May 28, 2021

Parliamentarians and drug reform

Opinions and insight from MPs and MLAs

Author:
Cameron Stocker, Senior Parliamentary Panels Coodinator
MPs however are not convinced marijuana should be drecriminalised, as only three in ten (30%) support it...

The War on Drugs in the UK reaches half a century this year, with the Misuse of Drugs Act having come into force in 1971.

Since then, there have been repeated calls to implement a ‘Portuguese Model’, in which drug use is not seen as a crime but rather a public health problem.

Savanta ComRes asked MPs and MLAs their thoughts on decriminalisation and legalisation of a number of drugs.


MLAs and MPs were first asked whether they would support the decriminalisation of a range of drugs. Decriminalisation differs from legalisation, as although the sale of such drugs will continue to be prohibited by law, treatment rather than punishment is offered to those who consume such substances.

Legislation regarding marijuana has become laxer in the West in recent years; Canada’s Cannabis Act (2018) made the drug legal for recreational use, giving the Government the ability to tax usage. Since 2012, 16 states and Washington, DC in the US have legalised the sale of marijuana, whilst an additional 37 states have authorised the medical use of marijuana. In the state of Washington alone, this brought in $319 million of tax in 2018, with a population of only of only 7.52 million.

MPs, however, are not convinced. Only three in ten (30%) support its decriminalisation, with over half opposing it (53%).

This somewhat contrasts with the general public’s perception, who in a Savanta ComRes study, showed more support for the proposal (41%), than opposition (36%).

Half (49%) of Labour MPs do support the decriminalisation of marijuana, indicating a difference of opinion to the party’s leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has publicly stated his opposition to relaxing drug laws.

MLAs  are more split on the decriminalisation of marijuana  than MPs, as two in five (38%) support it, whilst nearly the same number (40%) oppose.

MPs were also questioned on whether steroids should be drecriminalised; however, only one in twenty (7%) support this proposal, whilst two in three (67%) MPs oppose the measure. MLAs once again indicate more liberal thinking on the topic, as one in four (25%) support the decriminalisation of steroids, whilst just under half (46%) oppose.

Support by MLAs drops for the decriminalisation of LSD, MDMA and ketamine. One in ten (10%) MLAs support the decriminalisation of LSD and MDMA, whilst this support slightly drops (6%) for ketamine. MPs are even less enthused by the idea of decriminalisation of the three drugs mentioned as only around one in twenty have support for LSD (4%), MDMA (7%) and ketamine (4%) decriminalisation.

Cocaine and Heroin are often viewed as some of the most harmful and addictive substances, and support for their decriminalisation is low amongst both MPs and MLAs. Just over one in twenty (7%) MLAs support decriminalisation of cocaine and heroin, whilst this drops to 6% and 5% respectively for MPs. The opposition in the Commons is unsurprisingly high, as five in six (85%) MPs oppose the decriminalisation of heroin and nearly the same number of MPs (84%) oppose the measure for cocaine.

MPs and MLAs were also questioned on their thoughts of legalisation of a range of drugs. Legalisation differs from decriminalisation, as it means the drugs will be authorised for recreational use, regulated, and taxed by the UK Government.

One  in four (23%) MPs support the legalisation of marijuana, whilst two in five (38%) MLAs support it. There is more opposition in both the Commons and the NI Assembly than support for marijuana legalisation, as three in five (61%) MPs and half (47%) of MLAs oppose the legalisation of cannabis.

When questioned on the legalisation of other illicit substances such as heroin, MDMA, cocaine, ketamine and LSD, support for legalisation was consistently lower than 5% in both the Commons and Stormont.

Half (51%) the general public when asked indicated that the most harmful side-effect of the drug market is crime associated with the sale and production of such drugs. Half (48%) the general public that support decriminalisation also state that criminalisation of drugs is not an effective deterrent, displaying vastly different views to legislators in the UK as a whole and Northern Ireland.


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