Would Keir Starmer decriminalise drugs?

Labour leader backs Scotland’s move to soften laws on possession

Sir Keir Starmer
(Image credit: Getty Images )

Priti Patel has accused Keir Starmer of being “weak on crime” after the Labour leader spoke out in favour of Scotland’s decision to effectively decriminalise drug possession.

The home secretary tweeted her criticism after Starmer told a TV interviewer yesterday that the newly announced plan to issue police warnings to people caught with Class-A substances rather than prosecuting them was “probably the right thing to do”.

The ensuing row “risks overshadowing the start of Labour conference in Brighton this weekend”, said The Times. Speaking to ITV’s Representing Border, Starmer insisted that there was “a world of difference between a decision not to prosecute a particular case and ripping up the drug laws”.

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“It is not unusual in any legal system for those caught with small amounts of cannabis not to be prosecuted,” he added.

All the same, his comments have triggered speculation about whether the Labour leader would take a more lenient stance on drugs if he became prime minister. Such a stance would mark a major reversal from his previous statements on the controversial issue.

In February, he “ruled out” a liberalisation of drug laws, as the i news site reported at the time. Starmer told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme that he had “seen too much damage” in his past role as a prosecutor and that the government’s current policy on drugs was “roughly right”.

But while he had “never subscribed” to the view the cannabis should be decriminalised, he added, “there’s always room for a grown-up debate about how we deal with these cases”.

The following month, however, Starmer “stunned” campaigners when he refused to back a pilot for Drug Consumption Rooms in Glasgow, the Daily Record reported. The party leader told the paper that such facilities were not “long-term solution” to the city’s drug problem.

Peter Krykant, whose service helps users inject drugs more safely, said: “It’s bizarre - he’s explicitly going out of his way to support Tory drug policies when the rest of the world is moving in the opposite direction.”

Starmer faced further criticism in May, when he refused 14 times to answer questions about whether he had taken drugs, during an interview with Piers Morgan for ITV’s Life Stories.

The Sun said that the Labour boss “squirmed during a grilling sparked by claims he was a ‘party animal’ at university”. Asked whether he had “ever dabbled in anything stronger than alcohol”, Starmer replied: “We worked hard and played hard.”

And after being pressed repeatedly on the issue, he simply said that “I haven’t said no”.

During Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour committed to developing a public health approach to substance misuse. The party’s 2019 manifesto set out plans to launch a royal commission to shift the focus to harm reduction rather than criminalisation.

Latest YouGov polling reveals growing public support for a softening of drug laws. A survey of more than 3,300 people in April found that 52% supported the legalisation of cannabis in the UK, with 32% opposed to the move.

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