Published on 10 Dec 2012 Sections , ,

Consider legalising drugs, MP committee suggests

The UK should consider following the example of some US states by legalising certain drugs, a House of Commons committee tells the government.

The UK can learn from the examples of Portugal, where certain drugs are decriminalised when carried in small amounts, and US states like Washington and Colorado where cannabis has been legalised, the Commons home affairs committee said.

The committee of MPs spent a year examining drug policy and getting evidence.

“Following the legalisation of marijuana in the states of Washington and Colorado and the proposed state monopoly of cannabis production and sale in Uruguay, we recommend that the government fund a detailed research project to monitor the effects of each legalisation system to measure the effectiveness of each and the overall costs and benefits of cannabis legalisation,” the report said.

Drugs cost thousands of lives and the taxpayer billions of pounds each year. This is a critical, now or never moment for serious reform. Keith Vaz, home affairs commitee chairman

“We were impressed by what we saw of the Portuguese de-penalised system. It had clearly reduced public concern about drug use in that country, and was supported by all political parties and the police.

“Although it is not certain that the Portuguese experience could be replicated in the UK, given societal differences, we believe this is a model that merits significantly closer consideration.”

Ministers should, the committee said, open discussions with the United Nations Commission on Drugs on new ways tackle what it called the “global drugs dilemma” – including “the possibility of legalisation and regulation”.

Drug war failure

The report concluded that the government had failed in its attempts to battle drugs barons, and said that not enough focus had been applied to users as opposed to suppliers.

Watch: Richard Branson and author Peter Hitchens took part in a Channel 4 News debate over drug legalisation on Thursday.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz (below, right) said that action was now imperative and ministers could not afford to “kick this issue into the long grass”.

“There is no doubt that we have failed to deal with the dealers and we have not focused on the users. Only with this twin approach will we break the devastating cycle of drug addiction in society,” he said.

Keith Vaz (Reuters)

“Drugs cost thousands of lives and the taxpayer billions of pounds each year. This is a critical, now or never moment for serious reform. If we do not act now, future generations will be crippled by the social and financial burden of addiction.”

It has been 10 years since the last home affairs committee report on the issue, and the committee said change was now urgent. It said a Royal Commission should be set up immediately so it could report back by 2015, when the next general election is due to take place.

‘No intention’

However, the government rubbished claims that there needs to be a change to its current policies.

“Drugs are illegal because they are harmful – they destroy lives and blight communities,” a government spokesman said.

“Our current laws draw on the best available evidence and as such we have no intention of downgrading or declassifying cannabis. A Royal Commission on drugs is simply not necessary. Our cross-government approach is working.

“Drug usage is at its lowest level since records began and people going into treatment today are far more likely to free themselves from dependency than ever before. We will respond to the report more fully in due course.”

And Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, expressed concern about the possible impact on cannabis use.

“If the report is to be responsible, it must take account of the specific damage that cannabis can do to the developing brain, not only as recent studies have shown inducing irreversible cognitive deterioration but in around 10 per cent of cases triggering severe psychotic illness,” she said.