Meet Volteface, an independent research & drug advocacy organisation that seeks to reduce the harm drugs pose to society through evidence-based policy and reform. 

Paul North - Director 
Katya Kowalski - Director of Operations
Jay Jackson- Head of Public Affairs
Nicole Borgers - Research Officer


Since 2015 how have you guys developed your current business model?  


Paul: Volteface is weird in the sense that it's gone through different evolutions of what it is as a vehicle, and that's sometimes to its determent, which is confusing but also to its strength because it evolved and changed and shifted as other things have moved around it. If you look classically at drug reform as a field and you identify different groups that have been working and engaging in this sector, they usually have one model and an approach that they keep doing, and what we tend to see is that their messages tend to get less and less valuable the older they get, they do well with their echo chamber which is the people that they first engage who follow them and think their work is excellent which is good, but they don't have a long-lasting policy impact, and it just drifts along. Voltface have gone with the flow; we started as an online and print magazine to get people engaged with the subject. We want to talk about the areas of drug reform that other groups haven't or won't; the left has done a good job at highlighting the social justice issues and the reasons as to why we should reform those cannabis laws due to those social justice issues. Volteface have tried to build on that and better engage medical professionals in this chat, centre-right politicians, people who are interested in the economy, business people or people who are interested in making money and profit of this not to discredit existing arguments but to build on that and get more people interested and highlight drug reform as an issue that exists across the ideological spectrum and the left. We started as a magazine that relied on philanthropic donations and funding, then it moved to a policy vehicle so we would identify areas of policy that need changing, drug testing at festivals, cannabis and mental health and write policy papers and present them to stakeholders, politicians. This was the model for about two and a half years and then we ran the campaign with Billy Caldwell’s mother Charlotte Caldwell which led to a lot of change including the legalisation of medical cannabis and remains so to this day. 

Volteface refers to reversible change In policy; what changes do you guys advocate for?  


Paul: We are keen to not have a strong organisational statement because the purpose of a think-tank, although that word is cliche now but to have a range of options, ideas and discussion that take place within it. What separates us from other organisations is that they just have one model and one approach, which can be limiting because once you tie yourself down to a particular model, you, just as an advocacy organization, restrain yourself. We absolutely support a legal adult-use cannabis market based upon emerging evidence from North America. Not everyone from the organisation is here today, but some people have different opinions on what an effective market looks like. Typically, I've leaned heavily into pro marketing, like keen to the states where there are lots of advertisements. Still, others say we should have a public health approach like the Canadian model, which has plain packaging, but I want this market to be enjoyable and exciting and pour loads of money into treatment services. Give me a billboard!  


Katya: We have different opinions, but all agree on the core values of a legal market which makes us unique as an organization.  


Paul: We have upset people by not coming out in favor of legalizing all substances because a lot of advocacy groups say we should legalize all substances; the war on drugs has failed, It causes loads of damage to the society we need to reform all our drug laws, but there are so many issues with taking that stance mainly if you are working hard to reform cannabis because if you hold the personal or organisational position that we should legalese all drugs as soon as you go and engage with anybody about cannabis, they will just say "this is just the start you want to legalise cannabis and then cocaine and heroin, this is just pushing down that first barrier and once it goes over it won't stop." This is a trap because people concentrate on legalizing cocaine, and it takes away from the heart of what we want to be changing now. Often that trap occurs because people engage with the problem with their ideology rather than parking their ideology to the side and came at this issue from the angle that people are dying, it's harmful, and we need to do something about it. You would practically look at it and be like it’s probably going to have to be incremental change, starting with cannabis and decriminalisation and then more money for treatment services and support and then down the line, we can build more models on top of it that seems sensible and if you look at global reform that's what seems to be happening.  


Katya: Our model is following the evidence and public opinion, so the evidence and public opinions are there for cannabis; there are discussions around decriminalization and broader psychedelic medical access. It's about engaging with the issues now where the evidence and public opinion stands and building on that.  


