Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mrs Hope Humphreys


  Until the Government recognises that the current Drug Laws are both harmful and out-dated, there is no hope of their policies working. The law is a barrier to honesty and proper debate. All drugs can be used dangerously and, it's illogical that some drugs that cause most harm to people (eg alcohol, tobacco, prozac and seroxat) are controlled and legal, and others (eg cannabis and ecstasy) are illegal and supplied by criminals.


  The current policy puts great emphasis on education. But, the Drug Laws remain an obstacle. What teacher is going to say that smoking the odd joint is probably less dangerous that smoking 20 cigarettes, or that binge drinking can be just as life threatening as taking an ecstasy tablet at a club? Our well-informed young stop listening knowing that we are not being straight with them.


  The use of drugs is demand led. Few are forced to use drugs. People use them because they enjoy them and sometimes because they are addicted. This is exactly the same whether the drug is legal or illegal. With legal drugs, the quality and strength is controlled. With illegal drugs, it's always a lottery. The drugs may be contaminated or of a purity that could lead to an overdose. Clean needles are often provided to addicts to protect them from aids and hepatitis but then they have to go out and get dirty unregulated drugs which cause infection, or even death. This is irrational.


  So much money is spent on enforcing the drug laws that too little is left to help people afflicted by drugs. Sometimes an addict may be offered rehabilitation rather than prison but, unlike the alcoholic, the law is breathing down his neck. If he tests positive for drugs he could be locked up. Addiction is an illness. More punishment cannot be the cure?


  After the unnecessary deaths from uncontrolled illegal drugs, the worst result of the Government's drug policy is that it still makes criminals of decent, otherwise law abiding people. Official statistics show that most young people will have experimented with illegal drugs by the time they are 25 and have shared them with friends. Thus, most young people have tried drugs, have possessed drugs and have supplied drugs. This means that the majority are behaving criminally, deserve a criminal record and many should be in prison. This is unacceptable.

  5.1.1  The policy makers know this, and yet they are still unwilling to take the courageous step of changing the law. Terrified of the electorate, they have chosen to operate some kind of "turning a blind eye" policy and then bringing the full force of the law down on an unfortunate few. A criminal record is a terrible thing because it is permanent. Thousands are barred from certain jobs and travelling to certain countries forever, simply for being hedonistic risk takers, which is the very stuff of youth. Some are sent to prison to be brutalised by inappropriate, inhumane treatment. Prohibition is not working: will never work. Parents worry about their children experimenting with drugs, but the better informed, are even more worried by the damage caused by a criminal record or a prison sentence. Young people's futures are more at risk from the law than they are from drugs.


  In spite of better education, the demand for drugs continues to escalate and prices continue to fall. An unprecedented number of people are dying from drugs, or are in prison because of them. It is not acceptable to keep hiding behind the law, pretending that it is working. Drugs should not be put in a separate category from other dangers or isolated for special blame. Decriminalisation would begin to take some of the hypocrisy, fear and ignorance away from the subject of drugs, and bring us closer to harm reduction. Decriminalisation may lead to more drug use. But, in countries such as Holland, where there is a more pragmatic approach to these substances, the average age of a heroin user is about 40 and rising, in the UK it is about 20 and still dropping. There have been no deaths from ecstasy in Holland since they allowed people to test their drugs at clubs and other safety issues were emphasised. It seems unlikely that, even if heroin was decriminalised, more people would choose to use it. But users would not have the stigma of being criminals and would be more willing to seek help earlier. Illegal drugs are too dangerous to leave unregulated and uncontrolled. Safety should have a much higher priority than enforcement in the Government's drug policies.


  The Police Foundation Report did not deal with the control or supply of illegal drugs but showed practical ways of improving the law. It recommended that certain drugs should be reclassified so that their dangers are reflected accurately. It recognised that the social sharing of drugs, without profit, was not the same as drug dealing. Because it was an independent report by experts it deserves to be listened to and taken seriously. When the Government has done this, it must move on to the trickier subject of the regulation and supply of drugs. Until then, the pyramid selling of drugs by criminals, the turf war murders, and deaths from drug overdoses and contamination will continue to flourish.


  Nothing is more important in any drug policy than health and safety, especially for the young. Reducing the demand for all drugs and the safety of users must be paramount. The existing drug policies do not do this. We should stop shouting about "killer drugs" and put right our "killer laws".

September 2001

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