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Parliament committee: Time is ‘now’ to radically change UK drug war

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, December 10, 2012 12:12 EDT
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A woman prepares to inject herself with drugs. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
 
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The British drug war could be forever altered if the recommendations of a new report issued by the Home Affairs Committee are taken seriously.

After a year of study and hearing from numerous experts, the Home Affairs Committee released its first major report on drug policy in 10 years, and it recommends a radical shift in drug war strategy, away from police and jails and toward doctors and welfare.

Noting that up to a quarter of prisoners surveyed say it is easy to obtain illegal drugs even while behind bars, the committee recommended decriminalizing possession of small amounts of all drugs, and giving people arrested for committing drug-related crimes immediate access to treatment both inside and outside of jails to help prevent relapses.

The committee also recommended an increase in freely-available treatment options for heroin and crack users who have not been arrested, complete with individually tailored recovery plans to match each subject. They also said that the use of substitution drugs like buprenorphine and methadone should be encouraged for treating heroin addiction.

Finally, the committee advised the prime minister to set up a Royal Commission on drug policy that would “consider the best ways of tackling drugs policy in an increasingly globalised world” going forward. That commission would make its recommendations by 2015.

“Drugs cost thousands of lives and the taxpayer billions of pounds each year,” Home Committee Chair MP Keith Vaz said in prepared text. “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.”

Prime Minister David Cameron, however, isn’t yet willing to budge on the reforms submitted Monday by members of parliament on the left and the right.

“I don’t support decriminalization,” Cameron told the BBC. “We have a policy that actually is working in Britain. Drug use is coming down. The emphasis on treatment is absolutely right and we need to continue with that to make sure we can really make a difference. Also, we need to do more to keep drugs out of our prisons. Those are the government’s priorities. I think we should stick at that rather than have some very, very long term commission.”

At the very least, the Home Committee’s report represents a large cross-section of British Parliament admitting after decades of prohibition that incarceration is not the way to win the war on drugs. Though just a recommendation, it’s a major step forward for a country that’s struggled with prohibition much like the United States.
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Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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