During her tenure as leader of Oxford University’s Liberal Democrat society in the 1990s, Liz Truss peppered the freshers stall she was manning with posters that read “Free the Weed”.
“Liz had a very strong radical liberal streak to her,” Alan Renwick, a fellow Lib Dem student at Oxford, told the BBC in 2017. “We were setting up the Freshers Fair stall, Liz was there with a pile of posters – she just wanted the whole stall to be covered.” He added: “I was scurrying around after Liz trying to take these down and put up a variety of messages, rather than just this one message all over the stall.”
Despite this – and the fact she has appointed a Health Secretary who has Still D.R.E. by Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg set as her phone alarm (lyrics include “Still puffing my leafs [sic] …Still not loving police”) – when it comes to drug policy, our new prime minister is an enigma. Since graduating from uni in 1996 and transforming into a Tory, she swiftly changed her stance on weed. In an interview with the NME ahead of the 2001 UK general election, she was asked about her opinion regarding recent efforts to legalise the plant. She replied: “I don’t agree with it. Where do you stop?” This position was confirmed by her office in 2017 and she was absent during a vote on cannabis regulation the following year.
It’s clear that Truss knew some backpedalling was required to help her ascend the Tory ranks. “People may know about me that I have a bit of a dubious past,” she told Conservative party members assembled in Eastbourne last month, addressing her past liberal indiscretions. “When I was a teenager, I was a member of the Liberal Democrats.” In response to a chorus of jeers from the audience, she added: “We all make mistakes, we all had teenage misadventures, and that was mine. Some people have sex, drugs and rock and roll, I was in the Liberal Democrats. I’m sorry.”
What else has she done over the years to make up for her pro-weed past? In 2013, Truss argued that schools should have more autonomy when it comes to drug education (which never amounted to anything), but her most famous parliamentary comments on drugs came four years ago when she was Justice Secretary. That’s when she perplexed her fellow MPs by hilariously advocating for guard dogs to be dispatched at prisons to bark and scare off drones delivering drugs to those incarcerated.
That comment has to go down as the most farcical thing a British MP has said about drugs since 1997, when the late veteran backbencher Sir David Amess was duped by genius satirist Chris Morris into condemning a made-up drug called Cake, describing the fictitious substance at one point as “a big yellow death bullet”. In 2015, six years before he was tragically assassinated, Amess was appointed chair of a new committee set to crack down on legal highs, which tells you a lot about the rigour of Tory drug policy.
Soon after Truss’s recent appointment, Priti Patel announced that she was resigning as Home Secretary after three floundering years of abject failure when it comes to drug policy. She refused to accept harm reduction as an ideology while drug-related deaths exploded around her like a rusty nail bomb, eventually reaching record highs. She was about as useful as an inflatable dart board.
But what about the new Home Secretary, Suella Braverman? Well, any hopes of her igniting a sensible drug policy are pulverised into oblivion when you learn that she’s a “war on drugs” crusader, who has in the past described the current drug policy as “great” and “excellent” despite a tsunami of scientific studies suggesting otherwise. She personally intervened to double the sentence of someone who was convicted of drug-driving when she believed they were not punished severely enough and once joined the police on a PR stunt morning drug raid.
And don’t expect her new boss to intervene with some “Free the Weed” posters anytime soon. On her first day in office this week, Truss was thrust into the centre of a constitutional cannabis controversy. Bermuda (a British overseas territory since the 17th century) had requested permission to enact a law which will legalise and regulate weed. Imagine the cheek, wanting to create their own laws! One of her first acts as PM was to refuse this permission, wielding Britain’s shameful colonial power and using it to undermine Bermuda’s democratic decision-making process. This is perhaps one of the strongest indications of her current attitude towards drug reform, but it’s subject to change at any time. In the world of Liz Truss, you see, the one thing that remains consistent is inconsistency.
Perpetual political flip-flopping is what we’ve come to expect from Truss. From marching in demonstrations against Margaret Thatcher as a child to being branded as the Iron Lady 2.0 as an adult; from Lib Dem to Conservative; from arguing for the abolition of the monarchy to becoming a flag-bearing darling of the Tory right; from supporting Remain to becoming a leading voice for the Brexit Leave campaign; from being pro-weed to being so anti-weed that it becomes an official foreign policy. What you are looking at is a politician with no underlying ideology or sincere beliefs, just an insatiable appetite for power. So, you never know, a U‑turn on drug policy could be on the cards too.