30th October 2014 marked a crucial day for UK drug policy. For the first time, the government admitted that their draconian and old-fashioned drugs policy is not working. This admission came in the form of a report from the Home Office, which examined eleven countries and compared their policies on drugs to those in the UK.
The report clearly shows that harsh punishments are not reducing drug usage, proving that the current deterrents are redundant. The report looked across to other countries which have not been afraid to take a liberal approach to drugs, such as Portugal, which changed drug use to a health issue rather than a crime, and has seen a considerable improvement in the health of drug users as a result. ‘Drug consumption rooms’ have also been set up in Canada, Denmark and Switzerland.
The UK has had tunnel-vision on drugs for decades, and has not kept up with changing social attitudes. We have legal highs, mainly due to the fact that the government can’t ban them fast enough, but have been reluctant to lift the ban on any illegal drugs. At present, only one British city, Brighton, is introducing controlled rooms for use of heroin and cocaine, and this has been successful so far.
“The UK has had tunnel-vision on drugs for decades, and has not kept up with changing social attitudes”
David Cameron has sidestepped the report’s findings and insisted that government policy is working. This is entirely laughable since he was almost expelled from Eton for smoking Cannabis. Whilst it may be important to send a message that drugs are harmful, the jail sentences for taking them are ridiculously disproportionate. Under current law, the maximum penalty for supplying or producing class A drugs is life in prison, whilst classes B and C can deliver you a lengthy 14 years, which is more than the maximum of ten for distributing dangerous firearms, and higher than several vulgar sexual offences.
It is beyond me why this is the case. Last month the Observer found that 84% of people thought the war on drugs was failing. Surely this is indicative of the fact that the general public want reform?
It’s rare that I agree with Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg, who both, in an even rarer moment of agreement with each other, realise that the policy on drugs in this country needs to change. They both support relaxing the law in some areas, but the current government are refusing to alter their position.
“Under current law, the maximum penalty for supplying or producing class A drugs is life in prison, which is more than the maximum of ten for distributing dangerous firearms, and higher than several vulgar sexual offences”
Ultimately, this is at the expense of people’s health, and the taxpayer, who is forced to fund a prison system which locks up young people who have made the ‘mistake’ of taking drugs. The police need to be focusing on real crime rather than this obsession with substance abuse.
The Home Office Minister who led the report, Norman Baker, has resigned due to the opposition he faced and uncooperative nature of colleagues, saying working with them was like ‘walking through mud.’ This amusing metaphor gives an idea of just how dysfunctional the coalition is, and depressingly flushes away any hope that we will see fresh reforms in the next few years.
And reforms are needed. The war on drugs is not working. The UK needs to escape from its terror-driven time bubble and realise the benefits and possibilities of reforming the laws on drugs. I’m not calling for complete legalisation, but we have to face this report and acknowledge that the current system is deficient, whilst opening up to new possibilities and discontinuing the stigmatisation of drugs and their users.
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