A Fresh Approach to Drugs – the UK Drug Policy Commission Report

15/10/2012

in Cannabis,Global Policy News,Policy,Research

The Beckley Foundation welcomes the report of the UK Drug Policy Commission published this week, a culmination of 6 years of in-depth analysis into all aspects of UK drug policy.

The Commission, comprised of a distinguished multi-disciplinary panel of experts, has reached many of the same conclusions as those emerging from the work of the Beckley Foundation: that the 50 years of ‘War on Drugs’ has failed, that politicians need to accept that many individuals enjoy taking drugs, and that drug laws should be evidence-based and aimed at reducing harms.

Included among their many recommendations for UK drug policy is decriminalisation of possession, with cannabis as a first step. The Beckley Foundation agrees, and might perhaps recommend that there is a further option which may yield a greater reduction of harm, namely adopting a regulated market for cannabis. With a decriminalised approach, there is still no way to control the drug.

One of the potential harms of using cannabis is a proposed link to psychosis, and undoubtedly this risk increases with higher levels of THC – and the UK has some of the highest levels in its street cannabis. This would not change in a decriminalised market, but in a regulated market there could be limits on levels of THC and perhaps a mandated amount of cannabidiol – another substance that is present in varying levels in cannabis, which has been found to protect against detrimental effects of THC (see our work with Paul Morrison at Kings College)

Another sensible proposal is to change the emphasis the terms of assessment and evaluation of current policy away from numbers of seizures and arrests, instead replacing it with metrics of harm reduction, such as benefit to the user and the community. This will require greater investment in evaluating drug policy in order to allow for a more evidence-based strategy. Furthermore, the report highlights the need to tackle the structural problems such as income inequality, disenfranchisement, and lack of sense of community that are associated with increased rates of problem drug use.

One symbolic change suggested by the report is to move responsibility for drug policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health. This would help change the emphasis on drug policy from law enforcement to a health issue.

A strong theme of the report is the fact that current drug policy typically overlooks the fact that many people enjoy taking drugs. To quote from the report:

“…some people choose to take drugs for pleasure, in much the same way as many people use other mind-altering substances such as alcohol. We have to recognise that, for many users, drugs bring something to their lives that they value, be it pleasure, relief from pain, enhanced perception or performance”

Colin Blakemore, a Professor of Neuroscience at the Unviersity of Oxford and a member of both the Commission and the Beckley Foundation board of scientific advisors, has appeared twice at Beckley Foundation Seminars on Society and Drug Policy to propose an empirical, harm reducing basis for drug policy legislation.

The Beckley Foundation has also had the honour of hosting representatives from those countries which have already adopted policies like those recommend by the UKDPC such as the Czech Republic, Portugal and the Netherlands, in order to educate and encourage debate among thought leaders. The Czech Republic and Portugal have both decriminalised personal drug use, and the Netherlands is well-known for allowing small scale transactions of cannabis via licensed coffee shops.

Overall, this report is the most advanced call for change in UK drug policy to date – although on typical form, a spokeswoman from the Home Office has already stated that “we remain confident that our ambitious approach to tackling drugs is the right one.”

To download the full report from UKDPC click the link here: http://www.ukdpc.org.uk/publication/a-fresh-approach/

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