Sweeping Changes in British Drug Laws Proposed

From the Police Foundation of the United Kingdom

Washington, D.C. - Without mention in the American press, a landmark report examining British drug policy was released on April 4 in the United Kingdom by the Police Foundation. The report proposes sweeping changes of the drug laws. The report's overview is available on-line at www.cjpf.org.

"Our 25-year failure to solve our drug problem seems to be matched by our chronic disregard of the analysis of others seeking solutions to this decades-old conundrum," said Eric E. Sterling, President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.

American cities are plagued by the crime of drug traffickers and addicts; American families and schools struggle with drug abuse; American politics is charged by drug-war opportunism. But an in-depth analysis of these problems in the United Kingdom does not even receive a nod in the American press.

"When I accompanied Members of Congress on drug policy fact-finding missions in the 1980s, they were more intent on telling others what to do than learning something new. For the American press to take this approach is bad news," Sterling said.

The Police Foundation's recommendations are a sober statement of what is practical and realistic. It calls for an end to the incarceration of the drug users, except in limited cases. Unlike the American approach of "zero tolerance," The Police Foundation observes: it has become inescapably clear to us that the eradication of drug use is not achievable and is not therefore either a realistic or a sensible goal of public policy. The main aim of the law must be to control and limit the demand for and the supply of illicit drugs in order to minimise the serious individual and social harms caused by their use.

The Police Foundation report calls for sentencing guidelines and for formal guidelines for police officer discretion in issuing warnings or cautions to drug users in lieu of arrest. The report calls for moving cannabis (marijuana) to the lowest level of seriousness in the classification of drugs. The Police Foundation noted: We recognise that some of these changes may be thought to risk conveying potentially dangerous messages to drug users and prospective users.

We believe, on the contrary, that the changes will enable the law to reflect more accurately the risks attached to different drugs. This will enhance the law's credibility and the support it can offer to education and prevention.

We have concluded that the most dangerous message of all is the message that all drugs are equally dangerous. When young people know from their own experience that part of the message is either exaggerated or untrue, there is a serious risk that they will discount all of the rest. Recent evidence indicates there is a pressing need to refocus education and attention on the pre-eminent harm of heroin and cocaine.

Public opinion in the UK has moved toward this sort of reform. A recent MORI poll found that 80% of the public wants the laws against cannabis relaxed. Mo Mowlam, the minister responsible for coordinating the British government drug policy and an admitted former cannabis user, stated that the issue of drugs must be reexamined. Britain drug czar, Keith Hellawell supports Minister Mowlam. Hellawell has said that Britain must stop this idea of 'witch-hunts' and pointing the finger. The debate needs to be at a much higher level. If there continues to be a label put on people you know, (you are a bad person) who once took drugs, then we never move forward. There needs to be much more openness.

Contact the Police Foundation, President, H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, 1 Glyn Street, London, SE11 5RA, Tel: 44-20-7582-3744. Fax: 44-20-7587-0671. E-mail: sue.roberts@btclcik.com

Eric E. Sterling, President, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation Tel: (202) 312-2015