Jay: We also try and lead public opinion because that's the purpose of the organisation, and I think we make sure that perfection is not the enemy of the good when it comes to drug policy; as Paul says, we may all have different opinions of where we want the market to end up in an ideal world, but we realise that's not all going to come at once like Paul also said the changes are incremental changes, and we need to fight for those increments one step at a time. We must think about what we can get now and use that to continue the fight. 


Paul: If you speak to groups that are experiencing the harm directly, like mothers that have lost sons and daughters due to overdoses or unclean cut drugs, it's hard to apply that logical reason step by step approach, it the same when you speak to groups that are disproportionally represented in the criminal justice system or just getting hammered by the police constantly. It can be hard to have that level of nuance because they are just like man this is affecting me right now I can't wait 20 years for this or that to happen, it needs to happen now, and then it comes back down to that view of well do you want to be practical or say something that is unrealistic but feels good  


Nicole: We can learn from what happened with the first push for drugs to be popularised in the 60's when it was all guns blazing and pushed for everyone to be taking psychedelics which was the ultimate goal of the leading advocates, and then it completely backfired and set things back a lot further than it pushed things forward. We don't want to scare off people that otherwise might be on board if we took it slowly.  


Katya: Yes, just take a sensible approach and try to engage people that don't agree so that we can see a change in societies attitudes.  

What has your experience with communicating to MPs and politicians within the space?  


Paul: The challenge we have is that a politician will be looking at 3-5 issues within their four-year slot as an MP, and those issues will tie into their constituencies and broaden political movements that are taking place, and once they have got those, they don't step outside of that and look at other things. Often a politician will say that they agree with what Canada have going on and that it would work well here, but it's not an issue that they want to take forward because they are looking at XYZ. Cannabis reform is also quite controversial and comes with a lot of moral judgement, particularly from our current government. There are lots of Tories that like the idea of sensible, regulated markets but know that it's not a party-wide position, so the moment it gets taken as one of those five issues, you are at odds with the mainstream narrative of the party, this also exists in Labour as well because Starmer is still not pro-reform he's in a confusing position of having previously supported decriminalisation and evidence-based reform and is now worried about red wall seats and backtracking by saying that we should be cautious with the issue. There are some MP'S that are engaged with the subject but typically speaking, the morality of it as an issue immediately causes tension. That tension is a challenge to overcome, it can be overcome, but it is significant.  


Jay: I came here from an MPS office, so I've seen it from the other side, and one of the things that are potentially underappreciated about how MPS think about drug policy is that MPS host surgeries with constituents, and this is where people from the community tell them what problems they are having and ask the MP to help them and because we have constituencies in the UK and they are the local representatives, they see drugs through the lens of their constituents and they don't tend to engage with it as a broader scale theoretical debate as a policy issue and tend to think that there are groups of children or young adults on an estate in my constituency smoking cannabis and committing anti-social behaviour and try to think of solutions to that. I don't think drug policy will be at the top of many MPS agendas, but we don't need it to be. What we need to do is rather than getting change from the top down, we should get change from the bottom up, which is why we try and reach people that aren't being called by other organisations and by conventional methods of campaigning on drug policy because that's the way we can best engage the MPS is by building pressure from the grassroots and changing public opinion. MPS see drugs in a very different way to the rest of us because of their work in the local communities. I don't think there are enough MPS that instinctively care, unfortunately about drug policy enough to engender that change from within parliament; it's got to come from without.  


