Time for a sensible drugs policy?

A study released today (30 Oct) by the home office has found that there is “no obvious” link between tough laws and levels of illegal drug use. Responding to the publication of the study Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Norman Baker believes that drug abuse should be treated as a health issue, comparing the UK with other countries, should end “mindless rhetoric” on drugs policy.

The study has been ready for months and Baker has accused the Conservatives of “suppressing” the findings. In response, Tory MP Michael Ellis said the Lib Dems had “hijacked” it for political gain. The current Conservative led coalition has also reiterated it has “no intention” of decriminalising drugs. Indeed many in the Conservatives are outraged that the Liberal Democrats have overshadowed another announcement due today of plans to toughen the law in regards to so-called ‘legal highs’.

The Home Office report itself compared the UK’s approach to drug misuse with that of 13 other countries. A summary on the BBC news website gives a brief of methods to control drug use in other countries

  • 9 have sanctioned “drug consumption rooms”, including Canada, Denmark and Switzerland
  • 8 are trialling the treatment of addicts with pure heroin rather than methadone, including Switzerland, the Netherlands and the UK
  • 4 have special “drug courts”, where people pleading guilty to drug offences can opt for treatment rather than prison, including the US
  • 1 has set up “dissuasion commissions” – Portugal

Many have longed criticised the outdated drug policies in the UK, the war on drugs is all but lost. So isn’t it time we take a different approach to how we approach drug use?
The time has come to stop assuming that locking people up is the answer. People are still ‘hooked’ on the drugs they are just locked away with other drug users. The tendency of the political ‘elites’ in this country has been to label those who believe in an alternative approach to the issue as being ‘soft on drugs’.
We should take this report as an important first step to creating a ‘sensible dugs policy. For example, take the ‘Portuguese model’. The country was facing a heroin epidemic in the 1990s. The response was to treat drugs use as a health issue in which addicts are given treatment and healthcare rather than a criminal sentence. The results have been startling with the amount of heroin addicts halved and related infections such as HIV and Hepatitis also in dramatic decline.

Decriminalisation or legalisation are by no means a perfect response for combating drug use and addiction but the recognition of it being a health issue rather than a criminal offence is a good starting point.

Read the report here.

See reaction from different papers: Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent, The Telegraph