Priti Patel’s crackdown on student drug use could deter young people from seeking help, it was warned today.
The National Union of Students [NUS] said the government was playing a “dangerous game” with people’s citizenship and safety.
It comes after tougher penalties for so-called “recreational” drug users were unveiled - including criminal sanctions and the removal of passports.
The home secretary singled out students as part of the clampdown, saying their actions were “directly leading” to an increase in violent crime and people dying.
Patel promised sanctions for students who she claimed “ignorantly” take drugs with “no thought” to the criminality they were supporting.
But Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, the NUS’ vice president for higher education, said the policy focused on “ineffective and often unjust” carceral responses which can disproportionately impact black, disabled and Lgbt+ students.
She added: “We cannot continue to take purely punitive measures when it comes to drug use, as this can discourage students from reaching out for harm reduction advice, support from staff or the contacting of emergency services.
“We should be educating students on reducing drug-related harm and equipping them with the information to make informed choices.
“For many years, universities, colleges and students’ unions have run campaigns on safer sex and responsible alcohol consumption, and we should be building on these approaches, which have shown positive measurable results, to ensure students are educated and supported on the issue of drug use”.
Writing in yesterday’s Daily Mail, Patel vowed to impose “tougher sanctions” for those who break the law.
She added: “This means tougher penalties for those so-called ‘recreational’ users, such as students who ignorantly take drugs with no thought to the criminality they are supporting and those they are exploiting.
“Their actions are directly leading to an increase in violent crime and people dying – but they pay no price. That will change.
“We will bring down the harshest possible legal sanctions and consequences for these users, including criminal sanctions, fines, curfews, compulsory drug- awareness courses and the removal of their passports.”
HuffPost UK contacted the home office for comment.
Yesterday the government published its ten-year drugs strategy in which they promised to seize drug dealers’ phones and contact their customers to discourage them.
The strategy said their next step would include testing messaging, initially aimed at students, to be rolled out in autumn 2022.
It said: “The trial of messaging in universities will be delivered alongside increased capacity to deliver these interventions and ensure access to treatment services for those with an appropriate level of need.”
In the foreword to the strategy, prime minister Boris Johnson wrote: “There will be no implicit tolerance of so-called recreational drug users.
“We cannot allow the impression to be given that occasional drug use is acceptable. It isn’t. So there will be new penalties for drug users.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.