Caroline Allen: UK drugs legislation 'is failing us all'

7 May 2014

UK DRUG legislation costs us billions of pounds, unnecessarily creates criminals and is failing us all. The law needs urgent reform.

The war on drugs in England and Wales alone costs us more than £3 billion per year. But it is failing. It’s time for something new.

The Green Party is the country’s only mainstream political party with a long-term commitment to decriminalise cannabis.

This is because we believe that people should not be criminalised for the recreational use of a drug which is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco.

It’s because we believe people must not be criminalised for using cannabis for its medicinal properties.

And it’s because we know that a legal, safe supply chain for cannabis will cut off cash from the black market and shady, ruthless, criminal drug cartels.

The Green Party has led the way, and continues to do so. We have stood against tabloid-led hysteria about cannabis, and our elected representatives have pushed the agenda forward.

At last, other politicians are catching up: even the Conservative Bright Blue think tank now suggests the time is right for reform.

But the Coalition refuses to admit there is any evidence even for the existence of medical benefits to cannabis use – even though a cannabis derivative, Sativex, has been licensed in the UK to relieve symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.

Our drugs policy does not stop at reviewing the status of cannabis. We need a different approach to all currently illegal drugs.

Green MP Caroline Lucas has won support and the signatures of more than 100,000 people for her petition to ensure that her call for an independent assessment of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act will be debated in Parliament.

We believe the Act does more harm than good – and we must hold an independent view to measure its actual effects, so that all politicians have an evidence-based foundation from which to deliver effective, sensible policy on drugs.

Other countries are showing that alternatives to criminalization do work.

In the US, the very home of the failed war on drugs, two states are blazing a trail. Colorado raised US$1 million in taxes on cannabis in the first month of decriminalisation. 

In 2001, Portugal adopted a new policy whereby drug possession was changed from a criminal offence to an administrative offence. Following the change, there was a reduction in new HIV diagnoses and in drug-related deaths.

In Switzerland, a series of new policies focusing attention on drug use from a public health – rather than a criminal deterrent - perspective, led to a decline in crime rates.

An investigation by Release looked at 21 places which had adopted some form of decriminalisation of drug possession. 

Overwhelmingly, it found that such an approach does not lead to an increase in drug use but does improve outcomes for users - in terms of employment, relationships and likelihood of staying out of prison.

And over half of the 85,000 people in our prisons are thought to have serious drug problems.

It’s time for the UK to change its approach to drugs. The Green Party will continue to lead the way in developing evidence-based drugs laws, for the common good.

Back to main news page