Controversial report sparks row over decriminalisation of drugs

An official government study has concluded that there is a ‘lack of any clear correlation’ between tough laws and drug abuse levels.  The highly controversial Home Office report comes at a time of growing discussion about the effectiveness of current strategies tackling the UK’s growing drug problem.

The government recently announced a blanket ban on the sale of ‘legal highs’ – plans which have been thrown into doubt by the landmark study.  It indicates that decriminalising drugs, including Class A substances, could have benefits in the criminal justice system.

Previously, such a topic has been resisted within the House, with many believing discussion concerning decriminalising drugs presents an uncomfortable and irreversible precedent.

The Home Office report compared the UK’s approach to drug abuse with 13 other countries, examining a range of approaches ranging from zero-tolerance to decriminalisation.  It concluded that drug use was influenced by factors ‘more complex and nuanced than legislation and enforcement alone’.

Liberal Democrat Home Office minister, Norman Baker, said the report should end the ‘mindless rhetoric’ presented by the government about drugs policy.

He suggested that the UK’s problem with drugs should be considered as a health issue rather than a legal issue, advocating a cultural change in how drug abuse is perceived.

He said: “People are treated as a number, they’re given a fine, they’re given a caution, they’re put in prison and none of that changes their drug habit.

“If we’re interested in changing people’s behaviour then we need to look at it from a health point of view.”

Meanwhile, Danny Kushlick, the founder of a group which campaigns for the legal regulation of drugs in the UK, hailed the significance of the report.

“For the first time in over 40 years the Home Office has admitted that enforcing tough drug laws doesn’t necessarily reduce levels of drug use,” he said.

“Decriminalising the possession of drugs doesn’t increase levels of use.”

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Nigel is the Managing Partner and Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution in the London office of Mackrell Turner Garrett.
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