Two of the three candidates standing to become Kent's police and crime commissioner say cannabis should be decriminalised to cut drugs crime.
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Liberal Democrat candidate Graham Colley and the Labour candidate Lola Oweyusi say a radical rethink on drugs policy is needed.
The issue was raised in a hustings meeting jointly organised by the University of Kent, the Medway African Caribbean Association and KMTV.
Graham Colley said: “I would look at things radically and ask why County Lines is happening. Because monopoly profits are being made out of drug sales. How do you deal with that? You get rid of the profits.”
County Lines refers to the practice of sending runners from cities into commuter towns to peddle drugs, most commonly crack cocaine and heroin.
The type of crime has swept Kent in recent years and is seen as a response to a saturated marketplace in big cities like London.
Mr Colley referred to an article written by the former Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg and Virgin boss Richard Branson in 2017 which argued that the drugs war had been lost.
“What we should be doing is managing the drugs problem. It is Lib Dem policy to decriminalise cannabis and other drugs should be treated as a medical problem not as a problem for police enforcement.”
Labour candidate Lola Oyewusi said: “We should put it under public health. Where addiction is treated as an illness and where those who are addicted can get the help and support they need so they can be put back on track and can get a better life, instead of locking people up particularly vulnerable young children.”
She said the government should follow the example of other countries where such an approach had worked in curbing drug crime.
“I don’t know why we don’t try it; it has worked well in Spain; in Portugal; in the Netherlands. Why is it we wait until lives are destroyed?” she added.
Cannabis is a Class B drug in the UK meaning possession and supply can be punished with up to five and 14 years in prison respectively.
Decriminilisation differs from legalisation as it would remove certain penalties from things like possession but would not bring the substance in line with things like alcohol and tobacco.
But the idea was opposed by Matthew Scott, the Conservative candidate and current commissioner.
“I think people need to be clear what decriminalisation means. Are we talking about decriminalisation for possession, which means people are still buying it from criminals or are we talking about liberalisation? If you are making these drugs more easily accessible, you are sitting on the public health time bomb. There is so much evidence about the damage that cannabis can cause.”
The issue of drug policy was just one of the subjects the three candidates debated during the online hustings. The whole programme can be viewed on the KMTV website.
The election takes place on Thursday but because of the county council election, the count and results will be on Monday.