Raymond Kendall, who was with the Metropolitan Police before he became Interpol's secretary-general, said the money and resources saved could be used to tackle drug dealers. He emphasised, however, that he was not in favour of legalising drug use. Legal remedies should be available to force abusers, if necessary, to complete treatment programmes, he said.
Mr Kendall is the latest senior law enforcer to call for an easing of the criminal law on drugs. In May, Commander John Grieve, head of the Metropolitan Police Criminal Intelligence Branch, called for research into licensing users and suppliers. He claimed that at least a dozen other police chiefs supported his belief that drug users and suppliers should be licensed. Opponents of liberalisation argue that it will encourage greater drug use.
Last year drugs valued at pounds 545m were seized by Customs officers, more than twice as much as in 1991. The number of users and seizures in Britain continues to grow.
Several European countries, including the Netherlands, Italy and Spain, have already eased restrictions on drug-taking. Mr Kendall is understood to believe that the British Government is too concerned with short-term solutions, such as imprisonment, rather than long-term treatment of drug abusers.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Europhile programme he said: 'I am totally against legalisation, but in favour of decriminalisation for the user, or abuser rather, because I think you must have some means of getting the abuser into treatment programmes, and there is a certain coercion necessary to do that.'
Later he said he was referring to all types of drugs. 'To me there is no distinction between hard and soft drugs - they are all toxic substances,' he explained.
He said that because Western countries, including Britain, were the key markets for illegal drugs, it was their responsibility to reduce demand. That meant governments providing funds for drug treatment programmes. At present the provision of such programmes was inadequate, he said.
Mike Goodman, director of Release, the national drugs and legal advice service, said: 'Mr Kendall is another voice in a loud chorus of informed people asking for reforms of the drug laws. We would like to see a wide ranging revision of the current legislation.'
Alun Michael, the Home Affairs shadow minister, added: 'The police and agencies are policing in the right direction, but the Government must stop cutting back on drug education and youth work.'
A Home Office spokesman said: 'The Government has in place a comprehensive drugs strategy designed to tackle every aspect of drugs prevention, including the enforcement by police and Customs through to the rehabilitation of offenders.'Reuse content