A decent op-ed in today's Telegraph by Philip Jonston kicks off the build up to Thursday's publication of the drug policy report form the RSA, (titled: Is drug policy working? and if not, why not?) and what promises to be a feisty week of drug policy debate with an emphasis firmly on progressive refrom. The RSA report has been two years in its gestation with Transform amongst the many groups and individuals submitting information and analysis. It has set itself up as an 'unofficial royal commission' and Jonston, who sat on the report's committee gives some strong hints about what it is likely to contain. His analysis covers familiar ground;
Drugs policy has failed. Do not take my word for it. That was, essentially, the conclusion of the Prime Minister's strategy unit in a report published last year after initially being suppressed. The aim of drugs policy over the past four decades has been to reduce demand and curb supply. It has done neither. Crime associated with drug-taking is as rife as ever. A new way needs to be found.
The RSA report that he details will no doubt take a similar line, stopping short of calling for legalisation and regulation of any currently illegal drugs (perhaps with the exception of cannabis, and probably calling for a debate or leaving the door open in the future) but clearly acknowledging the failure of prohibtion and calling for a move away from failed criminal justice measures, suggesting a variety of sensible public health led interventions as alternatives.
Hopefully the report will go further, and distinguish itself from either the Police Foundation report (1999) or the Home Affairs Select Committee report on drugs (2001), its immediate predecessors. These previous reports made much the same points about the need for reform and a public health approach and we can expect a certain amount of overlap with the RSA, with calls for more heroin prescribing, safe injecting rooms, an overhaul of the classification system and so on. Potentially, as Jonston hints:
most of us felt, without being excessively libertarian about it, that if people are harming neither themselves nor others, the state has no reason to intervene...the significnat new call, going beyond the previous 'unofficial royal commissions', will be for the non-prosecution of individuals for personal possession of drugs. This would be a major step forward (without which it will potentially just be rehashing the conclusions of its forbears), but we will have to wait and see....