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11th December 2015

Newcastle University relaxes zero tolerance policy on drugs

The university has recently made an announcement signalling a shift from its hard-line approach towards banned substances

Newcastle University has changed its rules in relation to illegal drugs and the consequences for students found in possession of them. The blanket ban on even small amounts of all drugs which in the past saw students evicted from their halls of residence with immediate effect has been amended.

Rather than being hit with a swift expulsion from university accommodation, students caught in possession will be summoned for an “interview” where they will receive a formal warning and the opportunity to take up special support.

The shift from zero tolerance to a softened approach coupled with systematic support signals a “welfare over deterrence” attitude.

This kind of mentality has long been championed by drug reform campaigners and has seen increasing levels of adoption in recent years, and not just by universities. In neighbouring Durham, police last year softened their approach to individuals caught in the possession of cannabis.

The University of Manchester’s drugs policy states it aims “to help those with an alcohol or drug problem to be restored to health quickly to the benefit of themselves, their colleagues and the university.”

Similar to Newcastle University’s newly adopted approach, one of the principles of Manchester’s official policy says that “the university recognises that addiction to alcohol and drugs may in some cases be considered a medical condition and should be treated as such.”

Critics of zero tolerance policies argue that it worsens the situation for students who may already be vulnerable. Drugs campaigner Zoe Carrer said “if they’re kicked out of accommodation it can actually put vulnerable people at more risk of harm.”

Campaigners will claim Newcastle University’s change in tact further goes to show the inconsistency between the enforcement of drug laws and the hard-line government rhetoric, recently outlined in the widely criticised Psychoactive Substances Bill.

The Bill, produced in October, states that a ““psychoactive substance” means any substance which—(a) is capable of producing a psychoactive effect in a person who consumes it, and (b) is not an exempted substance.”

Critics argue that the government’s approach is ideologically-driven and ignores the scientific facts surrounding drugs and the harm they do. Former government advisor turned drug reform campaigner David Nutt, has long been an opponent of conservative drug laws and claims they immorally control people’s behaviour and actually hamper scientific research.

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