Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Legalise and regulate drugs' says UK's former drugs and defence Minister

Bob Ainsworth MP, former Home Office drugs minister and Secretary of State for Defence, will call for the legalisation and regulation of drugs during a Parliamentary debate he is leading in Westminster Hall, at 2.30pm, Thurs 16th December 2010.

Mr Ainsworth said;

“I have just been reading the Coalition Government’s new Drugs Strategy. It is described by the Home Secretary as fundamentally different to what has gone before; it is not. To the extent that it is different, it is potentially harmful because it retreats from the principle of harm reduction, which has been one of the main reasons for the reduction in acquisitive crime in recent years.

However, prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit. We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children. We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.

As drugs minister in the Home Office I saw how prohibition fails to reduce the harm that drugs cause in the UK, fuelling burglaries, gifting the trade to gangsters and increasing HIV infections. My experience as Defence Secretary, with specific responsibilities in Afghanistan, showed to me that the war on drugs creates the very conditions that perpetuate the illegal trade, while undermining international development and security.

My departure from the front benches gives me the freedom to express my long held view that, whilst it was put in place with the best of intentions, the war on drugs has been nothing short of a disaster.

Politicians and the media need to engage in a genuine and grown up debate about alternatives to prohibition, so that we can build a consensus based on delivering the best outcomes for our children and communities. I call on those on all sides of the debate to support an independent, evidence-based review, exploring all policy options, including: further resourcing the war on drugs, decriminalising the possession of drugs, and legally regulating their production and supply.

One way to do this would be an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act in line with the 2002 Home Affairs Select Committee finding – which included David Cameron – for the government to explore alternatives to prohibition, including legal regulation.

The re-legalisation of alcohol in the US after thirteen years of Prohibition was not surrender. It was a pragmatic move based on the government’s need to retake control of the illegal trade from violent gangsters. After 50 years of global drug prohibition it is time for governments throughout the world to repeat this shift with currently illegal drugs.”

Peter Lilley MP, former Conservative Party Deputy Leader said
“The current approach to drugs has been an expensive failure, and for the sake of everyone, and the young in particular, it is time for all politicians to stop using the issue as a political football. I have long advocated breaking the link between soft and hard drugs – by legalising cannabis while continuing to prohibit hard drugs. But I support Bob Ainsworth’s sensible call for a proper, evidence based review, comparing the pros and cons of the current prohibitionist approach with all the alternatives, including wider decriminalisation, and legal regulation.”

Tom Brake MP, Co-Chair, Liberal Democrat Backbench Committee on Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities said;
“Liberal Democrats have long called for a science-based approach to our drugs problem. So it is without hesitation that I support Bob Ainsworth’s appeal to end party political point-scoring, and explore sensitively all the options, through an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act.”

Labour’s Paul Flynn MP said;
"This could be a turning point in the failing UK 'war on drugs.' Bob Ainsworth is the persuasive, respected voice of the many whose views have been silenced by the demands of ministerial office. Every open rational debate concludes that the UK's harsh drugs prohibition has delivered the worst outcomes in Europe - deaths, drug crime and billions of pounds wasted."



Neil Smith, Office of Bob Ainsworth MP SMITHN(at)
Martin Powell, TDPF head of campaigns martin(at)
Steve Rolles, TDPF Senior Policy Analyst steve(at)
Transform Office 0117 941 5810

Notes for Editors:

  • Bob Ainsworth MP has represented Coventry North since 1992 and has held a number of shadow and ministerial positions including:
Home Office - Parliamentary secretary, with responsibility for drugs (Jun 2001 - Jun 2003)
Deputy Chief Whip (June 2003 – June 2007)
Minister for the Armed Forces (June 2007 – May 2009)
Secretary of State for Defence (June 2009 – May 2010)
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence (May 2010 – October 2010)

Bob Ainsworth's Blog Biography
and Guardian profile

  • The Liberal Democrat party policy recognises “The failure of prohibition”, supports decriminalisation of drugs, and calls for an audit comparing the current approach with the alternatives. Lib Dem drug policy paper. Lib Dem manifesto

