"This is an incredibly difficult subject. It is impossible to control from Whitehall the number of drugs that will be taken, what new drugs will appear and what will happen to the figures. If the figures do not do the right thing, I ask the Government not to return to retribution and war on drugs. That has been tried, and we all know that it does not work."
So said David Cameron when addressing the House of Commons in 2002. "If we get this right we will have a chance to cut crime, save money, improve the health of the country and even save lives."
And so, David Cameron should welcome Caroline Lucas' attempts to decriminalise drugs in Brighton under the Localism Bill, which devolves power from Westminster and Whitehall to local areas.
Lucas' constituency Brighton has the country's highest drugs-related death rate per capita. And instead of continuing the disastrous war on drugs, she turns to a decriminalisation process that Portugal has adopted for the past decade.
The arguments about the Portuguese decriminalisation process are still ongoing. A 2009 white paper by Glenn Greenwald for the Cato Institute found: drug rehabilitation rates shot up from 6,040 in 1999 to 14,877 in 2003, drug-related HIV cases dropped from 1,400 in 2000 to just 400 in 2006 and, despite the concerns of many Portuguese politicians, Portugal did not become a drug tourist hotspot. In a report for the British Journal of Criminology, Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes and Alex Stevens found that there had been a 499% increase in the number of drugs seized - attributed to the fact that enforcement could concentrate on larger traffickers and dealers, instead of wasting time on individual users, and the rate of prisoners in for drug-related crimes dropped from 44% in 1999 to only 21% in 2009.
Yet Hughes and Stevens' report also found that, when studying the period of 2005 to 2008, drug-related deaths rose, although this could be attributed to the increase of toxicological autopsies that were performed in that period. Their report also revealed that whereas in 2001, 7.8% of 15-64 year-olds had ever tried a drug, by 2007 that figure had reached 12%. Likewise, the number who admitted to having taking drugs 'within the past year' in 2001 was 3.4% and by 2007 was 3.7%. Clearly drugs decriminalisation increased the numbers that tried drugs.
When contemplating a shift as big as this in drugs policy one has to, as David Cameron said in 2002, consider what will improve the health of the country and save lives. From all evidence in Portugal, while the numbers of those who tried drugs increased, overall the effects have been positive. It is in this light we should welcome Caroline Lucas' plans for Brighton.
David Cameron, during his 2005 Conservative Party leadership campaign supported ecstasy being downgraded from class-A, believed that the UN should consider legalising drugs and echoed the opinion of many drugs reformers that the war had been "failing for decades."
Danny Kushlick, the founder of Transform Drug Policy Foundation, in 2005 aired his support for Cameron complaining "too many politicians support the status quo because of careerism."
Yet later into Cameron's political life as his rhetoric seemed to shift from 'we need to consider radical approaches' to "the advisers advise and ministers decide," his radicalism seemed to disappear.
The most recent YouGov poll on drugs found that, while 53% of the country believe the current approach is 'totally ineffective', only 11% support a complete decriminalisation policy and even fewer (8%) a complete legalisation policy.
One of the main problems affecting public opinion on the issue, I think, is the misrepresentation and irresponsibility seen in the press. The media are quick to brand somebody's death as a 'drug death' before any toxicological post-mortem has been made.
Over the last weekend, we learnt of the tragic deaths of two men in Ayrshire. The media were quick to pick up on a comment that the ecstasy tablets were, allegedly, 'six times stronger' than normal, leading to a BBC headline of "super-strength ecstasy."
Yet as I blogged elsewhere the reporting of this is hugely irresponsible. The conservative estimates for the LD50 (the median lethal dose for a substance) of MDMA in humans, is 2 grams. Even reports of the strongest ecstasy tablets, which are very rare, would only contain 250 mg. The idea that a single tablet would contain 1.5 grams of MDMA is absurd, and still below estimated LD50.
Caroline Lucas is reiterating the realisations shared by the majority of the country, health professionals and scientists, commentators, and David Cameron (years ago) that the war on drugs has failed. There are many steps to be taken until we have a drugs policy that will, as the Prime Minister once said, "cut crime, save money, improve the health of the country and even save lives," but decriminalisation is the first step.
Over the past year, David Cameron has u-turned many times due to public opinion and he should do so once again - this time back to his original position on drugs reform, by fully supporting Caroline Lucas' proposal.
Follow Joshua Lachkovic on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joshlachkovic