This week the UK Government gave the green light for an evidence-based review of medical cannabis and Canada became the first G7 country to legalise and regulate cannabis for adult use
These moves followed months of momentous announcements. The British Medical Association, the British Medical Journal, the Royal Society of Public Health and the Royal College of Physicians all raised their voice for reform. The Police Federation and numerous Police and Crime Commissioners said that the war on drugs has comprehensively failed.
Tuesday marked the UN’s annual International Day Against Drug Trafficking and Abuse. Every year on 26 June, global leaders repeat their commitment to the so-called ’war on drugs”.
The logic of this war is simple - drugs are harmful so they should be illegal. Drug producers, dealers and users are evil so they should be punished.
The result? A global catastrophe as the market is left to criminal gangs which exploit marginalised communities abroad, and vulnerable users here in the UK. Nearly 30,000 people died in Mexico alone in the wars between the cartels in 2017. In the USA 64,000 died in 2016 from the opiate epidemic as stronger and more toxic drugs flooded the market.
In the UK, 50 people die every week from overdoses related to the use of illegal drugs – we have become the drug-related death capital of Europe. Countless reports this year have linked the alarming rise in violent crime in our city centres to gangs chasing profits from the drug trade.
The UK was once the world’s leader in harm reduction programmes until the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971. Overnight, international cartels and violent gangs gained exclusive control of a lucrative market and drug users were pushed into prisons rather than hospitals.
It is time that the UK, particularly its Government and Parliament, woke up to the reality of the situation. “Just say no” has given half a century of moral satisfaction to its proponents but now it’s time to assess the cost.
Our objective must be to reduce harm. That means a shift to a public health based approach to drug use which protects the young and vulnerable. On the supply side, an approach that ends the power of violent criminal drug gangs and puts governments in control will lift an enormous burden on the criminal justice system and end the mindless deaths of thousands.
As we learn from successful policy reforms in other countries, at long last it is becoming possible to have a sensible debate about reform of our antiquated and draconian drug legislation with support building across the political spectrum.
On Tuesday we co-hosted a discussion in Parliament, inviting members of the public to have their say on drug policy and hear from activists and bereaved families from the campaign Anyone’s Child.
Politicians are finally catching up with the evidence. Now let’s work together to protect our children and families, and tackle the criminal gangs which have profited from misery for far too long.
Jeff Smith is the Labour MP for Manchester Withington
Crispin Blunt is the Conservative MP for Reigate