This replaces a previous blog, of the same name, written by Danny Kushlick
The weekend before last two more festival goers died after taking super-potent drugs bought from the illegal market. Inner city violence is increasingly triggered by drug turf wars. This week nearly fifty people will die from overdoses of one sort or another. Drugs are inflicting havoc on families and communities across the UK.
The reason: we have created a hostile environment for drug users and suppliers. We should not be surprised when hostility results in violence, disease, misery and ultimately death, as it invariably has since the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) came into being in 1971.
Prior to 1971, the UK operated a primarily health led approach to drug use, and violence associated with drug dealing was relatively low. With the introduction of the MDA the Home Office took over the lead for the drugs brief. This meant that a public health regime would be replaced with one that would treat users and suppliers as criminals.
The 1961 UN Single Convention on Drugs, on which our domestic drug prohibition is based, proclaims that UN member states, (the UK included): “are conscious of their duty to prevent and combat the evil of drug addiction”. Interestingly, drug use is the only human activity described in a UN convention as “evil”. Torture, genocide, the use of nuclear weapons and chemical warfare all get a pass on that front.
Today, millions of us drink alcohol and smoke tobacco. Our actions are not characterised as “evil” in spite of the known dangers of both. However, the Office for National Statistics reports that the number of users of both drugs in the UK is steadily falling. This has been achieved without criminalising either.
Meanwhile, the death rate of UK drug users increases every year, simply because the Home Office policy of creating a “hostile environment” continues. It has led to impure, too pure, mis-sold and always unlabelled drugs killing young people at festivals. An uncontrolled illegal market has led to violence similar to that which occurred under alcohol Prohibition in the US in the twenties, afflicting inner cities and now spreading to country areas and seaside towns.
The Home Office came under fierce criticism for use of thier 'Go Home' vans, and are accused of creating a hostile environment for immigrants living in the UK.
The UK’s hostile environment is killing people at ten times the rate of Portugal, where drug possession is decriminalised and use is treated as a public health issue. It is incumbent on all MPs who care about the lives of their constituents to acknowledge and articulate the fact that the criminal law regime for drugs is inimical to public health.
We must demand that government replaces the hostile environment with a benign and effective policy that promotes health and wellbeing. Our elected representatives hold the key, but we hold their futures in the palms of our hands. When you next visit a polling booth, make sure that you know your candidates’ views on drug law reform.
And on 26 June you have a special chance to engage your MP as Transform and others in the drug policy reform movement lobby parliament on World Anti-Drugs Day. It is a great chance to appeal to our elected representatives to replace this particularly counter-productive hostile environment with an effective regulatory scheme.