Grass Roots: New Party Wants Overhaul of British Drug Laws

© Flickr / Sean DouglasCannabis plant
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The issue of decriminalising drugs in the UK is back in the spotlight, with the establishment of a new political party, dedicated to overturning existing drug laws and legalising cannabis in Britain.

The new party, known as CISTA (cannabis is safer than alcohol), was formed only this year, but despite this, they plan to have candidates running in the May general election.

CISTA’s main aim is to campaign for a Royal Commission to be established to review Britain’s existing drug laws, which the group claims have been a “catastrophic failure” in reducing drug-related harm.

Benefits of Legalising Drugs

The group also believes that legalising the personal use of drugs may have positive social and economic effects, while it will also prevent many recreational drug users from incarceration, therefore freeing up police to concentrate on other areas of crime. A statement on the group’s website read:

“Decades of criminalising use of cannabis have failed on every front. Across the world, countries are properly redrafting laws relating to cannabis use with benefits for the economy, public health and levels of crime. CISTA exists to replicate this success. Our candidates during the 2015 Elections will be campaigning for a Royal Commission to review Britain’s drug laws."

Meanwhile, on top of calling for a Royal Commission, CISTA are also active on their website and social media trying to dispel what they perceive to be myths and negative stigmas associated with the use of cannabis, particularly when compared to the effects of alcohol.

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Using information from a variety of sources, graphs on CISTA’s website claim that alcohol has a far higher ‘harm rating’ than alcohol across a number of different issues such as crime and impacts on the community.

Operation General Election

CISTA founder Paul Birch says that despite only just forming, the group is making a serious push at this year’s general election.

“Standing at an election is not a trivial commitment. Thousands of doors will have to be knocked on over and over again. This is a campaign that has all the evidence needed to support it, but having the evidence is not the same as convincing people,” he said.

Although realistic about his party’s chances in May, Mr. Birch also believes that it is important that a single-issue party like CISTA is established, to propel debate about Britain’s drug laws into the forefront of politics.

“Win or lose, we want our candidates to make a mark on each race they compete in. I want to ensure that each of our candidates has, not only made the best possible case, but also that the person who ultimately wins the seat is persuaded of the merits of a Royal Commission, by putting the evidence into a cross-party non-partisan report early in the next Parliament. Without this focus we would be at risk of having no significant legacy from the campaign.”

The Tide May Be Turning

Despite CISTA being a small movement in its present form, the group has teamed up with fellow drug law campaigners Transform to try and develop effective policies related to the decriminalisation of drugs.

The issue has received considerable talk in the political arena recently, following a number of reports, which have been highly critical of existing laws.

Much of this debate was sparked by the release of a UK Home Office report in October last year, which found that decriminalisng drugs would have little impact on the number of people abusing the substances.

The report was seen as an admission by the UK government that existing laws were not having the desired impact on drug abuse, which then reignited the legalisation debate.

Despite the report’s findings, the Home Office released a statement saying that they had “absolutely no intention of decriminalising drugs.”

As it stands, the Liberal-Democrats are the only major party calling for a Royal Commission into Britain’s drug laws, however other groups have indicated that they may support such an approach in the future.

However, the apparent success of legalising drugs in parts of the US and in Portugal led the World Health Organisation (WHO) to release a report last year, calling on countries to end the criminalisation of those who use drugs.

The WHO report stated:

“Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalise injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration.”

Despite this global movement, it seems the UK still has a little way to go before changes are made in Britain.

Although CISTA say they presently have only five candidates willing to stand for May’s general election, the ambitious group are hoping the number will increase to as many as 100.

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