Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour Party leader delivered disappointing news for proponents of drug law reform this weekend. When asked his thoughts on decriminalising cannabis possession in a television interview, Starmer said “I’ve never subscribed to that view […] it causes huge issues to vulnerable people across the country”.
In the interview with Sophy Ridge for Sky News on Sunday 21st February, Sir Keir Starmer went on to say, “When I was director of public prosecutions, I prosecuted many, many cases involving drugs and drug gangs and the criminality that sits behind, and it causes huge issues to vulnerable people across the country.”
The leader went on to suggest that the country’s existing drug laws are “roughly right” however he noted that “there’s always room for a grown-up debate about how we deal with these cases”.
Starmer’s remarks come amid a backdrop of increasing dissatisfaction amongst Labour supporters, who claim the leader has little in the way of direction for the party. He planned to fight-back against these concerns last week by announcing a ‘policy blitz as a way to paint a picture of what it would do if Labour were in government.
He did though concede that there “maybe something” in giving cautions for “low-level crime”.
Sir Keir’s comments mark a shift away from comments he made in February 2020. At a televised leadership debate he was asked if he would decriminalise cannabis if he became the leader of the opposition. Sir Keir replied: “I wouldn’t immediately”, “I have supported schemes where cannabis possession… you’re not arrested for it, you’re not prosecuted for it. And I believe in that.”
The campaign group CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform said on Twitter: “This is the state of our so-called political leaders on drugs policy. We expect [government] to advocate for the status quo but when Keir Starmer, with a background in criminal justice, cannot manage a single new idea, it demonstrates a complete absence of leadership.”
Speaking exclusively to leafie, Peter Reynolds, president of CLEAR said: “I do find it completely incredible that he really believes what he said, after all, like him or loathe him, he is not an idiot and he has deep experience of the criminal justice system. There’s a fear amongst politicians of being seen to be ‘soft on drugs’ by ordinary people: most ordinary people do not want to see their sons, brothers, fathers, mothers hassled, arrested or worse over their drug use, he would be far better treating the public like adults”.
A group of Labour MPs including the then Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard called on Sir Keir to back urgent drug reforms. The Labour Campaign for Drug Policy Reform (LCDPR) a unified body run by 15 Labour MPs and MSPs published a report stating that the “war on drugs has failed”, and called for a “new progressive approach to drugs” amid research that claims there was 5,546 drug-related deaths on the UK alone in 2018, a 47 per cent increase from 2013.