THE BLOG

Our Prohibitionist Drugs Policy Isn't Working

29/10/2014 18:56 | Updated 29 December 2014

Our country's drugs policy isn't working. For years, we've tried the same prohibitionist approach - it is tired, well-worn, and it isn't taking us anywhere. Neither prohibition nor criminalisation has stopped people from taking drugs.

We need an alternative. Something which is radical and level-headed. Yes, drugs can be harmful - whether they are legal or illegal. But we should focus on reducing the harms done, not continue with policies based on hard-line posturing and which have repeatedly failed to protect British citizens.

That is why we are leading a debate in Parliament today to argue for an evidence-based approach. Starting with a move away from punitive sanctions towards a new preventative, health-based system. This will help reduce drug related harms far more effectively than punishing drug addicts, helping to cut drug dependency and enabling people to get on with their lives.

Because the scale of our failures can't be ignored any longer. There are around 2,000 drug-related deaths every year, and it is estimated that 400,000 people in the UK have a serious drug misuse problem. Consider then that for every one of these cases, there are many more whose lives are thrown into chaos because their loved ones suffer from a vicious cycle of dependency. The failure of current policy is quite literally failing millions of people.

The financial costs are massive too. Every single year in the UK alone, we spend over £3billion of taxpayers' money tackling drug use, roughly half of which is spent on drug law enforcement. That total - over £3billion - would buy six state-of-the-art hospitals.

We can do much better, and the public deserves much better. In Portugal, where the government has pushed to get addicts into treatment, whilst also decriminalising personal drug use, health outcomes are radically improving and the number of deaths caused by drugs is falling. Pleasingly, the approach is also extremely popular amongst the public - polls show support for the reforms are extremely high.

Political parties must work together to sort this. Both our parties, Liberal Democrats and Greens respectively, are leading the fight for reform. We are calling for an evidence based approach - for decriminalisation so that those who are caught with drugs for personal use are channelled into treatment rather than placed in prison, and for appropriate regulations to protect us all.

There are clear cases when currently illicit drugs can be used for beneficial purposes. Cannabis can be a highly effective medical remedy. It can be used to treat the symptoms of a range of illnesses, including MS, glaucoma, chronic and neurogenic pain and the side effects from chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS treatment. Norman Baker, the Lib Dem Home Office Minister, has recognised the strength of this evidence and suggested we need to change what are presently highly restrictive laws.

The case for reform grows stronger by the day, as does public support for a rethink. We need to be bold and courageous to follow the evidence and put an end to the prohibitionist approach which has repeatedly and invariably failed us all.

Julian Huppert is the Lib Dem Member of Parliament for Cambridge
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion