Recovering drug addict Russell Brand calls for 'compassion, not drug laws' on BBC Question Time

  • @daisy_wyatt

It is not every day that a recovering heroin addict shares a stage with the Mayor of London to discuss drugs on BBC's Question Time.

But during last broadcast, Russell Brand sat beside Boris Johnson and spoke openly about his former addiction and his ideas for solving Britain's addiction problems.

The comedian, who called David Dimbleby “mate” and Boris Johnson “man” throughout the programme, showed his serious side when asked whether drug laws were working in the UK.

He said: “I don’t think drug laws are working because people take drugs all the time. People will take drugs because of social, psychological and emotional reasons.

“For me it’s not about the drug laws, it’s about treating people with addiction issues in a compassionate and empathetic way.”

He went on to disagree with fellow panelist Melanie Phillips, a Daily Mail columnist who said the Government should promote the view that “illegal drug use is harmful to the person and society”.

The pair clashed, but Brand described Phillips as "really lovely" on a personal level, in spite of their conflicting stances.

He said: “As a recovering drug addict myself, when I was using drugs I didn’t care if drugs were illegal.

“If I need drugs because I’m in pain inside, I’m taking drugs and I know this to be true of drug addicts all over our country.

“If you criminalise them and marginalise them, you place an industry in the hands of criminals and you make it difficult and shaming for them to get treatment. That is the wrong way to handle the situation.”

But Brand refused to answer Dimbleby’s question about whether all drugs should be decriminalised.

“I don’t like to get drawn on that because I am dealing with this in a very direct way in that people who are suffering from drug problems don’t care about the law, they care about getting the correct treatment which I believe is abstinence-based treatment.”

His response was met with applause and whoops from the studio audience at London’s City Hall.

Mayor Johnson, who was once quoted as saying: “I think I was once given cocaine but I sneezed so it didn’t go up my nose. In fact, it may have been icing sugar,” said he did not believe all drugs should be legalised.

He said: “Drug-related crime is down and in light of that I would be pretty reluctant to change the law in order to make drugs more readily available. I think we’ve got the balance about right.”

Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat energy and climate change secretary, agreed with Brand’s call to treat addicts with more compassion.

He said: “As Russell said, if we can treat people with humanity when they’ve got an addiction and try to help them get off that addiction, that can make a real difference to that person’s life and the wider society.”