Parliamentary Committee Recommends Overhaul of British Drug Laws

A British parliamentary committee called this week for reducting penalties for marijuana and ecstasy and introducing pilot programs for heroin harm reduction.
A groundbreaking report released today by the Home Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons recommends a dramatic shift away from criminalization and an expanded public health approach to drug-related problems. Citing the failure of law enforcement efforts to reduce drug-related harm, the committee is proposing public health alternatives already in use in the Netherlands and Switzerland, including research trials for heroin maintenance treatment; safer injection rooms to reduce risks associated with injection drug use; expanded treatment for cocaine users; and significant ecstasy and marijuana law reform.

The British recommendations for reform stand in stark contrast with drug policy in the United States, where law enforcement officials continue to arrest millions of non-violent Americans who use drugs, including medical marijuana patients.

"As England gets smarter in its approach to drug policy, the United States gets more reactionary," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Europe, Canada, and Australia are all abandoning the punitive approach to drugs, while U.S. drug warriors forge ahead with the same failed tactics."

David Cameron MP, Conservative member of the Home Affairs Committee, stated in a committee press release:

Drugs policy in this country has been failing for decades. Drug abuse has increased massively, the number of drug-related deaths has risen substantially and drug-related crime accounts for up to half of all acquisitive crime. I hope that our report will encourage fresh thinking and a new approach. We need to get away from entrenched positions and try to reduce the harm that drugs do both to users and society at large.

The main recommendations of the report include:

-Reclassifying cannabis from class A, the most punitive category, to class C which would reduce the penalty to a warning, caution or court summons

-Reclassifying Ecstasy from class A to class B.

-Conducting heroin prescription trials, based on Dutch and Swiss models, to reduce the harms done by those who are unable or unwilling to stop using heroin

-Piloting "safer injecting rooms" to reduce disease transmission, overdose and other harms associated with injection drug use

-Dramatically increasing the availability and range of drug treatment options, including methadone maintenance

"The British are increasingly putting public health and safety above fear and prejudice in their drug policy," said Nadelmann. "U.S. policymakers should follow their lead."

The full report is available at www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmselect/cmhaff/318/31802.htm.

The Drug Policy Alliance is the nations leading organization promoting alternatives to the war on drugs based on common sense, science, public health and human rights. The Alliance, headquartered in New York City, has offices in California, Washington, DC and New Mexico. Ethan Nadelmann is the executive director.
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