The government’s drug policy: If it’s broken don’t fix it

High profile celebrities join former world leaders in campaigning for a reason and evidenced based debate on drug policy reform writes Dominic Browne.

Injecting drugs

The charity Release have published an open letter to the prime minister – signed by leading QC’s, three former chief constables, academics, politicians and celebrities including Sir Richard Branson and Sting – calling on the government to undertake a review of “the effectiveness of current drug policies”.

If the evidence demonstrates “the failure of the current position” the signatories call “for the decriminalisation of drug possession”.

This comes after a new report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group of politicians and former world leaders, states that the war on drugs has failed.

The BBC writes that the Commission’s report argues that “anti-drug policy has failed by fuelling organised crime costing taxpayers millions of dollars and causing thousands of deaths”.

The report cites UN estimates that opiate use increased 35% worldwide from 1998 to 2008, cocaine 27%, and cannabis 8.5%.

The letter from Release (pdf) states:

“This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. In the past forty years use of illicit drugs in the UK has grown rapidly. It is clear that the present system of applying the criminal law to the personal use and possession of drugs has failed in its aim. Conversely, the harms caused by pursuing this approach to drug use have been significant. In the last year alone nearly 80,000 people in the UK were found guilty or cautioned for possession of an illegal drug – most were young, black or poor. This policy is costly for taxpayers and damaging for communities. Criminalising people who use drugs leads to greater social exclusion and stigmatisation making it much more difficult for them to gain employment and to play a productive role in society. It creates a society full of wasted resources.

In 2001 Portugal decriminalised the possession of all drugs and, despite sensationalist predictions to the contrary, this has led to a decrease in the number of young people using illicit drugs, an overall reduction in the number of people using drugs problematically, fewer drug related deaths, and an increase in people accessing treatment voluntarily, things we would all like to see happen in the UK..

Left Foot Forward have previously reported on the evidence based case against the current drugs policy. Matt Owen wrote last year that:

“The UK’s ‘War on Drugs’ has been resoundingly lost. It’s only demonstrable results have been the criminalisation of thousands of users who are badly in  need of better medical help, and the financial ascension of global crime syndicates.”

Owen cites this detailed study on the counter-productive nature of current drugs policy.

Also last year, Left Foot Forward’s Mark Thompson interviewed David Nutt, the adviser who was sacked by the government for claiming ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol. Mr Nutt said:

“We need to have a re-think and go to a science based policy. At the moment, a bit of it is science based, a bit of it is moral based and a bit of it politically based and it just confuses people.”

Mr Nutt was defiant after being sacked saying the government would “have to accept” that his scientific view is “correct”. However despite the evidence mounting against them, the government show no signs of changing course. A Home Office spokesman said there were no plans to liberalise drug laws. Missing the point by a country mile, they said:

“Drugs are illegal because they are harmful – they destroy lives and cause untold misery to families and communities.”

The real issue is how to limit this harm and destruction as much as possible. An overwhelming amount of evidence suggests that the current policies have failed. It is the duty of a responsible government to start debating alternatives.

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17 Responses to “The government’s drug policy: If it’s broken don’t fix it”

  1. AltGovUK

    RT @leftfootfwd: The government's drug policy: If it's broken don't fix it: writes @dbr1981

  2. Release Drugs

    Left Foot Forward slam resistance to #BetterDrugLaws Join Release campaign

  3. TransformDrugPolicy

    The government's drug policy: If it's broken don't fix it: Left Foot Forward

  4. Matthew JG Harding

    The government's drug policy: If it's broken don't fix it: Left Foot Forward

  5. Ed's Talking Balls

    Ah yes, Judi Dench, Sting and Richard Branson: noted drug experts one and all…

    On a less flippant note, perhaps we could have a rethink. But some people seem to believe that the status quo is wrong and hence should be immediately and drastically changed. Wrong. Any meaningful consultation would need to be thorough and last years, in all likelihood.

    The idea that legalisation is some sort of panacea is laughably absurd.

  6. Adam

    Perhaps Labour could adopt as policy the idea of commissioning a review of “the effectiveness of current drug policies”? Now more than ever we need to know where money, police time and other resources are best directed.

  7. chris paling

    The government's drug policy: If it's broken don't fix it: Left Foot Forward

  8. Suzanne

    Left Foot Forward slam resistance to #BetterDrugLaws Join Release campaign

  9. Michael

    The government’s drug policy: If it’s broken don’t fix it –

  10. TCB

    Mail: "Luvvies for legalisation" Drug letter from QCs, former chief constables etc @therightarticle

  11. tracy

    Cameron – “Politicians attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator by posturing with tough policies and calling for crackdown after crackdown. Drugs policy has been failing for decades.” (Unfortunately this is an old quote)

  12. Brandt Hardin

    The War on Drugs failed Billions of dollars ago! This money could have been used for outreach programs to clean up the bad end of drug abuse by providing free HIV testing, free rehab, and clean needles. Harmless drugs like marijuana could be legalized to help boost our damaged economy. Cannabis can provide hemp for countless natural recourses and the tax revenue from sales alone would pull every state in our country out of the red! Vote Teapot, PASS IT, and legalize it. Voice you opinion with the movement and download my FREE poster at

  13. Dr David Hill

    The Home Office’s response statement today makes me sick to the back teeth in stating that they are aware that drug addition causes great harm to millions of people and families. For it was the Home Office who were told that the Vietnamese government have developed a humane cure for heroin addiction et al but where they simply did not want to know about it. Our senior civil servants just do not live in the real world.

