Government urged to consider serious drugs law reform

By staff writers
December 15, 2012

The 'war on drugs' has failed, says a senior former British diplomat in Latin America, and a fresh approach to regulation is now needed.

Keith Morris, who was British ambassador to Colombia from 1990 to 1994, made his comments to the Guardian newspaper after the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee recommended an urgent Royal Commission to review the UK drug laws earlier this week.

Prime Minister David Cameron instantly rejected the proposal, supported by many experts in the field, but coalition partner and Deputy PM Nick Clegg believes change is needed.

Mr Morris declared: "If such a commission reported by the end of 2015 as proposed, it would allow the UK to play a major role in reforming the UN's drug regime at the UN general assembly special session on drug policy in 2016. The need for such a reform is urgent as the select committee has rightly concluded."

He continued: "The present prohibitionist regime has fuelled civil conflict in producer and transit countries, and criminal violence and corruption across the globe. In the past 20 years at least 200,000 people may have died in drug-related violence. In your columns 11 years ago I argued, based on my experience as ambassador in Colombia, that the war on drugs had failed. Most of those involved privately agreed. But the war has since spread to Afghanistan, where our own soldiers are at risk from weapons bought by the Taliban with profits from heroin sold in London and in Mexico (where 60,000 have died in the past five years). These are the perverse effects of high-minded and well-intentioned policies conceived in Washington that have ignored human nature."

"The Latin American producer and transit countries, led by Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala, are no longer prepared to follow US policy on this. They will argue at the UN meeting in 2016 for the UN conventions to be amended to allow countries to experiment with different forms of regulation and for consenting nations to be able to trade narcotics drugs for other than the medical uses covered under the conventions. The UK should support such changes and, if secured, use them to gradually develop a regulated drug regime based on scientific evidence," said Mr Morris.

The Transform Drug Policy Foundation (, the UK's leading centre of expertise on drug policy reform, says: "There is a growing recognition around the world that the prohibition of drugs is a counterproductive failure. However, a major barrier to drug law reform has been a widespread fear of the unknown – just what could a post-prohibition regime look like? "

TDPF's response has been to publish After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation, which puts forward specific models of regulation for each main type and preparation of prohibited drug, coupled with the principles and rationale for doing so.

Many reformers say that de-criminalisation and regulation is a far better approach to the drugs challenge than patterns of criminalisation and enforcement which make problems far worse, or a simple 'anything goes' legalisation which opponents of change have made the spectre blocking serious consideration of reform.

Nick Clegg said on 14 December 2012: "We can't be complacent, we owe it to the many many children in this country who still get snarled up by drugs, whose education chances are blighted by drugs, whose health is damaged by drugs, we owe it to them to constantly restlessly look for better ways of dealing with the scourge of drugs."

He continued: "After all, this is a war, the war on drugs, in which over 2,000 people are losing their lives in Britain every year, in which one in five 11 to 15-year-olds in this country now say they're trying drugs, where young people now are telling us that it's easier to get hold of drugs than it is to get hold of alcohol or tobacco.

"I think those facts alone suggest that, yes of course we should do the good work that we are doing as a coalition government, but we should also be open-minded enough to look at whatever alternative approaches help us help those children more effectively in the future.

"My own view is that we simply cannot be content with the way things are. The worse thing to do is to close your mind off from doing even better," said the Deputy PM.

David Cameron has rejected Mr Clegg's calls for a review of drugs laws and the findings of the Select Committee, proclaiming existing policy satisfactory. But critics say he is burying his head in the sand to avoid controversy.

Simon Barrow, from the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, commented: "The proposal for a formal Royal Commission on drugs policy, and the issues raised by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, cannot simply be swept aside. A more sane drugs debate, which recognises that legislation and intervention should be aimed at harm reduction and the breaking of criminal control, rather than an ineffectual ‘look how tough we are’ attitude, is badly needed. Political posturing through a ‘war on drugs’ approach is not working. It is important to end the silence on this reality.

"Politicians, churches, voluntary groups and others have been afraid to speak on this issue because of continued scaremongering. But the evidence of the true cost of failure to do so, locally and globally, is growing all the time,” the Ekklesia co-director added.

* Transform Drug Policy Foundation -

Also on Ekklesia:

* Category: 'war on drugs' -

* 14 Dec 2012: Ending the silence on drugs law reform -

* 9 Nov 2010: Alcohol, drugs and science-based policy, by Bob Carling -

* 20 Aug 2010: Leaving drug addicts destitute, by Savitri Hensman -

* 5 April 2010: Seventh expert resignation leaves UK drug policy 'in tatters' -

* 29 Mar 2010: End the prohibition on open debate about drugs -

* Sixth drugs adviser resigns over government's refusal to listen -

* 11 Nov 2009: A sane approach to drugs policy -


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