Posts Tagged ‘decriminalisation’

Heads, not hearts, must guide UK drug policy. We must decriminalise now.

16/12/2013, 09:17:20 AM

by Callum Anderson

The decision by the Uruguayan government to legalise the production, sale and consumption of marijuana – becoming the first country in the world to do so – has been widely reported in the media. With this in mind, how governments all over the world tackle drug use and drug addiction has been thrust back into the spotlight. Indeed, it is one of the most emotive and polarising issues in politics.

Many experts, including the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy have concluded that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ cannot be won. Indeed, I believe that the time has come for drug policy to be led by our policy makers’ heads, and not their hearts. Drug use and drug addiction must primarily be treated as a public health (and an economic) issue, not a criminal one.

It is an indisputable fact that drugs affect all of us, whether directly or indirectly. There are many of us, who have witnessed the stranglehold that drugs can have on an individual. It is, of course, a somewhat more painful experience if that individual is a relative, a friend or a partner. The seemingly unstoppable unravelling of ones life. The growing disconnection between the addiction and what really matters – family, work and friendship – is truly agonising.

In addition, there are indirect costs. Research by the Home Office has found that the economic and social costs of drug use are estimated to be around £15.4 billion a year in England and Wales alone, with drug related crime constituting 90 per cent. These facts are reflected in the Ministry of Justice’s figures, which show that the custody rate for drug offences have risen from 16.9 per cent in 1993, to 17.3 per cent in 2011, with the average custodial sentence rising from 28.3 months to 31.3 months in the same period. This has resulted in 14 per cent of prisoners being incarcerated due to drugs.

I do not deny that the case for decriminalisation is a tough sell to the British public: recent polling suggests the majority of people support the current law, which criminalises the sale, possession and use of drugs.

What then, does this all entail?

Well, let’s take a look at Portugal.

In 2001, the Portuguese (centre-left) government took the step of decriminalising the possession and use of drugs including cocaine and heroin. Instead of seeking to diminish use by punishing users, the new measures considered drugs illegal, but no longer treated drug consumption as a criminal offence. In addition, Portugal’s drugs reforms included a wide range of measures such as prevention and social education to discourage the use of drugs, as well as providing treatment for drug dependent people and assisting their reintegration into society.

So, what happened to drug usage rates in Portugal?


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