David Cameron Interview
During the hearings of the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC), two ‘user activist observers’ noted the passion with which one MP expressed their ideas about drug policy. Aha! We thought, somebody who has inside information maybe! Being a little impertinent, one of us then went and tried to give him the Users Voice. He suggested we give it to the Clerk of the HASC. Said activist then said, “No! I want you to have it!!” A little taken aback, David Cameron MP gracefully thanked said stranger and bade farewell. Here we try to dig a little deeper…
Users’ Voice: How did the HASC drug policy hearings come about?
David Cameron: During my first HASC meeting, we talked about subjects we wanted to look into. Chris Mullins suggested drugs, and I had a big interest in it too. I’d had a longstanding interest partly because I’m quite young, but also because friends of mine had had problems with drugs, so it’s something I’d had some contact and interest in. So on a personal level, I was interested in it, and on a policy level too. I mean it’s like the “elephant on our doorstep!” It relates to health, to crime and so many social issues: when we started discussing, it was hard to think of a more pressing subject that needed investigation. So we said let’s do drugs – it was universal affirmation actually. Parliament is a very strange place – we spend a lot of time ‘throwing bricks’ at each other, but with select committees, you are meant to put aside your party affiliations, become more non-partisan and generally more inquisitive. And so that is what we did. I think we have been quite successful with this: everyone on the HASC tried to empty their minds of pre-conceived notions and come at drug policy with a fresh perspective.`
Users’ Voice: Yes I think you were quite successful too…
David Cameron: We took a lot of evidence, listened to a lot of different people and tried to be as open as possible. Anyway, so that’s how it came about.
Users’ Voice: Any obstacles – internal, external?
David Cameron: Not really; as you are probably aware, members of all political parties have been wary of changing drug policy, but many – including Oliver Letwin sitting over there – are also quite pleased that we were taking this up, as it’s been an opportunity to do some new thinking, so they can later react to it. Certainly, Anne Widdecombe’s idea that crashed and burned was an important moment, in that it taught us all that we cannot keep on with the old tough policies, which are “let’s see if we can establish another. Basically the same.” The public also made us acutely aware of this.
Users’ Voice: I noticed that you seemed particularly engaged with the panel on legal control and regulation of drugs, at the hearings. And.
David Cameron: Yes, as with many things with the committee, we did a lot of things in reverse, and we started with Nick Davies [famed journalist, who last summer brought much attention to the press about the failure of some drugs prohibition.] And though we didn’t all agree with him, I think the intellectual thoroughness of his approach helped to clear people’s minds, and start thinking about the ‘unthinkable.’
Users’ Voice: One of the things that prompted us to want to speak with you again is at least one sentence in the final report of the HASC [published May 22nd] You’re probably going know exactly which one I’m referring to!
(We both then scuttle through the text finding the Recommendation 267 on page 61 of Volume 1 of the HASC Report, “The Government’s Drug Policy: Is It Working?” in the third report – “We recommend that the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways-including the possibility of legalization and regulation-to tackle the global drugs dilemma.”
David Cameron: Yes, yes, yes. Know exactly where it is!
Users’ Voice: So what is that about then? Is that a serious suggestion that we take on?
David Cameron: We found some of the arguments of the legalisers quite persuasive; we are acknowledging that there may be a day when the balance may tip in favour of legalisation, and basically we wanted to have a genuinely open- mind about this. To those that would say we were not brave enough, I would say, ‘actually look at what we ‘re saying about heroin.’ It’s about making treatment more readily available. The most important thing we did was to recommend expanding heroin prescribing.
Users’ Voice: When? How long will it be do you suppose till the increased prescribing will happen?
David Cameron: Well as you probably know the Government have already
responded to the report, accepting the recommendations about the reclassification of cannabis and increased heroin prescribing, but rejecting the ones about reclassification of ecstasy and the safer injection rooms. They now have two months to come back to us with a more thorough response, so by the end of July. But we also want to look more closely at countries like Switzerland and Germany where heroin has been prescribed for a while, and quite successfully.
Users’ Voice: I am very concerned about this – that is the possible increased prescribing of heroin BUT no support for the safer injection rooms (SIRs). (I hate the way that the media call them shooting galleries; nobody gets shot in them! It’s a way for us to get low-threshold access to medical helpers as much as anything else, but I digress..) So more injections, but less community safety? That really makes no sense to me.
David Cameron: Yes I agree, and it was the Labour MPs who brought this home to me. Some of them represent inner city seats, and told me that this is not just a problem for heroin injectors but for all their constituents, who are stepping over needles and all the rest of it. Surely the point of a good drug policy is about keeping users healthier and out of the criminal justice system. Actually, I sent a letter about all this to my strongest supporters, all conservatively minded as I am, and they didn’t find this too big a leap-of faith.
There are at least 300,000 people with Hepatitis C, a third of whom contracted it from intravenous drug use, there is this much drug- related crime: are we not mad if we don’t pursue a policy, which cuts crime, saves lives and improves public health and safety?