(Photo: The Washington Post)
By Ella Stevens – Regular Contributor
Boris Johnson announced a new anti-drug campaign in December 2021 as part of his crackdown on crime. This includes a set of draconian methods added to the crime and policing bill which would expand police testing for drugs, take away driving licenses and passports as well as imprison re-offenders. The irony in these messages cannot be understated when at the same time as this so-called crackdown, traces of cocaine were found in parliament. It rather begs the question who are these measures aimed at?
“This government is absolutely determined to fight drugs. I take the view that it’s a long time really since you’ve heard a government say that drugs, class A drugs, are bad, bad for society, bad for opportunity, bad for kids growing up in this country. That’s my view,” Johnson claimed in a TV interview.
The war on drugs has been a prevalent item on the agenda since the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act which instigated a complete ban on the possession, supply, manufacturing, import, and export of a controlled drug. But there has long since been a debate on whether this is an effective method of attempting to prevent drug abuse. In the US the war on drugs has been used for the mass incarceration of Black men and women, in what has been called by some scholars the ‘New Jim Crow’. The crackdown on drugs is not a system explicitly based on race but carries institutional biases that are harder to protest. This portrays how being tough on crime is about being tough on certain groups over others. This results in imprisonment and harsher restrictions on those same groups in comparison to others that may be committing similar crimes in terms of possession and distribution of drugs.
To this day stop and search methods have been used disproportionately against people of colour in the UK as well as in the US. The last figures posted on the government website show there were 6 stop and searches per 1,000 white people, compared with 54 for every 1,000 Black people. The 3 Black ethnic groups had the highest rates of stop and search out of all 18 individual ethnic groups. This suggests that the criminalisation of drugs alongside harsher measures will disproportionately impact people based on racial discrimination. It is not members of parliament being searched for drugs but largely young black men from low socio-economic backgrounds. It is not the use of drugs that are being opposed but the fact that anti-drug campaigns can be used to discriminate against certain groups that are already seen as ‘disagreeable’. Drug abuse is found throughout society but your race and class are important factors in whether this is seen as acceptable or a crime.
The media frenzy around the time that traces of cocaine was found in parliament were very quickly refocused on the covid Christmas parties but we must not allow this to slide. The corruption and incompetence of the Conservative government have been proven time and time again and yet they seem to be escaping much of the criminal consequences. Of the 12 toilets tested during an investigation into claims, 11 returned positive for traces of cocaine. All of these areas could only be accessed with a parliamentary pass and therefore had to be members of parliament or staff. Lindsay Hoyle stated “there is a drug problem” in parliament which portrays that drug use is not even being hidden. This suggests a very extensive drug problem in a place that makes the laws to ‘crackdown’ on drug use. It is a hypocritical and discriminatory stance for the government to take.
If we are to accept Johnson’s crackdown on drugs then it is to accept that it will be aimed at specific groups of people rather than everyone that takes drugs. There is a hierarchy within the law that means being tougher on crime does not mean being tougher on everyone.