David Cameron has been urged to consider legalising drug use by a group of 60 major thinkers and celebrities including Sting, Yoko Ono and the former American president Jimmy Carter.
In a letter to the Prime Minister and every member of Parliament, the public figures claim the “global war on drugs has failed”.
The roll-call of eminent names includes seven former presidents, 12 Nobel Prize winners and six British MPs.
Their letter says the illicit drug industry, worth £285 billion a year, is the third most valuable in the world after food and oil.
It calls for a debate on “decriminalising” the world’s 250 million drug users and asks Mr Cameron to start a public conversation with other global leaders.
The group claims that drug use should be treated as a medical problem, rather than a criminal one.
They urge world leaders to act now, because “use of the major controlled drugs has risen, and supply is cheaper, purer and more available than ever before”.
One of the signatories is Prof David Nutt, the former chief government drugs adviser, who was asked to resign in 2009 over his claims that Ecstasy was less dangerous than alcohol.
Sir Richard Branson, Prof Niall Ferguson, the historian, and Prof A C Grayling, the philosopher, have also signed the letter, which says: “We must seriously consider shifting resources away from criminalising tens of millions of otherwise law abiding citizens, and move towards an approach based on health, harm-reduction, cost-effectiveness and respect for human rights.
Evidence consistently shows that these health-based approaches deliver better results than criminalisation.”
The purpose of the letter, co-ordinated by the Beckley Foundation, a charity that promotes drug policy reform, is to challenge the “current taboo on everything surrounding drugs”.
Mr Cameron may be sympathetic to calls for a new approach to drugs. In 2002, he urged the Labour government “not to return to retribution and war on drugs”, adding “that has been tried and we all know that it does not work”.
However, any suggestion that drugs such as cannabis or Ecstasy should be legalised or downgraded to a less dangerous category would be politically sensitive.
The Countess of Wemyss, who is leading the campaign, said calls for change by such “distinguished, respected and intelligent people” should not be ignored.
“I think the Prime Minister has probably got the economy on his mind and not reforming drugs policy. But one must have a wake-up call that we must begin a global debate on how we minimise the harm from drugs.”
The letter claims the need for public debate is pressing because “tens of thousands of people die in the drug war each year”.
It adds: “Corruption amongst law-enforcers and politicians, especially in producer and transit countries, has spread as never before, endangering democracy and civil society.”
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