Voices: Why everyone should worry about the new punishments for middle-class drug users

·5-min read

The government has outlined plans to crack down on illegal drug-taking, with a raft of new penalties including the possibility of removing British passports and driving licences from those caught using Class As – and we should all be worried about it.

While the 10-year plan will apparently include “record” funding for addiction treatment and recovery services, with more money promised for the 50 local authorities with the worst drug issues, new punishments will come hand-in-hand with those vital support measures – such as football-style travel bans and harsher sentences for drug dealers.

Boris Johnson has said middle-class drug users will have “nowhere to hide” – people caught with the substances will be encouraged to go on drug awareness courses (similar to speed awareness courses) and could face greater fines, as well as the threat of losing the right to drive or to travel.

“We need to look at new ways of penalising them,” the prime minister warned. “Things that will actually interfere with their lives. So we will look at taking away their passports and driving licences. We’re keeping nothing off the table.”

The prime minister said these were examples of the new ways of penalising people who take “lifestyle drugs” such as cocaine, with the aim of closing down both the supply and demand for illegal drugs in the UK.

Ironically enough, a separate investigation will now take place at Westminster following reports of open drug use among staff and MPs, after 11 out of 12 lavatories at parliament were found to contain traces of cocaine – including those near the offices of the prime minster and home secretary Priti Patel.

The Sunday Times reported a special adviser as saying “everyone knows who in Westminster is taking drugs” – and which office to visit to buy a joint. “It’s relatively common to see people, particularly MPs’ staff, who are messed up. You see them wandering the halls, with a glazed look, staggering about,” the anonymous source claimed.

The Commons speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, has now said he will call in police to investigate the “deeply concerning” allegations, with serious sanctions for those flouting the rules.

Some MPs and their staffers may soon be worried about a police probe – but why do the rest of us have anything to worry about, if we don’t take drugs ourselves?

Some may point out that if you don’t take cocaine, then your conscience is clear – after all, the system will only target those doing something “wrong”. I can hear the cries of outrage of “them and us” from here: “Throw the book at them!” some will say. “If you’ve got nothing to hide, then you’ve got nothing to worry about!”

But you don’t have to be an active drug-user to feel afraid of these new measures. We should all be afraid because they’re draconian to the point of being Orwellian; we should be afraid because they herald a sinister squeeze on our collective freedoms. We should be very afraid because – in threatening power over our passports, these measures are not actually about drugs at all, but an assault on the very nature of what it means to belong.

We are living through an era in which we’re witnessing first-hand the continued tragic loss of life of those who make desperate and dangerous moves across the Channel to seek asylum in the UK, those who act out of sheer desperation and need for survival; while on the other, our government slowly and surely tightens its grip around who can be deemed truly “British”. It’s not only small-minded, it’s dangerous. If citizenship can be revoked, at any time, then we are all at risk.

Just last month, Patel quietly added a clause to her controversial nationality and borders bill to allow the government to strip individuals of their British citizenship without warning. Clause 9 even gives the Home Office the power to act retrospectively, in certain cases. The bill has been nicknamed “the anti-refugees bill”, and for good reason. There are also concerns that the changes will disproportionately affect non-white Britons.

Black-British actress, director and public speaker Kelechi Okafor laid out her concerns on Twitter, saying: “Drug abuse is a public health issue, not a criminal issue. Even though the people Boris wants to target are non-white and/or working class, it is important to note that the government is consistent with the contempt held for those considered ‘lesser than’.”

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She added: “For the punishment to be the stripping of citizenship, we know that those considered ‘natives’ of this land will be unaffected. Xenophobia is laced in every policy that this government puts forward. It’s very hypocritical, what’s happening, and motivated by race and class.”

If you still think this isn’t an issue you need to think or worry about, then think of it this way: yes, we should all support harsher sentences for the dealers who blight the lives of others by way of sourcing, trafficking and selling drugs, and celebrate the promise of greater funding for the services that tirelessly support those with lives ravaged by addiction – if it happens.

But if our government can dangle the very essence of “Britishness” over our heads and whip our passports away at any time, then we all need to ask ourselves if any of us really belong in the first place – and whether we want to.

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