UK

Pope Francis Condemns Drug Legalisation: British Policy Expert Slams 'Confused' Pontiff

20/06/2014 16:12 BST | Updated 20/06/2014 16:59 BST
ANDREAS SOLARO via Getty Images
Pope Francis (C) celebrates mass at Saint John's Lateran Basilica in Rome on June 19, 2014, prior to the procession from Saint John's Lateran Basilica to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major to mark the Roman Catholic feast of Corpus Domini commemorating Jesus Christ's last supper and the institution of the eucharist. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis has come under severe criticism after he denounced the legalisation of recreational drugs.

The pontiff waded into the debate over the war on drugs – which is raging from the US to Uruguay and beyond – at a drug-enforcement conference meeting in Rome on Friday, arguing that even limited attempts to legalise recreational drugs "are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects."

"Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise," he said.

But one of the drug policy experts, who advised the Uruguayan government on its landmark decision to become the first country in the world to make the production, sale and possession of cannabis legal, told The Huffington Post UK the Pope's argument is "confused."

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Steve Rolles, the Senior Policy Analyst for the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, is calling for a regulated cannabis market under a strict and sensible framework, like the one implemented in Uruguay.

He said the Pope "appears to be confusing his moral view of drug use a sinful or ‘evil’, with the idea of moral policy making."

"For Transform, moral policy making means responding to failed policies that cause great harm, like the war on drugs, by seeking out policies that can do better."

Just last month, Uruguay — next door to Francis' native Argentina — approved the selling marijuana cigarettes in pharmacies.

Rolles told HuffPost UK that the Pope was failing to understand that "the idea of legalising and regulating drugs is not about surrender".

"It is about retaking control from criminal profiteers so we can manage it in a way that makes users and communities safer and healthier," he said.

"Either the Government regulates the market or we leave it with the gangsters - there’s no third option where it can be magically wished away, even by the Pope."

"I suspect if the Pope had a clearer understanding of the arguments and proposals of reformers he might be more sympathetic," he said.

And as recent reform victories reshape the landscape of the oldest debate in drug policy, Rolles advised the Pope to use his position to help people make healthy choices, rather than rely on prohibition.

"The Pope is also confusing his desire to send a message on making healthy choices with the idea that prohibition, the punishment of mostly vulnerable populations, and mass incarceration is an effective way of achieving this.

"In fact this is a job for various public education tools and civil society - including the church - certainly not for the police, army and criminal justice system," he said.

The debate over the legalisation of cannabis has been moving increasingly from the margins into the political mainstream, with multiple cities, states and countries considering, developing or implementing a range of regulated market models.

Many public figures, including some politicians, are in agreement that 50 years later, the war on drugs has failed.

Rolles previously told HuffPost that the battle in the UK is now to try and change the more "old school" political attitude towards cannabis and the steadfast idea that "drugs are bad".

Nearly a century ago cannabis, along with other drugs, was identified as "evil, a threat to be fought in a winnable war that would completely eradicate the non-medical use of these substances," Transform said in their Practical Guide on how to regulate cannabis.

"The experience of the past 50 years demonstrates that prohibitionist policies have not, and cannot, achieve their stated aims."

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