Progress towards a sensible drugs policy is glacially slow, but the latest report from the Home Affairs Select Committee on Britain’s ineffectual.
Not only is there much to be welcomed in the committee’s conclusions – there is also much that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. MPs praise measures in place in Portugal (under which possession of small amounts of a controlled substance results in either a fine or a rehabilitation programme, but no criminal procedure); they evince keen interest in the legalisation of marijuana in two US states and also in Uruguay (where the government is proposing a state monopoly of production and supply); and they call for a Royal Commission to conduct a “fundamental review” of UK drugs policy, to report by 2015.
Quite right. Britain’s existing laws are indeed, as committee chairman Keith Vaz puts it, “not working”. It may be that drug use has dipped slightly in recent years. But one in five secondary school children still admits to having experimented with illegal substances at some point. And there are any number of factors outside of government policy that explain a drop in usage – the economic climate and the proliferation of “legal highs”, to name but two – none of which constitutes a long-term solution.
This – liberal – newspaper would go further than Mr Vaz et al and advocate the swift decriminalisation of all drugs. First, there is a simple principle: individuals should be free to make their own choices, providing they do no harm to others. But for those not convinced by John Stuart Mill, the practicalities alone surely clinch the argument.
As Prohibition in the US proved, bans are as counter-productive as they are futile. Drugs are no different. The deterrent effect of punitive laws is m