  • There is a long history of those involved in developing or delivering drug policy supporting reform once out of office. See Transform's 'supporters of reform' archive which includes:
- Former drugs Minister Mo Mowlam: 'Fight terror: legalise the drugs trade' (Guardian 2002)

- Julian Critchley, former Director of the UK Anti-Drug Coordinating Unit: 'All the experts admit that we should legalise drugs' (Independent 2008)

  • The difference between decriminalisation and legalisation:
Decriminalisation is the removal of criminal sanctions for the production, supply or use of an illegal drug. Civil or administrative sanctions, such as a fine or requirement to enter treatment, may remain, even if criminal sanctions (resulting in prosecution and a criminal record) are removed. In popular usage, the term 'decriminalisation' usually refers to the removal of criminal sanctions for possession of drugs for personal use, while sanctions often remain for the production or supply of drugs.

Legalisation and regulation - ‘legalisation’ is a process - moving away from absolute prohibition - and does not specify what legal framework to regulate production, supply and use of drugs replaces it. ‘Legalisation and regulation’ is not the free for all some have envisaged, and is not a free market model as espoused by some libertarians. Instead it involves controls on producers, products, vendors and consumers. For example models of strict legal regulation see Transform's 2009 publication: “After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation”


Blogger said...

Ainsworth disgusts me.

Yet another individual who had power, collected the big pay cheque, but lied about their real beliefs until they had trousered all our money.

He says his 'exit from the front bench frees him to say...' what he means is it frees him from paying lip service to things he never really believed, but supported because he did well financially - while giving no thought to the best interests of the public who trusted him and paid his salary.

Rob said...

To be fair to Ainsworth, being in power requires a Machiavellian mindset. You have to swallow your own personal views and support policies you find disgusting. That's just the way it is. At least he's now saying it, there's probably plenty in parliament with the same opinion who will never voice it while being employed as an MP.

Derek WIlliams said...

The is very welcome, of course it is, but why didn't he speak out when he had a chance to really influence policy?

But now is a good time to get the debate rolling, the new drugs strategy is out and has received a noticeably luke warm response.

Prohibition depends on this debate not happening and any widespread questioning is most unwelcome - which is why the attempt to muzzle the ACMD through a grubby amendment to the police bill now going through Parliament demonstrates.

Keep calm and carry on!

teekblog said...

"As drugs minister in the Home Office I saw how prohibition fails to reduce the harm that drugs cause in the UK"

Why, for the love of all that is sane in this world, did you not speak up at the time and affect change?!

It is not enough for politicians to speak truth to power when out of it - Mr. Ainsworth would be so much more convincing had he said anything approaching this in government.

Having said that any statement in favour of a rational drugs policy is to be welcomed, it's for us to hope that the Coalition will act on Mr. Ainsworth's sentiments...

David said...

I have to flag up this, from the Daily Mail's article on the story:

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens said that he was all for a rational debate on drugs but believed that the war on drugs had not been fully prosecuted.
[my emphasis]

The words 'rational' and 'Peter Hitchens' in such close proximity make me smile...

Anonymous said...

This is good news and a positive development.

Some years ago I served in a county police force and was struck by the way in which prohibition sucked a lot of otherwise harmless young people into the criminal justice system - with huge social and financial costs.

Many of the people concerned became locked into a life of crime as they robbed and burgled to finance their drug habits.

Far too many of these people ended up in hospital or worse, having taken drugs in the most risky possible ways - with safer alternatives all ruled out by the law.

With the government looking to make savings, one might have thought the time had come for anohter look at this issue. All the more amazing that they have managed to come up with a moralistic and draconian policy even worse then Labour's failed strategy.

It's truly astonishing that mature people, with numerous "experts" at their disposal, can come up with something so naive and destructive.

So good luck to Ainsworth and his cross party supporters. We just can't afford another 40 years of failure.

Anonymous said...

Reading through the house of commons debate on this new drugs stratergy is like reading the output of a corperate board meeting. None of the policy that effects drug misuse/peoople/society is discussed, it is simply accepted, while policy that restructures the corperations hiraracy and its various boards are concentrated on and alternatives are debated. The UK government, like all other governments around the world are only interested in one thing, their jobs. And making jobs for their cronies who have helped them along the way/to make them feel important. the white flag would of been flown a long time ago if there wernt so many rich vested intersts involved.

