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'It is time to end the war on drugs', says top UK police chief

  1. Cash.Nexus
    One of England's most senior police officers has called for class-A drugs to be decriminalised and for the policy of outright prohibition to be radically revised.

    In a dramatic move that will reignite the debate over the so-called war on drugs, Mike Barton, Durham's chief constable, has suggested that the NHS could supply drugs to addicts, breaking the monopoly and income stream of criminal gangs.

    Comparing drugs prohibition to the ban on alcohol in 1920s America that gave rise to Al Capone and the mafia, Barton argues that criminalising the trade in drugs has put billions of pounds into the pockets of criminal gangs.

    Drug policy reformers have praised Barton's challenge to the status quo as sensible and courageous.

    Writing in the Observer, Barton said: "If an addict were able to access drugs via the NHS or something similar, then they would not have to go out and buy illegal drugs. Buying or being treated with, say, diamorphine is cheap. It's cheap to produce it therapeutically.

    "Not all crime gangs raise income through selling drugs, but most of them do in my experience. So offering an alternative route of supply to users cuts their income stream off.

    "What I am saying is that drugs should be controlled. They should not, of course, be freely available," Barton wrote.

    "I think addiction to anything – drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc – is not a good thing, but outright prohibition hands revenue streams to villains.

    "Since 1971 [the Misuse of Drugs Act] prohibition has put billions into the hands of villains who sell adulterated drugs on the streets.

    "If you started to give a heroin addict the drug therapeutically, then we would not have the scourge of hepatitis C and Aids spreading among needle users, for instance. I am calling for a controlled environment, not a free-for-all."

    Unlike the criminals who supply drugs, Barton said that addicts "must be treated and cared for and encouraged to break the cycle of addiction. They do not need to be criminalised."

    Barton contends that decriminalisation and offering an alternative, controlled legal supply would also deal a mortal blow to criminal gangs and dent their image among some young people as glamorous gangsters.

    "In my force area we have 43 organised crime groups on our radar. Most have their primary source of income in illicit drug supply, all of them are involved in some way. These criminals are often local heroes and role models for young people who covet their wealth. Decriminalising their commodity will immediately cut off their income stream and destroy their power," Barton said.

    "If the 'war on drugs' means stopping every street corner turning into an opium den and discouraging the mass consumption of laudanum, as was the case in the 19th century, then it has succeeded. But if the 'war on drugs' means trying to reduce the illicit supply of drugs, then it has failed."

    Barton is one of the north of England's most experienced crimefighters and has pioneered initiatives to break up criminal networks in County Durham via his force's "Operation Sledgehammer". He also holds the national intelligence portfolio for the Association of Chief Police Officers across the UK. Under his watch as assistant chief constable of Durham prior to his appointment to the top post earlier this year, there was a recorded 14% drop in total crime figures for his region.

    Barton joins a small band of senior UK police officers who have demanded a major rethink on drugs prohibition. They, in turn, are joined by the likes of Guatemala's president, Otto Pérez Molina, the entrepreneur Richard Branson, 500 top leading US business figures, the Economist magazine and the Observer in calling for an alternative, including an end to outright prohibition. It is estimated that some $100bn is spent fighting the "war on drugs" each year across the world.

    The drugs policy reform group Transform Drugs Policy Foundation praised Barton's stance. Danny Kuschlick of Transform said: "We are delighted to see a serving chief constable who is willing to stand up and tell the truth – prohibition doesn't work. Chief constable Barton demonstrates a responsible attitude to drugs that is so often absent among professionals and political leaders.

    "He is that all too rare thing, a man who serves on the frontline, with principles and courage, who supports effective reform that best meets the needs of the communities that he serves. We must hope that this time more of his peers follow his lead."

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/sep/28/time-end-war-drugs-uk-police-chief

    Henry McDonald - The Observer 28SEP13

Comments

  1. MISSdemeanor
    It is beyond me why the Government haven't done this, think of the tax!!!
    I think in Holland or Norway (possibly neither) they have this system implemented. The user has an identified 'daily dosage' which they may have in either 1,2,3 or 4 hits in a nurse supervised 'hit clinic'
    Clean needles, spoons, sterile water and citric acid are all provided alongside Heroin which has been seized from dealers and its purity verified. This seems like a much more possible route forward for the UK. Harm minimisation as well as a duty to be paid by tax payer...
  2. Motorway
    At long last a reasoned approach, no doubt it will fall on deaf eyes but the tide is turning slowly. We waste so much money trying to stop the unstopable, money that could be better spent on other things.

