Open letter to Home Office from 500 public health and criminal justice experts calling for a rethink of drug possession proposals

Photo by Marcin Nowak on Unsplash

Together with Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Release has organised an open letter condemning the Government’s proposed approach to drug possession offences for the lack of evidence behind their decision-making.

Release has been very clear about its position towards the Government’s latest White Paper “Swift, Certain, Tough: New Consequences for Drug Possession”, setting out its harsh approach to so-called “recreational drug users” which we condemned in our consultation response.

Together with Transform Drug Policy Foundation, we have organised an open letter signed by more than 500 experts in public health and criminal justice condemning the proposed approach for the lack of evidence behind their decision-making. In a time where the rest of the world is moving forward, legalising cannabis and removing criminal sanctions for the possession and use of other substances, the UK is increasingly regressing, turning our drug policy into a draconian artefact.

A copy of the letter can be found below:

We express our serious concerns over the proposals in The Home Office’s ‘Swift, Certain, Tough: New Consequences for Drug Possession’ White Paper released in July 2022. The proposed extension of punitive policing targeting people who use drugs runs contrary to the overwhelming body of evidence and threatens to draw limited resources into policies likely to exacerbate a range of social and health harms.

The proposals focus on punishing ‘so-called recreational users’ who are not dependent on drugs. Targeting this large population will require a dramatic scaling up of policing, including the use of stop and search. Stop and searches for drugs already account for two-thirds of all searches, disproportionately impacting marginalised and ethnic minority communities, particularly Black people. These proposals will further undermine trust in law enforcement and already-strained community police relations.

The Home Office’s own research has stated that the £1.6 billion a year spent on drug law enforcement has little impact on drug availability. Home Office research has also concluded there are no clear links between intensity of punitive enforcement and levels of use. But punishment and criminalisation of people who use drugs has repeatedly been shown to undermine health and life opportunities of the most vulnerable individuals and communities, fuelling stigma and discrimination, and creating obstacles to proven health and social interventions.

As drug related deaths reach new records, the Government should be targeting limited resources on health interventions proven to reduce harms. These proposals will do the opposite.

We urge the Government to instead develop a genuinely public health centred approach. and focus on evidence-based health interventions that target those in need, while avoiding harmful punishment and criminalisation of the very groups we are seeking to support. This process can usefully be informed by emerging UK and international best practice, not least the growing evidence base, and ongoing research, from existing Police diversion programmes already operating in 14 UK Police authorities.

To read the full blog post, click here.

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