Why Improving Drug Policy Will Be An Uphill Struggle

Episode 64

Charlotte Walsh

“If you think that the point of drug policy was to control minority groups, to exploit the resources of other countries–then it’s been an enormous success.”

Academic lawyer Charlotte Walsh shares her experience working in drug policy, and explains why the UK is facing an uphill battle to change the stigma around psychoactive substances. Although police forces in the UK have some capacity to diverge from national policy and work to their own drug policy, this is nowhere near the power that US states can exercise in response to federal law.

Charlotte explains the unique challenges that the UK faces before achieving legalization, including: a powerful right-wing tabloid media; a deep-rooted anti-cannabis stigma; and particularly unforgiving attitudes towards cognitive liberty.

Would you rather read? Click here for this episode’s transcript.

Podcast Highlights

  • How drug policy in the UK has followed the example of the US, but is less flexible to change
  • Why politicians in the UK listen to the right-wing press over the drug policy experts
  • Why cognitive liberty should be an essential part of future drug policy

Reader Interactions


  1. AvatarDarryl Bickler says

    Frustrating to hear this otherwise excellent conversation being carried out in a fictitious (reverse) legal paradigm, thus it is drugs that are made criminal, declared war upon, made illegal etc. Of course legality vests in actions, not substances, and the distinction is the agency of the rule of law, ie those actions can be regulated to afford reasonable differentiation between use and misuse to achieve peaceful cognitive liberty. Yet imaging the fiction that a drug can be legal or illegal enforces the myth of the prohibitionist binary paradigm that excludes people from the operation of neutral law (via the myth of ‘legal drugs’ and over-regulates other people via the myth of ‘illegal drugs’).

    It’s ironic that the very basis of cognitive liberty, the autonomy of being judged by your actions, the outcome of those, is negated by this ignorance of the real methodology of law. Also we must stop referring to drugs when we don’t mean drugs at all, we mean certain specified ‘controlled drugs’ and this is the linguistic core of the stigmatisation. Remember laws are made of words, exact words and legality is a legal concept, so stop saying ‘all drugs should be legalised’, it’s completely incorrect and legally incoherent. Legal tools? Use the right words then!

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