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A new look at drugs


A report by members of the Home Affairs Select Committee suggests that a Royal Commission should be set up to investigate whether Britain’s drug laws are ‘fit for purpose.’  The claim, difficult to deny, is that Britain is losing the war on drugs, and that it might be time to consider whether an alternative approach might be tried. It would be very difficult to make a case that anti-drug policy was effective.  Every time the problem is highlighted, most of the media call for tougher laws and tougher sentencing, which is what we’ve been doing for at least three decades.  This is the policy that has not worked. The Portugese example is reportedly under scrutiny because it represents an alternative approach.

The MPs also looked at changes in Portuguese law where possession of a small quantity of drugs is no longer a criminal offence, but is instead regarded as a less serious “administrative offence”. Since the changes were made, it is said that robbery has fallen and there has also been a decline in HIV infection from used needles.

A different approach is long overdue.  The sheer level of crime associated with the illegality of drugs calls to mind the era of prohibition of alcohol in the US, and the crime wave it triggered before it was repealed.  The key question to ask is whether a more permissive approach would lead to better or worse consequences than those that arise from prohibition.


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