Paul: I was saying the other day that the best thing we can do is care less about what MPs think from a lobbying perspective (despite it being important) and more about creating a situation where they have to legalise cannabis and can't go on anymore because it just gets ridiculous and they have no option but to engage, and in many ways, that's what's happening in North America anyway, US medical markets became so big that policymakers were like they may as well legalise it for recreational use because everyone's getting it on a medical card and the neighboring states felt like they were missing out on millions of pounds in revenue because people were going to other states like Colorado to purchase it. The same thing happened in Canada; the reason it was legalised in Canada was that, of course, Trude put it on his agenda, but if you look at the history and background, the elicit market was out of control, there were dispensaries popping up everywhere, and the police got completely sick and tired of shutting them down, and the courts were sick of charging people time and time again for these dispensaries, to just get opened again, so the Canadians decided to legalise it. People have this misconception that it's about lobbying and that the movement is led by politicians, which it is not. There are ways around it. In the UK Germany, going legal is a massive thing for Europe. The neighbouring countries to Germany will start thinking about legal adult-use markets because otherwise, everyone will just be going to Germany to get it and bring it back.  In the UK, we have a medical market and have 1.4 million estimated self-medicating cannabis users and have 7000 people on a legal prescription; if we get that to 100,000 politicians, regardless of people lobbying will see that there's a significant revenue going through that cohort and have no option but to legalise it.  


Katya: It also makes use of the policy and framework that's already in place that allows for medical cannabis to be dispensed; there are loads of people who don't even know that medical cannabis is legal in the UK, so if we just raise awareness about that and educate the public we could see a massive increase in medical cannabis patients.  


Paul: It's crazy how few people know about it. It's genuinely baffling. It has its problems as a market, and it gets better year on year but still has its problems much like any emerging new market. The price is pretty much illicit market price (£10 a gram) if not cheaper, you can get it for like £5-£7 through specific schemes. The main barrier is education and awareness; we need to get the message out that you can get legally prescribed cannabis. We talk to many industry groups and engage heavily with the medical cannabis market in the UK and all the companies. What I'm forever saying to them is you need to work together to raise awareness and make this an advocacy issue. They need to come together and tell people that although you may favor the illicit market, if you are a medical cannabis patient get on board, and in the long run, this will be great for everyone. These companies should do everything that they can to keep that price down. It shouldn't be a money-making game in the first few years. It should be a numbers game then once you have the numbers in you are a company, get some shareholders and make some money, but that shouldn't be the short term goal, the short term goal should be let us get 1.4 million patients because then it's back to the angle of once you have 1.4 million we will get an adult-use market.  


Jay: What working with politicians in regard to drug policy reminds me of is debates around same-sex marriage; same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK in 2013 that wasn't legalised by the conservative government because loads of conservatives love same-sex marriage it was legalised because it was a popular policy and popular attitudes had shifted, and it was something that was a no brainer because it was an easy win. We can have a debate about whether we want it legalised because it's easy and popular or because it was the right thing, but the result was the same, it got legalised, and it changed loads of people’s lives. Drug policy is the same for me. We need to focus on making drug policy popular and making it not controversial because that is what will apply the pressure to politicians, and if we as an organisation must do things that are unpopular or potentially controversial in the drug policy space to do that, we are willing to do that and be ready to do things differently because that's what will make those changes.  




After hosting events and live panel talks, what changes have followed that have been impactful to you as an organisation?  


Paul: I think the most significant thing that has happened in the space was the change in 2018 to go from cannabis still being an illicit drug schedule b to a drug you can have on a prescription. If I think about my career in Volteface pre- and post-2018, it was a different job. It felt like we were up against it with everyone and we didn't have many allies, and were just forever trying to find groups of people to get engaged, my first piece of significant work was getting the drug treatment organisations to support reform, so all of the people in the third sector that I used to work for and then when 2018 happened all these people just came to London, and the industry just appeared, and the North American sector just turned up and then lawyers became really interested because organizations and companies will be looking to set up medical companies and lawyers just emerged as a critical stakeholder, and everything shifted after that. In terms of Volteface stuff, we ran the campaign for that shift which was significant for Volteface. The thing that's changed in the past few years asides from the virus is that no one knows about the excellent work that we do because of our model, which is behind the scenes and getting other people to be at the forefront of speaking about the issue rather than us because before 2018 it was just us on TV and us talking about it and then after that everyone knew what we were going to say so we said let's get others to speak about it in the media and amongst their networks to advance the subject. I don't mean this in an egotistical way, but that is entirely selfless in a sense because what a lot of organizations do is try and own an issue, and that's good for personal profile building and its good for an organisation to get that attention but it's not as effective in the long run because people just know what you are going to say.  


