David Cameron rules out major review into decriminalising drugs

Prime Minister rejects conclusion of inquiry that found current policy is not working

David Cameron today ruled out a fundamental review of the Government's approach to drugs, insisting its current strategy was “working”.

The Prime Minister dismissed calls from a cross-party group of MPs to hold a wide-ranging Royal Commission to consider alternative methods, including legalisation.

After a year-long inquiry, the Commons Home Affairs Committee said the Government's current policy was not working.

But, speaking during a visit to Cambridge today, Mr Cameron said: “I don't support decriminalisation. We have a policy which actually is working in Britain.

“Drugs use is coming down, the emphasis on treatment is absolutely right, and we need to continue with that to make sure we can really make a difference. Also, we need to do more to keep drugs out of our prisons.

“These are the Government's priorities and I think we should continue with that rather than have some very, very long-term Royal Commission.”

In a report, the influential Home Affairs Committee said ministers could learn from the experience of Portugal where drugs have been “depenalised” - with possession of small amounts not subject to criminal penalties, even though they remain illegal.

It also urged the Government to fund detailed studies of changes in Washington and Colorado in the United States - where cannabis is being legalised - and Uruguay where a state monopoly of cannabis production and sale is being proposed.

Ten years after its predecessor committee last looked at the issue, it said change was now urgent and that a Royal Commission should be set up immediately so it could report back by 2015, when the next general election is due to take place.

In other recommendations, the committee called for the prosecution of senior officials in banks responsible for laundering the profits of drugs gangs and for better drugs education in schools.

The committee said it was clear from the experience of countries around the world that the current approach was not working, and that alternative strategies - such as those developed in Portugal - should now be considered.

“We were impressed by what we saw of the Portuguese depenalised system. It had clearly reduced public concern about drug use in that country, and was supported by all political parties and the police,” it said.

“Although it is not certain that the Portuguese experience could be replicated in the UK, given societal differences, we believe this is a model that merits significantly closer consideration.”

Ministers should, it said, open discussions with the United Nations Commission on Drugs on new ways to tackle what it called the “global drugs dilemma” - including “the possibility of legalisation and regulation”.

At the same time, the committee was highly critical of the Government's failure to hit the profits of the drugs gangs, saying its approach to money laundering was “far too weak”.

It said ministers should legislate to extend the “personal, criminal liability” of the most senior office holders in the banks involved, and so that retailers who sell untested “legal highs” can be held liable for any harm the products cause .

The committee expressed concern that the creation of the recently elected police and crime commissioners could lead to significant local variations in the approach to drugs, resulting in a “geographical displacement” of the drugs trade within the UK.

It said more needed to be done to tackle the widespread availability of drugs in prisons - including mandatory searches of prisoners when they enter and leave jail - while successful treatments such as residential rehabilitation and the methadone substitute, buprenorphine, should be made more widely available.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said that action was now imperative and ministers could not afford to “kick this issue into the long grass”.

“There is no doubt that we have failed to deal with the dealers and we have not focused on the users. Only with this twin approach will we break the devastating cycle of drug addiction in society,” he said.

“Drugs cost thousands of lives and the taxpayer billions of pounds each year. This is a critical, now or never moment for serious reform. If we do not act now, future generations will be crippled by the social and financial burden of addiction.”

However, Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, expressed concern about the possible impact on cannabis use.

“If the report is to be responsible, it must take account of the specific damage that cannabis can do to the developing brain, not only as recent studies have shown inducing irreversible cognitive deterioration but in around 10% of cases triggering severe psychotic illness,” she said.

Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Jeremy Browne insisted today the Government was making significant progress on drugs but said it was “open to new ways of thinking”.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “We are open-minded, we think it's a decent, thoughtful, balanced report. We will consider it carefully.”

Pressed on whether the Government would hold a Royal Commission as suggested, Mr Browne said: “The Home Secretary has said she doesn't think the Royal Commission is the answer at this time, but we are open to new ideas and evidence-based research to carry on reducing the harm caused by drugs in this country.”

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen