20/11/2011 16:56 GMT | Updated 17/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Drugs: Why Evidence Based Policies Must Lead the Way

It's time that the burden of proof was shifted. The case for reform is firm and hard to ignore. The rationale for keeping the drug laws anchored needs justifying, and evidence must be placed by those who want to keep the 'drug war' alive.

The 'war on drugs' has failed, and cannabis possession should be decriminalised; so says yet more eminent figures. We are hard pushed to find anyone who does not agree with this sentiment, and with each passing month, the weight of evidence that points towards a new approach to the 'drug war' has become overwhelming. Recently, the Government's Advisory Council - the ACMD - has also put forth measures to decriminalise people in possession of controlled drugs.

I'd further like to say that there is no 'war on drugs', and indeed, this has become the mantra of those who endorse current drug policies. Peter Hitchens has long championed the notion that we've never fought a 'war on drugs', and this has been adopted by few political commentators. To a loose degree, they are correct.

The tragic point that is often missed by all sides of the debate, is that we do not have a war on drugs, but somewhat shamefully, we have an almost literal war on people. The drug war was only ever a concept war for the sake of a hearty political rhetoric. Conceived by President Nixon, the 'war on drugs' is just a phrase in a long line of political slogans with intent to sound tough. President Bush famously declared a war on literacy, and we've of course been fighting the concept battle of, 'the war on terror', and when placed on the shelf with these other political eyesores, it's easy to see how distorted truth can become when engorged with delirious flippancy.

It has become more than troublesome that we've taken the 'war on drugs' as a accurate phrase. I ponder, how do you fight a war on drugs? Do we lock drugs up, do we give drugs harsher sentences? Or should we liberally apply some logic and realise that we are dealing with real people and actual lives. To say we've never fought a war on drugs is to dismiss those who's lives have been affected. As it stands, lives are ruined due to drug abuse, but lives are also ruined from current laws. With a criminal record, job prospects - and the betterment of an individual - becomes nigh on impossible, and yet, many politicians who advocate the current policy are firmly on record as having used controlled drugs themselves. The hypocrisy of law is getting too hard to sweep under the carpet.

With news of an All Party Group on Drug Policy Reform - in collaboration with the Beckley Foundation - notable figures such as Baroness Meacher, Lord Lawson, and former head of MI5, Baroness Manningham-Buller, are calling for an evidence based drugs policy and to look at possible alternatives to prohibition. Once more, there have been calls for a 'rational' debate, and to avoid the knee-jerk reactionary orating that we've grown accustomed to; to epitomise this, a quote from Chip Somers of Focus 12 [via BBC]: speaking on the possible decriminalisation of cannabis possession, Chip Somers said,

"I don't want the person driving the train I'm on to have just had a joint thank you very much," he said. "I am reassured by the fact that it is illegal."

These asinine comments summarise all that has become wrong with the discussion over drugs policy. Discarding the point that driving under the influence is and would remain illegal, we soon see that even the discussions surrounding policy alternatives have become shrouded in hysteria.

Making a better case, Mr Christian Guy from the Centre for Social Justice, put out a statement; Mr Guy acknowledges that the 'war on drugs' is failing, but does not advocate surrender.

Mr Guy also endorses the archaic tactics of sending a 'message'. It is somewhat perplexing that we've had the messages, we know the messages, and the messages fail. To base an entire policy on a message is a oblique gamble, and it's one that's not worked; especially when messages don't always live up to the truth.

Mr Guy discussed the issue with Baroness Meacher on The Today Programme. Baroness Meacher, as ever, dealt her hand with averment, citing the Czech Republic and Portugal's success which has become the yard stick of evidence based drugs policy. Mr Guy, once more, decided to speak in terms of 'sending a message' and alluded to the state's moral objectives.

The most concerning aspect of Mr Guy's position is his view of the police involvement in the controlling of drug actions in society, saying, "the police have had their hands tied behind their back," and that, "they want to fight it properly."

I would be amiss if I did not draw obvious attention to LEAP and LEAP UK.

LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, are a dedicated group of senior police personnel, judges, prosecutors, and an array of qualified professionals who actively seek alternatives to prohibition. Seeing first hand how the 'drug war' affects people, not to mention the detrimental public relations that the drug laws perpetuate between communities and the police, LEAP are a gold standard organisation that are hard to ignore. To use the words LEAP UK speaker & retired Police Inspector, Mr Jim Duffy; speaking at a recent parliamentary conference,

"32 years as police officer, I never remember a time we didn't have zero tolerance, asked for more powers and got them, and I never remember a time that they made the slightest bit of difference. Drugs have never been more plentiful, and they've never been cheaper." Mr Duffy concluded, "We've been fighting a drugs war for 40 years, that war is lost, and completely unwinnable."

To put Mr Duffy's sentiments into context with some figures, the U.N declared that to impact the 'war on drugs', we would need to seize 60-70% of heroin imports. To cite Scotland, we currently seize 1%.

Unlike heroin, cannabis does not rely on a risky import/export business. Cannabis is domestically grown with relative ease and little jeopardy. There is no viable way to police the drug trade, and with Mexico's president calling for "market alternatives" owing to the almost literal drug war that's killed 40 000 people since 2006; prohibition has firmly become toxic. The UK faces large cuts to the police, and with current failure in controlling people's action & drugs, there is little chance we're to see any progression in maintaining the status quo.

It's time that the burden of proof was shifted. The case for reform is firm and hard to ignore. The rationale for keeping the drug laws anchored needs justifying, and evidence must be placed by those who want to keep the 'drug war' alive.

At some point, supporters of current policies will see the fatal lack of control that we have. With no age check systems, no quality control, and no safety whatsoever; we are currently failing the very people that we all wish to protect - and we're criminalising an inordinate amount of people in the process.