Pubdate: Tue, 30 Jul 2019
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2019 Guardian News and Media Limited


Drug laws should be designed to minimise damage. This might sound
obvious. But the UK's drug laws - along with those of most other
countries - arguably do not have this effect. Indeed there is a
strong argument that in many respects the blanket prohibition, under
criminal statutes, of substances from cannabis to heroin along with
the myriad synthetic substances now widely used to mimic their
effects, does more harm than good.

This is not a novel point of view. Drug experts in the UK and around
the world have been pointing out the flaws and inconsistencies in
current policies for ages, with former Colombian president, Juan
Manuel Santos, among those who have argued for a new approach focused
on human rights and public health. In the UK, polls show a majority
supports liberalisation of the law on cannabis, following the example
of countries including Portugal. But since this shift in public
attitudes has so far been ignored by the Home Office, which instead
brought in a sweeping ban on so-called "legal highs"=9D in 2016, this
week's call for reform by a cross-party trio of MPs is refreshing.

Two former ministers, Lib Dem Norman Lamb and Conservative Jonathan
Djanogly, along with Labour's David Lammy, have been to Canada to
report on the legalisation of cannabis there for a short BBC
documentary. The answers they have come back with are mixed.
Regulation, it turns out, is no miracle cure, with a black market
still thriving. But the MPs have shown it is possible to think about
this subject in a nuanced way, and to learn new things.

To say that such openness to change is overdue is an understatement.
Evidence of the vicious and destabilising effects of the illegal drugs
business on both producer and consumer countries is not new. Drug
cartels, blamed for up to 200,000 deaths in Mexico over the past
decade, have now branched into the synthetic opioids that caused an
American addiction epidemic. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo
Duterte has overseen the killing of 5,000 people in his uniquely
murderous version of the global "war on drugs."

While the impact in the UK is less extreme, the entanglement of drug
dealing with other forms of exploitation is apparent from recent
"county lines" cases in which children have been manipulated by
traffickers. The rate of drug deaths in Scotland has jumped to among
the highest in the world. As in the US, those convicted of drugs
offences and incarcerated are disproportionately black men and boys.
When Michael Gove, a senior government minister, has admitted taking
cocaine multiple times, such disparities leave a particularly bitter

Spurred on by the confessions among their own ranks, ministers should
bring calm and wise heads together at the earliest opportunity.
Policing and sentencing are crucial pieces of the jigsaw. Britain
should not have to wait any longer for a rational, evidence-based
approach to drugs.
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MAP posted-by: Matt