The Home Affairs Select Committee today announced a major new Inquiry into the UK's drug policy. The terms of reference are as follows:
The Committee will undertake a comprehensive review of drugs policy in the new year. The Committee will examine the effectiveness of the Government’s 2010 drugs strategy and the UK Government’s contribution to global efforts to reduce the supply and demand of illicit drugs. Specifically, the Committee will consider:
- The extent to which the Government’s 2010 drug strategy is a ‘fiscally responsible policy with strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights’ in line with the recent recommendation by the Global Commission on Drug Policy
- The criteria used by the Government to measure the efficacy of its drug policies
- The independence and quality of expert advice which is being given to the government
- Whether drug-related policing and expenditure is likely to decrease in line with police budgets and what impact this may have
- The cost effectiveness of different policies to reduce drug usage
- The extent to which public health considerations should play a leading role in developing drugs policy
- The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse
- The comparative harm and cost of legal and illegal drugs
- The impact of the transfer of functions of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse to Public Health England and how this will affect the provision of treatment
- The availability of ‘legal highs’ and the challenges associated with adapting the legal framework to deal with new substances
- The links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism
- Whether the UK is supporting its global partners effectively and what changes may occur with the introduction of the national crime agency
- Whether detailed consideration ought to be given to alternative ways of tackling the drugs dilemma, as recommended by the Select Committee in 2002 (The Government's Drugs Policy: Is It Working?, HC 318, 2001–02) and the Justice Committee’s 2010 Report on justice reinvestment (Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment, HC 94, 2009–10).”
Organisations and individuals interested in making written submissions are invited to do so by Tuesday 10 January 2012. Submissions should be no longer than 2,500 words. Further advice on making a submission can be found below."
It is a very wide mandate (perhaps too wide?) but the content of the questions is significant, with a clear focus on some of the key themes in the drug policy and law reform debate raised by the groundbreaking 2002 HASC drugs inquiry, and those that have developed subsequently.
Of note is the fact that the Global Commission Report (that made a range of pragmatic recommendations including decriminalisation of drug possession and an experiment with legalisation/regulation) - is mentioned at the outset, and the previous inquiry's final recommendation specifically alluded to at the end. This was:
We recommend that the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways—including the possibility of legalisation and regulation—to tackle the global drugs dilemmaSo there is a clear focus on the harms of prohibition and the law reform debate - obviously directly reinforced by a number of the other questions.
On past experience it's clear the Committee would not be raising these issues if it wasn't genuinely interested in them, and one senses the positive change in the political climate around this debate, in the media, in mainstream politics, in the public, and in Parliament have all laid the foundations for what could, potentially, be a very important piece of work.
A note of caution should come from the the last time the Committee tackled the drug issue - 2010's report on cocaine - which was very poor, disappointing on almost every front. It's not clear who is driving this latest move, but it's welcome that it is happening and, as with the previous inquiries, we encourage interested parties to provide evidence, particularly those beyond the usual suspects. The Count the Costs initiative provides a steer as to who they might be. Do contact us for help.