Katya: It draws on trying to engage people that don't necessarily agree with you on the subject. Putting other people as a front-facing issue broadens out the horizon of people that agree with you.  


Paul: Yeah, definitely, and that's what you want, right? If you're going to change policy, you don't want the people that you expect to be talking about it, talking about it. Everyones just going to switch up and get bored of it; the same things happen with politicians. So 2018 was impactful, but in terms of panels and events we have organised, if I'm honest, all of that stuff is just good for the organisation's reputation if you are a serious organisation in the space and can demonstrate to your stakeholder's new ideas and bring people into a discussion. It's useful. We helped get politicians and ex-politicians on panels; coronavirus changed everything, but we used to have an office, so we hosted book launches and stuff in the office, which helped the brand in the small network of people that we were engaging but it didn't help the policy issue. 

Nicole: I think one significant influence that we will have had, even though it's difficult to measure, is putting content out online, different articles and social media posts engaging a lot of other spaces and the impact that has on reduced stigma and made it less taboo to talk about drug policy. I think the sheer quantity of work that goes out there is so helpful because so much of the reason that drug policy is so slow to change is that there is so much stigma around it. It almost feels like a taboo topic to talk about for a lot of people, and something being taboo makes it feel like it should be illegal anyway. It goes hand in hand. A lot of the work that we do talking about drugs in any way is making it less uncomfortable for people to talk about and focusing on things like the economic and medical benefits makes it more of a rational issue for people to consider without the moral weight of drugs and drug use.  


Paul: Another critical element of the work we do is speaking to the media, producers and journalists to help them navigate and write something that's constructive and helpful, you can fire shots at the media, politicians and broader society when it comes to drug policy and some of those are valid, but with journalists, a lot of them are just trying to get stories out and quickly try and understand a complex issue just so that they can make a deadline without extensive studies or factual knowledge and there is not a group that can help them navigate that in a way that still suits their audience which is usually centre-right if it was someone from the guardian you can use left-wing frames but if its someone from Sky News on the phone looking for advice you have to help them construct something that their audience will still engage with. As an organisation, we can help them do something still positive for the general movement rather than just disagreeing with them and telling them what to cover. Again no one will credit you for this because no one knows, and you can't just tweet telling everyone that you spoke to loads of journalists because then the journalists will be like, "what the hell".  


Do you think the UK has a negative relationship with drugs?  


Paul: I worked in drug treatment for nine years, so I may be overexposed to the harms, but I do lectures for universities in non-covid life about drug policy and criminology, and statistically, the UK doesn't have a great relationship with its drug policy so you can definitely say a lot of harm comes off the back off this and if you were to remove the drug policy and just look at the question of does the UK form unhealthy relationships with substances? then yeah for sure it does, but it’s difficult to separate that relationship from the drug policy that sits within it. A good example of that situation is that sometimes people say if we legalise cannabis, we won't get more people smoking cannabis which is nonsense; of course, you will, but sometimes when that's debated, you will see a reformer saying no legalise cannabis more people won't be using it problematically but you will because you increase the cohort of people that are using the drug you don't see legal models being implemented and then fewer people using it, you may get fewer kids, but you get more people using cannabis. This is based on educated guesswork, but around 10% of cannabis users form a dependent or problematic relationship, so if you increase the cohort, you get more of a problem. There are plenty of people in the UK that have an unhealthy relationship with cannabis. Still, the extent to that problem is taking place in the current policy, so it's acute. If you have a problem with cannabis and a high risk of criminalization, it can wreck your life alongside a lack of educational drug awareness, your chances of having a problematic relationship are high, but that's all because of the current framework if we take that policy framework out and change that then look at the UK it could be different.  


