An Introduction to Transform

Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a charitable think tank that seeks to draw public attention to the fact that drug prohibition itself is the major cause of drug-related harm to individuals, communities and nations, and should be replaced by effective, just and humane government control and regulation.

Transform has emerged in response to the increasingly apparent failings of current UK and international drug policy. As illegal drug use and the problems associated with illegal drug markets have continued to grow, Transform is providing new thinking on alternatives to the current enforcement-oriented regime of prohibition.

What does Transform hope to achieve?

Transform is seeking to reform policies that have attempted to control drug use through criminal justice enforcement, a failed approach that has been enormously destructive. Rather than eliminating drugs from society, drug prohibition has served only to criminalise millions of users and to create lucrative and dangerous illegal markets controlled by organised criminals.
Dismantling prohibition and regulating the market will have a number of direct and immediate impacts:

  • Restoration of human rights and dignity to the marginalised and disadvantaged.
    Only a few decades ago problematic drug users were treated in the UK for what they were - people desperately in need of help. Prohibition turns the majority of those without substantial private means into criminal outcasts, throwing yet more obstacles in the way of effective treatment, reducing access to employment, housing, personal finance, and achieving a generally productive and healthy life.

  • A substantial decrease in the largest cause of acquisitive crime, gun crime and street prostitution.
    As with alcohol prohibition in the US, drug prohibition has gifted the market to organised criminals. The deregulated market leads to extortionate street prices that in turn result in very high levels of acquisitive crime and street prostitution amongst low income dependent users, and violent 'turf wars' over control of the lucrative trade. The Home Office estimates that over half of all property crime is related to fundraising to buy illegal drugs, and police have identified illegal drug markets as the key engine behind the UK's burgeoning gun culture.

  • Huge reductions in the non-violent prison population.
    Over half of the UK prison population is made up of dependent heroin and crack users convicted of property crimes to support their habits. Prison has proven to be a hugely expensive and singularly ineffective and inappropriate environment in which to address drug misuse issues.

  • A "peace dividend" from ending the drug war.
    In a study commissioned by the Home Office, York University estimated the social and economic costs of heroin and cocaine use in 2000 to be between £10.1 and £17.4 billion - the bulk of which are costs to the victims of drug-related crime. Billions currently wasted each year on counter productive enforcement could be freed up to fund drug treatment and education, non drug related policing activities, and other social programmes.

In the longer term although regulation does not directly address the underlying causes of problematic drug use, it is a vital precondition for change. For example, it will remove political and institutional obstacles to developing effective, evidence-based health interventions and integrated social programmes. Transform believe this could lay the foundations for some truly dramatic changes to the world in which we live:

  • Transformation of the face of inner cities.
    Prohibition causes many of the problems in socially deprived communities including street dealing, gang warfare and the criminalisation of already socially excluded individuals. Removal of the illegal drug markets would remove much of the crime, violence and fear that prevails in many deprived inner city areas as well as having a positive impact on community - police relations.

  • Increased opportunities to control the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
    By leaving drug production in the hands of unregulated profiteers and driving users underground, prohibition exacerbates the dangers and public health problems associated with illegal drug use, in particular HIV and hepatitis transmission amongst intravenous users.

  • Restabilisation of producer countries.
    Latin America, Afghanistan, Jamaica, Burma and numerous other drug producer and transit countries have become almost ungovernable because of the distorting and corrupting influence of an illegal market that now almost rivals the oil and arms industries in terms of turnover. The Economist has argued that drug regulation is a precondition for any hope of a return to stability.

  • Creation of the only conditions under which drug usage can be effectively managed.
    The recreational and problematic use of illegal drugs has grown exponentially over the last two decades. In 1970 there were approximately 5,000 problematic drug users in the UK. There are now between 280,000 and 500,000 and the value of the UK trade in illegal drugs is estimated at £6-9 billion a year. Short of taking measures that severely curtail civil rights and that our society finds wholly repugnant, prohibition cannot work. But regulation can. In markets where advertising and distribution is controlled and the public is made aware of the health implications, usage flattens (spirits) or falls (tobacco).

Transform is the only independent UK organisation with a dedicated drug policy reform mandate and has over a decade of experience operating at the cutting edge of drug policy thinking; stimulating public and media debate, and producing informative, innovative and challenging briefings and policy documents. During this time Transform has established its credibility and influence across the drugs field, working closely with government departments, MPs and political parties, drug agencies and NGOs, police, academics and journalists.

History of Transform

Transform is the leading drug policy reform charity in the United Kingdom. Danny Kushlick, who was working with problematic drug users at the time, identified a need for an independent organisation to critique existing policy and seek more just and effective alternatives. In 1996 he established Transform Drugs Campaign Ltd as a campaigning body exploring the possibilities of legalisation and regulation of drugs.

The rational, non-confrontational approach adopted by Transform soon made it the voice for the hitherto fragmented UK drug policy reform movement. Having succeeded in obtaining core funding for an initial three years, Transform became more sophisticated at matching messages to the needs of different interest groups. We found it was possible to engage with a wider range of interest groups through cogently argued papers and presentations.

Our campaigning has succeeded in making drug policy reform a serious topic of political debate. A stream of reputable public figures - from the police, judiciary, politics, church, media, medicine, academia and business - have all expressed their support for reform.

As Transform's expertise and experience has developed it has moved away from traditional campaigning work toward an increasing focus on innovative policy development and analysis. With a growing consensus that current policy was ineffective the next step was to develop alternatives - moving from the 'why?' to the 'how?'. This shift in the focus of work led to Transform Drugs Campaign Ltd evolving into Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a registered charity and the UK's only policy think tank dedicated to drug policy reform. Transform held its official public launch as a charitable think tank in the House of Commons in November 2002, also become a non-profit company limited by guarantee.

Since that time Transform has continued to expand it staff team and funding base - becoming prgressively more influential amongst key audiences in policy making, academia, the NGO sector and the media. Since 2003 Transform has had a permenant staff presence in London and has increasingly moved into the international policy arena, in 2007 being awarded ECOSOC special consultative status at the UNited Nations.

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