Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Report



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 and—since most users and potential users know this—there 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 drugs—notably heroin and cocaine. We are glad to note that increasingly this is happening.

272.  Three, that we should invest in a programme of education—addressing all forms of drug abuse, including cigarettes and alcohol—to 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 woefully inadequate.

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.

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