Drug policy reform calls gather momentum

riotLast month saw demonstrations in 100 cities as part of the Support. Don’t Punish campaign for ‘more
effective and humane’ approaches to drug policy, according to campaign organisers.

The demonstrations – in cities including London, Paris, Moscow, New York, Bogota and Mexico City – took
place on 26 June, the United Nations’ International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which has been
used by some governments to justify violent punishments for drug offenders, including public execution. The campaign is not calling for new money but rather a diversion of ‘a small fraction’ of drug law enforcement budgets for investment
in services based on public health and human rights, it says. 

‘The momentum for a change in global drug policy is rapidly gathering pace,’ said executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) Ann Fordham. ‘Criminalising people for using drugs is wasteful, ineffective and damaging and all around the world communities of people are rising up to say “enough is enough”.’ 

As part of the global day of action, an open letter to David Cameron calling for a review of UK drug policy was signed by more than 80 high-profile people and organisations. The letter wants to see the end of criminal sanctions for drug possession and – with more than 1.5m people criminalised over the last 15 years for possession offences – details the ‘social and economic costs’ of a criminal justice approach and its impact on BME communities and the employment prospects of young people. UK drugs laws had resulted in ‘mostly the young, black and poor’ being the focus of enforcement, it says. 

The letter also urges the prime minister to lend his support to those governments in South America that are moving towards reform. ‘We must support them to end the cycle of brutality and destruction that results from the current drug control framework,’ it says. Among the signatories are the Prison Governors Association, the National Black Police Association, the Howard League for Penal Reform, the International HIV/Aids Alliance, the National Aids Trust, the Terrence Higgins Trust, Michael Mansfield QC, Julie Christie, Will Self, Russell Brand and Sting. The UK should be at the forefront of the drug policy reform debate, said Release executive director Niamh Eastwood. ‘In 2002 when the prime minister was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee he supported the recommendation that the UN consider alternatives to the status quo,’ she said. ‘We are asking him to stand by that commitment and recognise the damage that has been done, both nationally and internationally, by repressive drug policies.’ 

The protests took place two days after the government’s ban on khat came into force, with the substance now a class C drug despite the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) concluding that ‘the evidence of harms associated with the use of khat is insufficient to justify control’ (DDN, February 2013, page 4). The ban would ‘serve to create a new income stream for organised crime’, said head of external affairs at Transform, Danny Kushlick. 

The ACMD has also recommended that the entire tryptamine family of compounds – which includes the hallucinogens AMT and 5-MeO-DALT – should be controlled as class A substances, along with synthetic opiate AH-7291. Although some tryptamines are already controlled, the UK was ‘leading the way by using generic definitions to ban groups of similar compounds to ensure we keep pace with the fast-moving marketplace for these drugs’, said ACMD chair Professor Sir Les Iversen. The government’s permanent ban on NBOMe and benzofurans – previously placed under a 12-month temporary banning order – has also now come into force, along with the upgrading of ketamine from a class C substance to class B (DDN, March, page 5).


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