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October 21, 2007 - The Observer (UK)

Report: Drugs Strategy Debate 'Is A Sham'

Think-Tank Says Prohibition Has Failed and Wants Talks on Legalisation As Home Office Defends Ban

By Jamie Doward, home affairs editor, The Observer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The government's consultation on a new 10-year drugs strategy is a 'sham', according to one of Britain's leading think-tanks on narcotics, which warns that the current policy is fuelling a crime epidemic.

The Transform Drug Policy Foundation, the only UK organisation of its kind to advise the United Nations on such issues, will this week publish a new report claiming the current strategy has failed. The report, 'After the War on Drugs: Tools for the Debate', claims there is an urgent need for full consultation on allowing the controlled supply of illegal drugs. 'It is clear our drug policy cannot continue down the same failed path forever,' the report states. 'Prohibition's failure is now widely understood and acknowledged among key stakeholders in the debate... the political benefits of pursuing prohibition are now waning and the political costs of its continuation are becoming unsustainable.'

The report claims that drug prohibition has allowed organised crime to control the market and criminalised millions of users, putting a huge strain on the justice system. The Home Office estimates that half of all property crime is linked to fundraising to buy illegal drugs.

The police claim that drug markets are the main driver of the UK's burgeoning gun culture. Official figures released last week showed that drug offences recorded by police had risen 14 per cent in April to June of this year, compared with the same period in 2006.

Politicians claim tough anti-drugs laws send clear signals to society. But Transform points to a Home Office survey, commissioned in 2000, which showed the social and economic costs of heroin and cocaine use were between UKP10.1 and UKP17.4 billion - the bulk of which were costs to the victims of drug-related crime.

'Over the course of 10 years, a series of different inquiry reports into UK drugs policy all say the same thing: the policy is malfunctioning,' said Steve Rolles, the report's author. 'They've all been blithely ignored by the government, which insists it is making progess.'

Last week, North Wales Police chief constable Richard Brunstrom said he would 'campaign hard' for drugs such as heroin to be legalised. Previously he has said that drugs laws are out of date and that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 should be replaced by a new 'Substance Misuse Act'.

Transform claims the consultation process, which finished on Friday, was designed to stifle debate on drugs policy. 'The consultation process has been a sham,' Rolles said. 'It hasn't highlighted any policies to consult on. It's becoming very clear the next 10-year strategy is going to be identical to the last one. The whole idea that there is going to be a radical change is just not the case.'

The think-tank has taken the unusual step of writing to the Better Regulation Executive, set up to ensure government runs smoothly, to complain that the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is already making policy before the consultation process had finished.

The Prime Minister signalled earlier this year that the government would reclassify cannabis. He also recently insisted the government would never decriminalise drugs, something Transform argues makes a mockery of the consultation process.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: 'We have undertaken an open consultation and we welcome constructive ideas and views on how we can continue to reduce drug harm. However, the government is emphatically opposed to the legalisation of drugs which would increase drug-related harm and break both international and domestic law.'

The full report, After The War On Drugs: Tools For The Debate, is available here from The Transform Drug Policy Foundation.

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