Jay: My answer to the question would be that there is almost 0 scrutiny on the drug that the UK has the most severe problematic relationship with, and that's alcohol. We must have this conversation and realise that alcohol is a drug. It's not separate, there's lots of interest in making alcohol different from a drug, but it's not. The UK doesn't have a drug problem; I’d say it has a drug policy problem.  


Paul: We have a significant problem with heroin overdoses. There's no hiding away from that, and our drug deaths are at an all-time high with way too many people dying of opioid overdoes; that's also an issue across North America for slightly different reasons. It is not just the UK that experiences that you can zoom out and look at Europe, North America and the West and say there is an issue with referring to opiates. Still, again, this comes back to the point of the illicit nature, and the quality of the product contributes massively to those overdoes.  


Jay: Drug deaths have doubled in 20 years. There is a problem, but it's not the drugs themselves.  


Katya: It's the policy and how they fit into society; drugs themselves aren't good or evil. It's the way we frame them into the community. People use drugs for positive reasons too, and some people use drugs for alleviating pain and having dependency issues. We need to engage with it in a non-opinionated way.  


Jay: People have always used drugs; drug use is a history in human society. You will never stop people from using drugs. Animals even use drugs! That's another reason I don't think drugs themselves are the issue; humans and psychoactive substances have a symbiotic relationship. We go back as far as you can go.  


What can you tell us about the medical cannabis prescriptions within the UK?


Paul: We know quite a bit, playing a pretty key part of the law change in 2018, I think when that law change first happened we had pretty high hopes, because the policy weren’t that bad, the recommendations the government put forward we’re pretty good compared to other jurisdictions that have medical cannabis, so we were kinda hoping they’ll be a large uptake of medical cannabis knowing that there’s 1.4 million people that use cannabis for medical purposes. I think at the moment it’s 7 to 10 thousand prescribed though it’s hard to get accurate numbers.


Katya: The vast majority of prescription is through private practice and data, knowing the exact numbers, it’s a lot more difficult.


Paul: It’s hard, but the system is there to accommodate it and the price has come down significantly, technically you could get it on the NHS in very small cases like 3, who have done so but it’s very difficult to go down that process and because it’s an NHS prescription. You have to have tried lots of many medications first, it’s a big challenge.


Katya: Yes and it comes down to evidence really, the law change in 2018 was obviously a huge talking point in 2018 but it was quite a reactive campaign. There were really sick children with epilepsy that needed cannabis to stay alive, so that policy change came in place and the government started listening, they were backed into a corner so there wasn’t really an alternative but, kinda policy change is there, but medical and clinical guidance isn’t quite up to date with that, so I think it becomes a lot more of less of a political issue because that's changed and that work’s been done and now it’s about getting doctors up to speed, and doctors more aware, educated and interested in the issue alongside just general evidence building.


Paul: And just increasing the patient base is the key thing, we talked earlier about the challenge of engaging politicians and the resistance that exists there, but because we have the medical market, just focusing on that is a short term measure if your interested in the space, and there have been supply issues, there have been price issues but they are getting better as the number of patients increase, and fundamentally it’s just basic economics really, the more of a market you have, the more finance that’s available and the better quality of product and service you can provide so it’s kinda like a chicken and egg thing, for the services, the supply to increase and quality of product to get better because there’s more of it being shipped over, then you’ve gotta increase that patient size, you’ve gotta increase that cohort. So in some ways it’s frustrating because the policy is there, the number of patients are there, it’s just about connecting them to the industry but it does give me hope that we will go in the right direction as awareness increases. It doesn’t take a great deal for that number to start escalating quite quickly, I generally just think it’s about people having the knowledge, being aware, and broader education around the benefits cannabis can have. There’s lot of people that would greatly benefit from cannabis based medicines, and have the finances to be prescribed, but just don’t think about it you know, they have sleep problems or anxiety, they have pain, but they’re not educated and aware that cannabis can help, and it’s available so I think as knowledge increases, I think that’s a separate question I guess about how that might happen but, as knowledge increases I think the medical market will come on leaps and bounds and they’ll be lots of pretty knock on effects from that.


Katya: It’s addressing that stigma and taboo that’s attached to cannabis still and people not knowing it’s possible to use it for a specific conditions and the fact it’s not the same as a recreational drug and it’s in a different kind of medical format.


Nicole: I think one big issue with the medical cannabis section in the UK at the moment is it’s sorta created this two tier system like as you were saying how the majority of patients are getting it privately because while a lot of NHS doctors feel really uncomfortable prescribing it just because the evidence base isn’t there to their ‘standard’, and the cost to the NHS is huge, the companies making these medications, they’ve costed them for the NHS based on how much money they will save based on people using medical cannabis so this is like cutting down on medical costs for things they’ll have to treat for things that aren’t really there, so the cost to the NHS are huge, so doctors are really reluctant to prescribe it cos it’d be a massive burden, so by pushing people towards the private sector creates a two tier system basically discriminating against people based on their income. A big thing that has to change is getting the evidence base there for NHS doctors to feel more comfortable prescribing it and bringing the cost down for the NHS to make it a bit more equal access for people.


Jay: I think it’s clear that in the wake of the political and legal change that was necessary, and that’s come about, there’s still some barriers to entry in terms of actually accessing medical cannabis and we have to look at what those are, and I think it’s what you two have just picked on, it’s a cultural barrier, stigma that you talked about, where cannabis hasn’t been fully culturally medicalised yet and I think that’s something that we need to try and address in order to get better at our consultations, it’s getting rid of that stigma and getting rid of the idea of it as an illicit substance and medicalising it, not only in the minds of clinicians but also the minds of the public. 


Kayta: It’s about kinda bringing cannabis into that mainstream medical framework and that’s obviously gonna take a lot of time because it hasn’t been prescribed in modern day medicine for that long, obviously it’s been used as a medicine for centuries, thousand of years, but yeah bringing it into that mainstream medical framework is gonna alleviate a lot of those concern, make doctors feel more comfortable and cannabis naive patients feel more comfortable cos there’s obviously a patient cohort within the groups that use medical cannabis and know about the benefits but it’s the patients that aren’t using cannabis that could potentially benefit from it that need to be engaged.


Jay: I think that’s why exploring alternative forms of administrating cannabis, whether that be like nasal spray, pills or whatever might help because they’re already normalised as ways of taking medicine where as smoking is a lot less so, so exploring alternative forms of cannabis I think would potentially help with that.


What do you guys think about the new pilot scheme in Lewisham, Bexley and Greenwich, easing sanctions for possession of up to 14 grams?


Paul: Terrible. Terrible idea. Well yeah I think it’s a great idea because we were involved in the report, so basically we wrote a report for the Mayor of Lewisham, the borough of Lewisham, which looks at the overall representation of people from BAME backgrounds in the criminal justice system particularly in terms of being stopped, searched, being found in possession with low levels of cannabis and that results in a subsequent charge, an arrest. So yeah we’ve put a report together which we hope and are pretty sure will be backed by the Mayor of London and introduced across 3 boroughs. I mean yeah we think it’s a great idea don’t we, the criminalisation of young people is a big issue, like the first time when I worked in drug treatment, drug use can be problematic but then, criminalisation can be deeply problematic and the difference between the two is that you can unpick a problematic relationship with drugs particularly cannabis but you can’t unpick a criminal record, once you have a criminal record it sits on your system and the only way you unpick it is by sitting it out, and even then that criminalisation can have loads of longer term effects on their mental health, wellbeing, how they view themselves and how they interact with others so, removing that and giving people an opportunity to do something that helps them increase their awareness, increase their education, maybe talk about something they need to talk about, rather than a criminal sanction is absolutely amazing, it’s a great intervention and what we’re not talking about is not doing anything so for people that are resistant to this and are stressed out about the concept of diversion, it’s not decriminalisation, it’s not saying, that drug is legal for you to carry, you know you’re not gonna get in trouble. For the people stressed out about that there’ll still be…


Katya: There’s consequences, it’s a very proactive measure, putting young people through a diversion scheme where they’re either put through an education course, treatment course, family support counselling sorta stuff, it’s done on kinda a person based personal level to see what’s relevant to them but it is proactive to understand why they’re in possession of drugs or what can be done to positively tackle that rather that putting them through the criminal justice system.


