Who will stop the EU taking control of the UK's drug powers?

A government anti-drug ad: Reformers are seeing the debate slip out of their grasp
A government anti-drug ad: Reformers are seeing the debate slip out of their grasp
Ian Dunt By

It's an exceptional power grab, by any standards. Underneath the radar, the European Commission is trying to transfer the power to ban and regulate new psychoactive substances from member states to the EU level.

If anyone on the continent did anything but pay lip service to the principle of subsidiarity - that decisions should be made at the lowest appropriate level – this would never have been proposed. There is no basis to claim that this issue cannot be dealt with at the national level and precious little constitutional argument for why the criminalisation of substances should be taken out the hands of the nation state.

But of course there has been almost no debate about the issue, because drugs remain the great unsayable. The UK government's position on drug prohibition is mystical, self-defeating and barbaric. The EU is completely in agreement.

This morning, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, chair of the home affairs, health and education EU sub-committee, took a stand, albeit one couched in apologetic rhetoric.

He said:

The aims of the proposed directive and regulation are laudable,. We share the Commission's concerns about the risks posed to public health by new psychoactive substances and consider that the EU has an important role to play in helping to tackle the creation, availability and use of new psychoactive substances. However, we do not agree that the proposed Directive and Regulation satisfy the principle of subsidiarity. They do not allow the requisite level of flexibility for member states to respond rapidly to local situations and to make their own decisions about the threats posed by new psychoactive substances and the appropriate response.

With any luck, the Lords will come to a view on this next Monday and send the Commission a shot across the bows, although I wouldn't bet on it.

Campaigners for reform of Britain's drug laws should be extremely wary of the power grab the EU has undertaken. The UN currently acts as unelected policeman of nations' drug laws, ensuring they remain irrational and damaging at all times, and the EU will soon follow that mould.

It may seem as if fighting the UK government for some decency and sense on drugs is like shouting at a brick wall, but at a European level the message would be lost even further. Bureaucrats there are even less affected by the stories of promising young people sent to jail and costs to the public purse. At least MPs meet some of the families torn apart by our current arrangements.

The further legal power travels from the results of the war on drugs, the harder it is to get policymakers to see what a disaster it's been.


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