettes, an option favoured by just 14% of party members here. Here’s a sample of your comments…

• As a smoker, I’d say getting rid of them is crazy – we need to think about getting people off cigarettes, and a smoking substitute like this has far more appeal than patches or gum. Having said that, nicotine even without tar isn’t as vanilla as chocolate or whatever, so the food classification strikes me as odd.
• Tax the electronic cigarette if purchased on the high street , if prescribed for addicts to recover from addiction do not tax.
• They shouldn’t be advertised; the advertising of a addictive substances should be banned entirely. Otherwise, restricting access to adults seems entirely sufficient.
• They should be banned entirely: it will not be long before some smart alec developes a method of vaporising most, if not all, hard drugs to be “smoked” and inhaled with these contraptions. Even the Dutch are contemplating outlawing the process because of this risk.
• I suspect the answers to this question will make me consider whether I am in the right party when they are published. Far too many of my fellow Lib Dems are fond of bansturbation… :/
• Restricted to chemist shops, or e cigarette shops.
• Why on earth should anyone be complaining about e-cigarettes? If they stop people from real smoking then they should be supported.
• Thanks to electronic cigarettes I have not touched a real cigarette for more than eight months. I would estimate that over half the smokers at work now smoke electronic cigarettes. I feel far healthier and don’t get out of breath easily like I used to. They are very new, however, and until there is any evidence of harm they should be easily accessible.
• Restricting e-cigarettes threatens what could be the greatest public health advance for years. Tobacco kills so anything that helps people off it must be good.
• My wife uses one sometimes, and I hope that it may help her to reduce her use of cigarettes. It slightly reduces my exposure to passive smoking. If they were available on prescription then there would be another opportunity for the medical advice to be repeated.
• I support the regulation of these products to ensure they are of a safe standard and are not available to minors but I am totally opposed to the use being banned in public places as there is no issue with breathing in second hand smoke, dangerous to health unlike real cigarettes
• We do not have longitudinal studies of the impact of e-cigs, and while the risk is unknown, let’s not kill people. We made that mistake with normal cigarettes.
• There is plenty of evidence that cigarettes are dangerous to people who aren’t smoking them, which it is right for them to be regulated. There is no such evidence for these, so let people get on with their lives.
• I stopped smoking virtually overnight with these. They are far less harmful than cigarettes. It would be madness to ban then whilst still allowing incendiary cigarettes.
• I’m happy with the compromise agreed upon by the European parliament. They are not the same as food, and should not be regulated as such, but it is far from proven that the risk of encouraging smoking comes close to outweighing the advantages to people trying to give up.
• We have no idea what drugs these preparations contain, nor what their long-term effects are. They should therefore either be treated as drugs or food products and their safety evaluated and monitored.
• The passing of the ‘smoke-filled room’ has been accepted socially. It would be hard for organizations to stop the near-equivalent from returning – and for the occasional real cigarette to be spotted. They do make ‘smoking’ acceptable again.
• Why on earth would a more expensive product that is only now becoming as available as cigarettes be a gateway to cigarettes?
• There needs to be regulation of the content and strength of e-cigarettes. Nicotine is a very addictive drug (some say more addictive than herione) so, though having fewer side-effects such as cancer (as far as we know so far), they are not to be encouraged. If tobacco had been discovered today, it would have been treated as a hard drug and rightly banned. Too late, unfortunately.
• All substances should be sensibly regulated with an eye to ensuring the individual is fully aware of risks.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 745 responded in full – and a further 87 in part – to the latest survey, which was conducted between 16th and 22nd April.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.