The war on drugs was first started by President Nixon in 1971. Since then we have spent over a trillion US dollars trying to rid our societies of drugs.
However, the growth of the criminal market continues and makes massive amounts of money for organised crime across the globe. So is it not time for a different, evidence based approach to the war on drugs?
In the UK, around a thousand people a year are arrested for possession of drugs that are for personal use. The current system is to lock these people up, exposing them to the potential of getting hooked to harder drugs or prescription drugs.
But many of these individuals who are arrested are addicts, with a majority of them having physical or mental health issues. Surely the best thing to do is to help them recover from their addiction.
That is why the Liberal Democrats propose to treat individuals who are arrested for possession, with no indication of dealing, through the health system rather than the criminal justice system as is currently the case. They would also be under a supervision order from the Probation Service to monitor their progress.
This then frees up the police to take proactive action against the root causes of problem; the dealers, the gangs and the links to organised crime. The penalties for dealing, importing and manufacture of drugs will carry severe sentences.
There should also be a review on the introduction of a framework for a strictly controlled and regulated cannabis market which has equally strong controls on quality and strength.
There are models for this, such as Washington state, Colorado and Uruguay. The potential advantages of such an approach include a reduction in organised crime and the redeployment of public revenues into treatment for those addicted to harder drugs, as well as the education of young people about the dangers of cannabis, tobacco and alcohol.
As I said before, we need an evidence-based policy that works and benefits individuals and society, not a dogmatic approach that has the desire to sound tough and fails to work. The Home Office study ‘Drugs: International Comparators’ showed that no matter how tough or lenient a country’s drugs laws are there is no impact on the rates of drug use.
Portugal has seen positive health outcomes since they made the transition from treating possession of drugs for personal use as a criminal offence to a health issue. On the other hand, The Czech Republic has seen worse health outcomes since drug possession was criminalised and it had no impact on the amount of drugs taken.
The Liberal Democrats also support a blanket ban on the supply of legal highs. Former Home Office minister Norman Baker said on the release of a Home Office report into legal highs last October “This report examines the challenging complexity of tackling new psychoactive substances … We have made it clear that the sale of risky untested highs is not acceptable, and we will crack down on the sale of these unregulated and potentially fatal drugs”.
We need a way to tackle the war on drugs that helps those individuals who are addicted but penalises those who seek to supply and profit from drugs.
We need to look at the evidence and be brave, following those countries that are proving there are benefits to an alternative approach.