Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Decriminalisation is a step in the right direction, but is it the destination?

Yesterday's evidence by Russell Brand was a welcome shot in the arm in a public debate about drug law reform played out in the ongoing inquiry conducted by the Commons home affairs select committee.

It was useful to hear from a former addict who has successfully completely rehabilitation, as too often the voices of those who are or have been directly affected by current laws aren't highly prioritised by decision makers.

I also think he brought a welcome dose of reality to the debate, describing the illegality of taking a given drug as 'at worse an inconvenience' rather than an effective deterrent. The perception that giving drugs a higher classification, or indeed classifying them as controlled at all, acting as any deterrent has been hugely undermined by developments in relation to the classification of 'legal highs' alone in the last 18 months, but it is still persistently argued by those who are anti-reform.

However, I personally took issue with his statement that while he would consider decriminalisation a positive change, he wouldn't welcome 'legalization' of drugs.I remain concerned that unless we address the status of drug provision, not just use, being illegal we won't actually be addressing many of the harms created by the current status quo.

If a primary aim of drug law reform is to prevent harm, then we need to ensure that those who use drugs can obtain them safely. This is ALL drug users, not just drug addicts, who need to be able to access drugs from a legal source, to prevent overdose from uncertain strength or polydrug death. Obtaining drugs legitimately would also play a vital part in users feeling able to seek accurate information and ask questions about the drugs they use without fear of judgement, losing their jobs or being kicked off their degree courses.

This is not to mention how illegality of drugs supply is funding and fuelling crime in a way that has been extraordinarily devastating in Central and South America, and indeed communities on our own doorsteps.

So, to sum up, Brand's contribution was a welcome break in what is generally a predictable public debate about more enforcement leading to less drug use. However, until we deal with a regulated supply chain we will only have half solved the problem, which is no solution at all.

Katherine Bavage is a member of the Executive Board of SSDP UK and the liaison for the External Communications Working Group. She can be reached at,uk or via @Bavage on twitte

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