We need our leaders to take a stand and allow a rational debate which recognises that the global war on drugs has been a costly failure.
Costly failure: The Government’s own figures estimate that annually £1.5 -£2.5 billion is spent on enforcement of both drug supply and possession offences.
Today, in more than 80 cities across the globe, demonstrations take place under the banner “Support Don’t Punish”. This day of action seeks to highlight the damage that the so-called “war on drugs” has done. The campaign also calls on countries to support an alternative approach to the prohibitionist framework that has now been ineffective for decades.
Such an approach would see drug users treated with compassion rather than being criminalised. It would support evidence-based approaches to treatment for problematic use.
And so, along with dozens of other individuals and organisations, I have written to the Prime Minister asking for a review of our drug policy.
Every day, people continue to suffer as a result of prohibitionist drug policies. A few weeks ago I visited Ironwood State Prison in California, a medium-security facility that houses more than 3,000 prisoners, many of them non-violent drug offenders. I spoke to prisoners and guards about the war on drugs and how true reform of prison systems depends on how we address the issue of drug prohibition.
In the UK, our drug laws are driving racial disparity in the criminal justice system. Young black men are subjected to stop-and-search for drugs at six times the rate of white people, despite the fact that drug use is higher among the white population. The mass search of certain communities creates an environment where people see the police as lacking legitimacy.
Where there is limited trust in the police, people are less likely to come forward as victims or witnesses to a crime, and they are more likely to take matters into their own hands. This is all done in the name of finding small amounts of drugs, usually cannabis.
Let’s also not forget the cost. The Government’s own figures estimate that annually £1.5 -£2.5 billion is spent on enforcement of both drug supply and possession offences. The UK has one of the highest spends in Europe on drug law enforcement, yet also has among the highest rates of drug use in western Europe. Speaking as a businessman, I’d say that’s been a pretty bad investment. It’s time to try a new model.
There are alternatives. As a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, I have long advocated the use of non-criminal sanctions for drug possession, and for countries to consider regulating drugs to take the market out of the hands of criminals. Countries such as Portugal, the Czech Republic and some states in Australia have all implemented diversionary schemes away from the criminal justice system for possession.
In Uruguay and two US states, Colorado and Washington, cannabis has been regulated and is subject to varying quality, age and access controls. These reforms should be applauded. Not only do they undermine organised crime, they reduce the number of people at risk of criminalisation and imprisonment.
In 2002, the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended that the government ”initiate a discussion within the [UN] Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways —including the possibility of legalisation and regulation — to tackle the global drugs dilemma”.
Now that this is happening in other parts of the world, we need our leaders to take a stand and allow a rational, evidence-based debate which recognises that the global war on drugs has been a costly failure.
SourceRICHARD BRANSON, http://www.standard.co.uk , 27th June, 2014