The British political scene got a little uptight over drugs this week, with reports that top Tory leadership contender and environment secretary Michael Gove used cocaine on a handful of occasions while working as a journalist in the 1990s. The not terribly surprising story first surfaced in Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry, a biography by journalist Owen Bennett, which claims that Gove admitted the past cocaine use to aides during the 2016 Conservative leadership contest.
- Although the revelations might seem minor as confessions of past misbehavior go, they open Gove up to charges of hypocrisy and unsuitability from both left and right, as his behavior stands at odds with the Conservative Party’s law-and-order stance, specifically draconian drug laws mandating multi-year sentences.
- One typical sling came from Green MP Caroline Lucas, who tweeted: “Rank hypocrisy of minister admitting to ‘mistakes’ on drug use while backing policies that perpetuate harm. From locking up disproportionate number of young, black men, to treating drug misuse as crime rather than health issue, prohibition fails us all.”
- Again unsurprisingly, Gove is hardly alone amongst the current crop of the British political elite in admitting to past misbehavior: fellow leadership contender Dominic Raab admitted to smoking marijuana as a student, while Rory Stewart, international development secretary, admitted to smoking opium in Iran around 15 years ago.
- The big question now is, who cares? As environment secretary Gove is not directly responsible for drug policy, and at least for the moment the British public seems broadly uninterested in past drug use.
- On that note, a Home Office survey from 2013 found that 15% of the British population had taken a class A drug (like cocaine) while 36% have used any sort of illegal drug, including marijuana. While short of majorities, the numbers are large enough to suggest drug use is tacitly accepted.
- A more useful conversation might be to ask how various contenders for PM, all across the political spectrum, intend to bring an end to the failed war on drugs, including full legalization of cannabis and early release for non-violent offenders.
- Let the Church of England lead the way: this week the C of E announced that it was lifting restrictions on investments in medical cannabis companies by the church’s investment arm, which controls around £12.6 billion in assets. Under the new guidelines, the organization can invest in companies that produce and sell medical cannabis, as long as recreational cannabis sales represent less than 10% of their total revenues.