Home Office: Drugs must remain illegal to 'protect society'

Government clashes with one of England's leading police officers who says Class A drugs should be decriminalised

Drugs are dangerous and must remain illegal to “protect society” the Government has insisted, after one of England’s leading police officers called for Class A drugs to be decriminalised.

Mike Barton, chief constable of Durham police, said that drugs could be made available to addicts through the NHS, in a controlled supply system that would cut off the income streams of criminal gangs.

His intervention adds weight to growing calls for an overhaul of UK drug policy. Leading figures in health, including England’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies, have called for drug addiction to be viewed primarily as a medical, not a criminal, problem. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the influential Home Affairs Select Committee have both backed calls for a Royal Commission to look at options for reform.

However, a Home Office spokesman emphasised the dangers of illicit drug use and said that the current approach had seen a decline in drug use.

Writing in The Observer, Mr Barton, who is the Association of Chief Police Officers’ (ACPO) Intelligence lead, said that drug addicts “need to be treated, cared for and encouraged to break the cycle of addiction. They do not need to be criminalised.”

“If an addict were able to access drugs via the NHS or some similar organisation, then they would not have to go out and buy illegal drugs,” he said. Those who encouraged others to take drugs by selling them should still be “tackled” as criminals, he said.

ACPO have distanced themselves from Mr Barton’s comments. Andy Bliss, chief constable of Hertfordshire police and ACPO’s lead on drug-related crime said that questions over drug legislation were “matters for parliament to decide” and appeared to urge caution over the message any softening of drug policy would send.

“Government policy on drugs enforcement is very clear and unambiguous and our job as police officers is to enforce the law...” he said. “We need in particular to be very thoughtful about setting clear boundaries, especially for young people, in relation to drugs, their misuse and criminal activity surrounding them.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Drugs are illegal because they are dangerous – they destroy lives and blight communities…The UK’s approach on drugs remains clear, we must help individuals who are dependent by treatment, while ensuring law enforcement protects society by stopping the supply and tackling the organised crime that is associated with the drugs trade.”

However the drugs policy reform group Transform Drug Policy Foundation welcomed Mr Barton’s comments. “We are delighted to see a serving chief constable who is willing to stand up and tell the truth – prohibition doesn’t work,” said the group’s founder Danny Kushlick.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable