Britain's minister responsible for drug policy replaced – The Guardian
The government has quietly replaced Victoria Atkins as the minister responsible for drug policy, it has emerged.
In late July, Kit Malthouse was appointed Home Office minister of state for policing, crime and the fire service when Boris Johnson entered No 10. However, it was believed that Atkins had remained responsible for drug policy.
The parliament website still says Atkins is responsible for drugs as part of her role as parliamentary undersecretary for safeguarding and vulnerability.
On Monday, Malthouse’s office confirmed he was now responsible for drugs as part of his ministerial brief.
Members of the government’s Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) had been unaware of the change in brief until its biannual meeting on Wednesday, according to a source. A number of prominent campaigners said they had also thought Atkins remained in post.
But it is apparent that Malthouse has been speaking for the government on drug policy since the reshuffle. In early September, he declined an invitation to a drug death summit in Scotland and refused to discuss the possibility of opening a drug consumption room, also known as an overdose prevention centre.
“I believe that it is important for me to be clear from the outset that the UK government has no plans to change the law to allow the establishment of such facilities in the UK,” he said in a letter to the Holyrood public health minister, Joe FitzPatrick, according to the Scotsman. “There are, however, many areas where we can work productively together.”
Atkins had faced criticism over the “political vetting” of candidates for the ACMD after she blocked Niamh Eastwood, the director of the drug charity Release, from serving on the council.
She also came under fire over her refusal to sanction an overdose prevention centre in Glasgow despite the wishes of local authorities and the SNP amid rising overdose deaths.
“Whilst I recognise and support the need to reverse trends that we have seen in drug-related deaths, I remain concerned about the challenges that DCRs place on law enforcement agencies as well as the implied acceptance of wider criminality,” she said in a letter to the ACMD after it recommended their introduction.
In 2017, Atkins “voluntarily recused herself” from policies and decisions relating to cannabis after British Sugar began growing substantial amounts of it under a Home Office licence to sell for medicinal purposes. Her husband, Paul Kenward, is the company’s managing director.
Atkins was accused of “hypocrisy on a grand scale” after speaking out against the class B drug.
“Given how compromised his predecessor was, we welcome the new minister’s appointment,” said Martin Powell from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. “We remain concerned at the lack of engagement from the Home Office with the drugs sector, but this move presents a genuine opportunity for the department to operate an evidence-based approach that will protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
“Thousands of lives are being lost needlessly every year because of the continued criminalisation of people who use drugs, when a health-led approach is required.”
This article originally appeared here in https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/oct/07/britains-minister-responsible-for-drug-policy-replaced-victoria-atkins