UK Drugs Policy

Julian Critchley, the former Director of the the cabinet office’s Anti-Drug Unit has said he believes that we should legalise drugs.  He also said that the “overwhelming majority” of professionals in  the field agree with him.  Unsuprisingly, Critchley admitted that the UK’s drug policy is aimed at the Daily Mail – which as you’ll see from the screeching tone of those articles is hardly in-step with contemporary thinking around these issues.

The UK Drugs Policy commission notes that for 2003/2004 (last available figures):

Latest figures (for 2003/04) estimate the size of the UK illicit drug market to be £5.3 billion and is considered to pose the single greatest organised crime threat to the UK.

About one-quarter of the total cost of delivering the drug strategy has been dedicated to reducing supply (£380 million in 2005/06).

Drug markets have proven to be extremely resilient. They are highly fluid and adapt to law enforcement interventions. (Emphasis Mine)

While the availability of controlled drugs is restricted by definition, it appears that additional enforcement efforts had had little adverse effect on the availability of illicit drugs in the UK.

The available evidence suggests that street-level drug law enforcement should focus on forging productive local partnerships and not rely solely on police crackdowns.

The authors were unable to locate any comprehensive published UK evidence of the relative effectiveness of different enforcement approaches. They were also not able to identify any published comparative cost-benefit or value-for-money analysis for different interventions within the UK.

Enforcement can have a significant and unintended negative impact on the nature and extent of harms associated with drugs and this should be recognised and minimised.

It is patently obvious to anyone remotely connected with the field or who has seen the misery of lives blighted by Heroin, Crime and Prostitution that the UK’s prohibition based policy is a complete failure, we are pouring money into a black hole.

Looking around the blogs for reaction on the story, I came across this comment on Anthony Campbell’s blog, the substance of which I can only find myself nodding in agreement with:

The prohibition of recreational drugs has provoked the biggest world wide explosion in organised crime since the prohibition of alcohol in the USA in the 1920’s

The majority of deaths are caused by consumers not knowing exactly what they are using.

Simply because they are banned they become a fashionable fad instead of a stupid way of showing off.

The proliferation caused by the dealers giving the kids free samples would disappear if there were no commercial incentive for them to do so.

The massive savings achieved would turn into a revenue earner if the various substances were moderately taxed.

Savings and taxes would more than finance a serious drug dependency unit to also cover tobacco and alcohol.

I have many more instances where society would benefit from this approach and would suggest that a serious study be made to weigh the benefits of this approach against the disadvantages.

I am sure the benefits outweigh the downside by a considerable margin financially, danger to society and even ethically.

The biggest obstacles are 1) The public kneejerk reaction to the proposal and 2)the political reluctance to take a stand on something which has been obvious to me for many years

Very sensible. We need a revolution to change this problem – but I fear it will be sometime yet before a Government of any colour finds the cojones to stand up and address this issue against the backdrop of wailing Daily Mail readers.


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