    This treatment where there is no cold turkey and is perfectly safe, was not even entertained when eminent international doctors visited them.
    Indeed in during Labour’s rule these very same civil servants stopped the Vietnamese government trialling the humane cure. Total hypocrites and government should stop purporting that they really care when they do not even look into this miracle cure that in Vietnam has cured over 20,000 hard drug addicts and nearly 300 westerners. WE do not here much about it because Vietnam is a communist country thus not generally open to the West. But when they offered their hand of help, the Home Office turned them down and gave no reasons whatsover.

    The media and cranks are no better either, as they think that the cure cannot be real. It certainly is and cures/detoxifies the patient in Vietnam within 5 days. Many in Vietnam and those who have witnessed it in the West say that it is a miracle cure and basically that is what it really is.

    In the West also scientific assessment is only just starting to reach out from Vietnam, but as *Dr. Anthony Phillips of the UBC is finding out already, Heantos is highly promising on a scientific basis with no toxic outcomes. If of further interest visit,

    Dr David Hill
    Executive Director
    World Innovation Foundation

    *Dr. Anthony Phillips is the Scientific Director of CIHR’s Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, one of thirteen of the Government of Canada’s agencies for health research. The 13 Institutes of CIHR provides leadership and support to nearly 12,000 health researchers and trainees across Canada. Dr Phillips is an international leader in his field and no crank.

  14. mr. Sensible

    Sorry but I’ve heard rather a lot of this, and I just don’t buy it.

    I find the idea that we can somehow cut drug use and its consequences ETC by decriminalizing drugs quite ridiculous. Do we need treatment? Yes. Do we need education? Yes. But decriminalization, never.

    I heard on the news this morning people coming on and saying that being caught effectively saved them.

    And so with that in mind I fully support the government’s statement on the matter.

  15. Victim of the war on drugs

    I dont know weather to laugh or cry! I got raided a month ago for growing 4 plants for myself. Incidentally on the day of harvest which really hurt. Up to that point i was having to buy rubbish off the street which was ruining my health and couldnt afford to keep up with the now £200+ i use a week so was having to porn my items to support myself till harvest rather than commit real crimes to fund it. Now ive lost pretty much everything and am about to loose my flat. ALL FOR WHAT??? drugs never ruined my life,crazy laws have ruined my life,and yes now i have a REAL BIG hatred of law makers and obtuse idiots who support such stupidness. I couldnt give a toss about society and what silly laws they put infront of me now,seeing as society seems to condone such barbaric BS laws. I know it all sounds a bit harsh but im at the end of my tether and cannot stand to be in this backwards country a moment longer. Amsterdam here i come!

  16. Victim of the war on drugs

    Mr sensible you should change your name to Mr Fascist….being caught saved them did it?? nonsense! people save themselves,yes once they have their lives destroyed by the law a few times and they have been ground down,the idea of rehabs quiet appealing but lets not pretend that its right. I take it you have never touched a controlled substance in your life,which puts you in a position of knowing nothing about the subject in hand. There is a very simple way of regualting as thus
    1.Allow people to buy licences at say £1,000 a year to grow 4 plants.(This would allow people to grow their own instead of buying from criminals and the bottom would drop out of the trade for criminals so they would make money from it.If theres say 1,000,000 smokers who would grow there own and for friends thats 1,000,000x£1,000=£1 BILLION a year in tax which could come in handy in todays economy.)I would expect a licence to be about £1,000 Which i would happily pay.
    2.When you buy seeds from a hed shop they are marked with the THC content so people could buy to their own tastes and strengths.(the argument that todays cannabis is stronger is a lie.Hybrid strains are indeed abit higher in THC but back in the 60s/70s most people where smoking high grade hash thats at least twice the strength as todays hybrids.Plus strengths got nothing to do with it. Im yet to see someone walk into a bar and order a pint of whiskey. Moderations the key and every smoker i know realises this).

    So regardless of whats right or wrong Alcohols legal and taxed but dose 1,000x more damage to society than ANY OTHER DRUG money talks and they are too skint to keep this BS war on drugs going any longer

  17. Rory

    The war on drugs is the most single destructive social policy any government has ever followed.
    No matter how destructive drugs are, prohibition has been much much worse. The Swiss ended their prohibition on heroin, and have positive results to show for it, in reduction of Death, Disease and Addiction.

    What is most disappointing about this debate is how authoritarian some people on the left can be. It is a real shame that they seem to want impose lifestyle choices on to others.

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