A recent poll revealed that more than 75 per cent of UK MPs believe that current drug policies are failing.
The response is a little surprising but only because of the margin. It is increasingly hard to argue that current drug policies are achieving their stated objectives. In fact, many recognize these policies may actually be making things worse.
In addition, there is mounting evidence that prohibition of drugs doesn’t even impact use – ostensibly the foremost objective of making these substances illegal. The UK-based NGO, Release, launched a survey last July, which revealed that in the vast majority of the 25 or so countries that have experimented with decriminalization, there was no significant increase in drug use.
The report states, “After evaluating many of the decriminalisation policies in practice around the world, there are few broad, unifying conclusions that can be drawn, except that the doomsday predictions are wrong.”
Moreover, whatever enthusiasm the public once had for harsh drug laws, is also waning. Last July, a week after then-UK Justice Secretary said Britain was “plainly losing” the war on drugs, a poll revealed that 56 per cent of Britons want a full review of the national drug laws with all options on the table (including decriminalization or regulation).
Public opinion is catching up to those experts who have long warned against policies that criminalize vulnerable youth, drive people in need away from services and create a massive black market.
So if lawmakers know that the current approach doesn’t work and the electorate doesn’t want it – what’s the point of maintaining the status quo?
For the time being it appears to be inertia with a (not-so healthy) fear of the unknown.
The same poll that revealed MPs opinions of drug policy’s failure also showed that “only 31 per cent believe that they should consider relaxing the law so that possession of small quantities of controlled drugs would not be treated as a criminal offence.”
There are many potential explanations for this reluctance – not the least of which is uncertainty about better options. Fortunately, the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee has convened an inquiry into drug policy, involving consultation with experts and research into alternative models.
A similar study is being carried out by the Organization of American States to review alternatives for reform.
These are positive steps in a longer process and no reform should be rushed. But lawmakers should also remember that while they consider new approaches, the consequences of existing policies continue to be felt.