And this is why people only speak out after they quit. Putting said options on the table is akin to sacking yourself.

Unknown said...

the current government line stating that "legalisation sends the wrong message" is fantasy thinking. no potential drug user gives a toss what the government or police line is, just : how much does it cost, who can I get it from, who else is doing it and will it be fun.

all the government will do is design a new pamphlet and try to present it as their own distinctive policy, so basically "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" its the same old politics.

the connection between the choices people make in their personal lives and the will of the establishment are polar opposites. they fiddle away in their ivory castles completely detached from the experiences of the great unwashed.

the political class in our nation are totally lost, they still revere the era of back to basics under john major and think their mates in big business will fix everything by creating a harsh uber rat race like in America (to get people motivated) but they don't understand as a nation we have moved on culturally. especially the youth of today who's views aspirations and values have been totally written of and under-represented by the political social elites. They are so out of touch, out of date and almost completely irrelevant. they could get these young people engaged by listening and they could be a great asset and attribute to our country's development but they have futilely chosen confrontation instead.

why cant they stay out of our culture and let the society evolve organically if they truly believe in the goodness of the British people and just make sure that the bins get taken out on a Wednesday, the schools and hospitals stay open, I don't see what else they could ever achieve. i don't recognise that any post war government has really sustained any real achievements apart from the formation of the cradle to grave welfare state which this government seems to want to demolish brick by brick.

I'm British but in America at the moment and i fear for our country aspiring to this kind of society, it is such a harsh place, you see so many irreparably damaged people here, it is such a class divide and so many people are stuck and seriously desperate. if Cameron keeps pushing those of the lowest social rung towards this state of being its going to be anarchy on our little island. its time to take the lid off of the pressure cooker for all our sakes.

mickhumphreys said...

Well done Steve. Mr Oliver will have to sharpen up if he is going to succeed. Meanwhile he is assisting the anti-prohibitionists by demonstarting the toital ineptness of his case. I hope that the BBC et al continue to invite him on to their programmes in their cpntinuing and fruitless efforts to find anyone who can make any case for the status quo.

Graham Martin-Royle said...

Prohibition of alcohol in the USA didn't work, it made people who would have been criminals anyway extremely rich and it made criminals of people who never needed to have such a label put on them. The current policy on drugs is just the same, career criminals are making shed loads of money and other people are getting criminal records that they don't warrant.
The police are forced to spend far too much time and effort (which all costs money) in trying to enforce a failed policy.
There is also a far larger social cost with this failed war. Way back in time, homosexuality was a crime, rigorously enforced. Many people had their lives ruined by being given criminal records just for being who they were. Having these records meant a lifetime of social stigma, a lifetime of having to declare their record when looking for employment, a lifetime of not being offered that employment etc.etc.etc.
Just how many people's lives are we ruining today by giving out unwarranted criminal records?

Fifa Rahman said...

I just wish that more Malaysian MPs spoke out on this issue. There is a clear shift towards harm reduction in Malaysia, but we're still light years away from legalisation and regulation of drugs.

Riffler said...

Drugs policy is now where Bank of England independence used to be - everyone is in favour of it once they're no longer in a position to do anything about it. There's little chance of a Government grasping this particular nettle, but there are other elections.
With the coalition plans for elected Police Commissioners, I can't help wondering what will happen if some get elected on a platform of strongly or wholly de-prioritising drug enforcement in their area (apart from a blind panic in Westminster and a moral panic in the Daily Mail gulag, obviously).
Are there any plans for Transform to support any candidates who stand on such a platform or even put up candidates on that basis?

Jake said...

@Riffler: Unfortunately, with those kind of elections you can expect only two things.

1. Only those touting 'tough-on-crime' will get any media/public support.
2. like any 'election' the politicians will put forward and favour certain candidates.

In fact, the only reason I can see the coalition opting for 'elections' is so that they can push their own candidates and thus policy without backlash.. i.e. similar to them trying to remove the scientists(read objective and evidence-based opinion) from the ACMD. Some police chiefs supported Ainsworth's calls.. we can't have that now can we...