Jay: It’s also reactive, in the sense that it’s reacting to the complete and utter failure, the current approach to dealing with the problem. It’s worse than failed, it’s actually counterproductive, cos putting these people through the criminal justice system, criminalising them, makes them more likely to commit crimes in the future. It’s not even just reducing crime it’s actually increasing levels of crime so I think in that sense it was urgently necessary and the Mayor of Lewisham recognised that and I think it’s an intervention that couldn’t have waited any longer because the current approach demonstrably doesn’t work.


Nicole: And it’s really important for reducing racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system overall cos I think the latest figures were, black people were more than 8.9 times more likely to be stopped and searched, almost always for cannabis possession, so although it’s not gonna solve institutional racism in the police force or stop all the disproportionality in the criminal justice system, it’s one step in that direction of at least. It may not stop the bias, but the consequences won't be that big compared to people getting criminal records and things like that so hopefully it’s a good step in the right direction for reducing the impact of the drug policies that we have, are having on BAME communities in the UK. So I think it’s a really big step, it’s not the biggest solution but it’ll help the police ideologically see cannabis as something that needs to be criminalised so even like small shifts in how things are perceived would be really helpful for future decriminalisation of this as well.


Jay: Yeah, a young black man is 19 times more likely to be stopped in London than the general population so I think this scheme accepts the reality and situation that the war of drugs has something that’s always been applied asymmetrically, so if you’re a young urban dwelling, minority ethnic person from a poor background, or anything of those things and all of them, the war on drugs is disproportionately likely to affect you in your life than if you’re white or rural dwelling or middle aged or middle class. Yeah, I think what this change in policy highlights is that disproportionately and reacts to it and says look, we need to take steps to counteract that and ensure we’re being tough on harm and tough on the causes of harm.


Katya: It’s a good step in the right direction as well, especially because it’s a pilot scheme, it’s gonna be collecting and collating evidence so by the end of it, hopefully we’ll see this diversion scheme has been really successful and hope we’ll see the implementation across all of London or possibly parts of the country and these diversion schemes are already in various areas up and down the country.


Jay: There’s 13 of them around the country already, so it’s nothing new as well.


Paul: And you can use it to like get social conservatives on board or people that might resist it because in amongst all of those really important social justice issues, you’re also just saving police time, it’s just a more efficient use of the police force and for communities that are like ‘ahh I don’t want kids being let off I think it sends the wrong message,’ I think they let that slide a little bit if you can say, you know look, they can focus on more serious things that are happening in their community such as this and this and this. I’ve done focus groups before of like classic UK demographic, and the frame of saving police time lands really well.


Kayta: Protect the young people.


Paul: Yeah protect your people, have police do something which they can focus on more serious crimes. You find few people that are like forget the serious guy, I want police picking up 25 year olds for possession of cannabis, they just don’t care. But that’s why it’s always a challenge running some of these things in the media because they’ll just run with that headline of, you know, ’Sadiq Khan to legalise blah-blah-blah’, even though it’s not a big decriminalisation and they don’t engage with some of the nuance that exists around, you gotta engage with the bits that are uncomfortable about any policy or debate so like okay, it might for some young people make them think that it’s not as a serious offence as it was, there might be some truth of that but what we definitely know is it’ll allow police to focus on other things and I think the general public are like ‘okay, I can live with that.’ Often getting people to side with policies is like tradeoff.


Jay: Also it’ll definitely improve the life chances of people who otherwise their life may have been destroyed just for making a mistake or carrying a small market drug that realistically poses significantly less harm to their life and livelihood than their criminal record does.