THE GOVERNMENT'S DRUGS POLICY: IS IT WORKING?
268. There are no easy answers to the problems
posed by drug abuse, but it seems to us that certain trends are
unmistakable. If there is any single lesson from the experience
of the last 30 years, it is that policies based wholly or mainly
on enforcement are destined to fail. It remains an unhappy fact
that the best efforts of police and Customs have had little, if
any, impact on the availability of illegal drugs and this is reflected
in the prices on the street which are as low as they have ever
been. The best that can be said, and the evidence for this is
shaky, is that we have succeeded in containing the problem.
269. What we do know is that the ready availability
of illegal drugs is sustaining a vast criminal industry and that
the need of addicts to fund their habit is responsible for an
enormous amount of acquisitive crime. We also know that the harm
caused by illegal drugs varies immensely from one drug to another
andsince most users and potential users know thisthere
is no point in pretending otherwise.
270. It, therefore, seems to us that certain
conclusions follow inexorably: First, that harm reduction rather
than retribution should be the primary focus of policy towards
users of illegal drugs. We are glad to note that the Government
is making the first tentative steps in that direction. We believe
it should go further and have offered some suggestions.
271. Second, that law enforcement should focus
primarily on the criminal network responsible for manufacturing
and importing the most harmful drugsnotably heroin and
cocaine. We are glad to note that increasingly this is happening.
272. Three, that we should invest in a programme
of educationaddressing all forms of drug abuse, including
cigarettes and alcoholto make young people aware of the
damage they can inflict upon themselves and others. To be effective,
however, such programmes must be realistic, honest, targeted and
preferably delivered by someone with "street credibility"recovered
addicts, for example.
273. Four, we have to recognise that, however
much advice they are offered, many young people will continue
to use drugs. In most cases this is a passing phase which they
will grow out of and, while such use should never be condoned,
it rarely results in any long term harm. It therefore makes sense
to give priority to educating such young people in harm minimisation
rather than prosecuting them. The Government's recent advice to
users of so-called "recreational drugs", Safer Clubbing,
is a welcome step in this direction.
274. Five, overwhelmingly we should focus on
treating or reducing the harm caused by the 250,000 or so problematic
users whose habit is damaging not only their own lives, but those
of their families and the communities in which they live. Although
there are recent signs of improvement, treatment facilities remain
275. Finally, many sensible and thoughtful people
have argued that we should go a step further and embrace legalisation
and regulation of all or most presently illegal drugs. We acknowledge
there are some attractive arguments. However, those who urge this
course upon us are inviting us to take a step into the unknown.
To tread where no other society has yet trod. They are asking
us to gamble the undoubted potential gains against the inevitability
of a significant increase in the number of users, especially amongst
the very young. They are overlooking the fact that the overwhelming
majority of young people do not use drugs and that many are deterred
by the prospect of breaking the law. We, therefore, decline to
support legalisation and regulation.
276. It may well be that in years to come a future
generation will take a different view. Drugs policy should not
be set in stone. It will evolve like any other. For the foreseeable
future, however, we believe the path is clear.