    I would not support a free for fall but controlled, purity assured system that reflected the current time would be welcomed.
  3. Cash.Nexus
    Why ending the war on drugs will cut crime

    Making drugs legal – but controlling supply – would stop the flow of money to crime gangs and destroy their power


    As a police officer for nearly 34 years, I have witnessed the worsening problems of drug addiction – whether it's to controlled substances or legal drugs, such as alcohol. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 has prevailed throughout my time of service, but it would appear not to have had the impact that optimistic legislators planned.

    Throughout those 34 years, I have recognised that it is an indisputable truth that drugs are bad. Occasionally, a retired colleague advocates a change, but mostly politicians, professionals and the media collude in the fiction that we are winning the war on drugs, or if not, that we still have to fight it in the same way.

    Their message has been successful in winning support. Indeed, I recently joined a debating society event at the University of Durham, during which I argued for the decriminalisation of Class A drugs. I felt that our team was funnier, as well as better-informed and more erudite than the opposing team, who were advocating maintaining the status quo. Imagine my surprise, my chagrin even, when the students overwhelmingly voted in favour of maintaining outright prohibition.

    So, are we really winning the "war on drugs"?

    Well, if the war on drugs means stopping every street corner turning into an opium den and discouraging the mass consumption of laudanum – as happened during the 19th century – then it has succeeded. But if the war on drugs means trying to reduce the illicit supply of drugs, then it has comprehensively failed.

    One of my custody sergeants, who was discussing addiction at an event recently with Recovery Academy Durham, noticed the absence of a former addict we worked with called Gary, who is in his 40s and has been on drugs ever since he was 14. Gary had not been arrested recently, so it was concluded (wrongly) that "well, he must be dead". That is the shocking truth – the Garys of this world are either in prison, regularly arrested or dead. But can we not come up with a better way of helping people like him?

    Not all crime gangs raise income through selling drugs, but in my experience most of them do. So offering an alternative route of supply to users cuts off the gang's income stream. If an addict were able to access drugs via the NHS or some similar organisation, then they would not have to go out and buy illegal drugs. And buying or being treated with diamorphine, say, is cheap.

    Drugs should be controlled. They should not, of course, be freely available. I think addiction to anything – be it drugs, alcohol gambling or anything else – is not a good thing, but outright prohibition just hands revenue streams to villains. Since 1971, prohibition has put billions into the hands of villains who sell adulterated drugs on the streets.

    If you started to give a heroin addict the drug therapeutically, we would not have the scourge of hepatitis C and HIV spreading among needle users, for instance. I am calling for a controlled environment, not a free for all. In addition, I am saying that people who encourage others to take drugs by selling them are criminals, and their actions should be tackled. But addicts, on the other hand, need to be treated, cared for and encouraged to break the cycle of addiction. They do not need to be criminalised.

    The approach to banned substances contrasts sharply with our attitude towards alcohol. I am deeply disappointed that the government has not followed through on its initial support for a minimum price for alcohol. In the north-east we suffer immense inequalities in health and life expectancy due to alcohol addiction. Is it fair that alcohol-related crime and licensing costs society in my own force area alone at least £65.8m a year?

    Is it sensible that in County Durham, you can buy two litres of strong cider for just £1.99? I suspect it has never seen an apple, but is more akin to industrial ethanol. Social tolerance of excessive drinking has become far too great.

    While having a drink was once only one part of socialising, many people now believe that the only purpose in going out of an evening is "to get smashed". The only consequence of their night out is a horrific hangover and vomit-stained clothing.

    Drug addiction costs us a fortune, but it pales in comparison to the depredations of alcohol problems. All of this fuels the increasingly distressing problem of mental ill-health. Whatever the causes, the police are now mostly the first port of call and often the only agency called on and are then expected to deal with the impact of mental ill-health on society.

    Have we not learned the lessons of prohibition in history? The Mob's sinister rise to prominence in the US was pretty much funded through its supply of a prohibited drug – alcohol. That's arguably what we are doing in the UK.

    Britain's police forces all map the activities of organised crime. In my force area we have 43 organised crime groups on our radar. Most of them have their primary source of income in illicit drug supply; all of them are involved in some way.

    These criminals are often local heroes and role models for young people who covet their wealth. Decriminalising their commodity will immediately cut off their income stream and destroy their power. Making drugs legal would tackle the supply chain much more effectively and much more economically than we can currently manage.

    My argument for decriminalising drugs may seem paper-thin when one considers that alcohol is legal and yet extremely damaging. What I am saying is that we need to have a more honest debate.

    But I leave you with the optimistic words of our friend, Gary, who is now methadone- and drug-free: "The future is rosy."

    Mike Barton, Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary
    The Observer, Saturday 28 September 2013 21.00 BST

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/28/ending-war-on-drugs-cut-crime-mike-barton
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