On 10 July, the Home Affairs Select Committee held their seventh evidence session as part of the inquiry into drugs policy. The inquiry, which has received numerous written evidence submissions from organisations and members of the public, is intended to be a comprehensive review of drugs policy. The first panel saw Danny Kushlick of Transform and Niamh Eastwood of Release, who advocated alternatives to prohibition. Transform advocate that drug prohibition has failed and should be replaced by government control and regulation. Release call for the decriminalisation of all drugs.
The second panel involved Chief Constable Tim Hollis, Association of Chief Police Officers and Tom Lloyd, former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire. The Committee focused on the difficulties of policing drugs and the impacts that recent funding cuts have had on the effectiveness of drug law enforcement.
Finally, the third panel was Trevor Pearce of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Here, the Committee inquired into the effectiveness of the UK in supporting partners abroad in their fight against drug traffickers and the difficulties that the agency faces in bringing the drug kingpins to justice.
After speaking of her charity Release’s newly published report ‘A Quiet Revolution’ which studied 25-35 jurisdictions that have adopted decriminalisation, Ms Eastwood argued that “pursuing a harsh criminal justice approach does not lead to a reduction in drug use but it does lead to significant harm for individuals”, some of these being future employment, education, aspirations, and so on. She went further in calling upon the MPs to consider why, as a society, the UK criminalises tens of thousands of (mainly young) people every year, arguing that giving these vulnerable people a criminal record only creates bigger problem when trying to rebuild their lives.
Danny Kushlick supported Ms Eastwood’s line, by telling the MPs that the current model of prohibition costs £100 billion a year and did not represent “value for money”. He claimed that intensifying the 'war on drugs' would be “patently stupid” and that public opinion was moving towards reform of the law, adding that prohibition would be the only “step into the unknown.”
Through their witnesses’ testimonies, the Committee were insistent on deciphering what decriminalisation or legalisation would look like in practice. Both Mr Kushlick and Ms Eastwood gave evidence from their research, exemplifying that re-offending rates had decreased massively in countries that had tried a prescription approach to drugs, like heroin.
However, chords of disagreement were seen from Tory committee member Michael Ellis, who attacked Mr Kushlick saying that he had focused on drug-users, rather than victims of drug-related crime, before adding that he thought Mr Kushlick’s position was “grossly irresponsible.” But Ms Eastwood defended this criticism, reporting that Release deals with large numbers of problem drug-users at its legal outreach centres across London, and claims that the vast majority of these users have themselves suffered from some kind of trauma.
Kushlick also argued that social class disparities have added to the gap between the rich and the poor, which has also become a main driver behind drug-related problems. This argument was later strengthened by Tom Lloyd, former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire, who claimed that that those who engage in “youthful experimentation” with drugs should be afforded the same discretion as ministers and shadow ministers who admit youthful experimentation in their past. He added that “it seemed hypocritical to saddle a young person with a criminal conviction that could blight their lives.”
Lloyd also controversially claimed that “drug dealers all over the world are laughing at law enforcement, as it elevates the price and maximises their profits,” a comment which some of the MPs found shocking. Lloyd went further to advocate that “prohibition creates an illegal dealing market”, which in turn leads to problems for those in communities living near dealers, and he called for an end to prohibition.
This exchange came a week after Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said that the UK was “plainly losing” the ‘war on drugs’, due to such little progress over the last 30 years in tackling one of the country's biggest causes of crime and social problems. All witnesses, bar Trevor Pearce, agreed with Ken Clarke’s recent allegation that the UK is losing the ‘war on drugs’, each with their varied reasons. Clarke was criticised by Lloyd and others, who argued that he did not have a credible alternative solution, after Clarke said he opposed decriminalisation.