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Former British defense secretary says it’s time to legalize, regulate drugs

By John Byrne
Thursday, December 16, 2010 9:51 EDT
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A former British defense secretary and drugs minister called Thursday for a “grown-up debate” on drug legalization and said that the country’s war on drugs has been “nothing short of a disaster.”

In stunning comments that depart from his party’s stance on drug policy, the Labour MP asserted that the illegality of drugs has created international chaos by leaving the control of such substances in the hands of criminals.

“We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs,” declared Bob Ainsworth, the MP for Coventry North East, in comments published by the Guardian. “It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children. We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.”

“Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit,” he added.

His remarks were immediately dismissed by the leadership of his party. A spokesman for Labour Party leader Ed Miliband declared, “These are not the views of Ed Miliband, the Labour party or the wider British public.”

But the former British defense secretary said his time in the drugs ministry led him to see that the illegality of certain drugs had not prevented their abuse by the British public. He also maintained that his position in the British defense office, where he monitored his country’s interests in Afghanistan, “showed… that the war on drugs creates the very conditions that perpetuate the illegal trade, while undermining international development and security.”

Ainsworth added that his departure from prominent positions allowed him to express his “long-held view.”

He also called for “an independent, evidence-based review, exploring all policy options, including further resourcing the war on drugs, decriminalising the possession of drugs, and legally regulating their production and supply.”

The Guardian quoted a former conservative deputy leader as supporting Ainsworth’s remarks.

It’s time “for all politicians to stop using the issue as a political football,” the ex-deputy was quoted as saying.

“I have long advocated breaking the link between soft and hard drugs – by legalising cannabis while continuing to prohibit hard drugs,” he added. “But I support Bob Ainsworth’s sensible call for a proper, evidence-based review, comparing the pros and cons of the current prohibitionist approach with all the alternatives, including wider decriminalisation and legal regulation.”

The onetime UK defense secretary compared the possibility of decriminalization to the US’ lifting of alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century. He posited that 50 years of global prohibition had “failed to protect us” and enjoined a “genuine and grown-up debate” about alternatives.

Ainsworth’s full assessment, published by The Guardian, is available here.

 
 
 
 
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