Law is root cause of drug problem, MPs are told

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Indy Politics

Drug reform campaigners told MPs investigating Britain's drugs laws yesterday that existing legislation was at the root of the drugs problem and not the substances themselves.

Witnesses in favour of liberalising drug legislation were giving evidence to the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee.

Danny Kushlick, director of the drug reform group, Transform, said prohibition of all drugs should be swept away because the black market led users to commit crime and take impure substances. He said the law should be changed to allow hard and soft drugs to be supplied by licensed retailers, by pharmacies or by prescription.

A journalist, Nick Davies, who has made documentaries and written extensively on the drug issue, said: "The worst that can happen is that we would end up with a tiny sliver of the black market that we have now.

"The main thing is to bring drugs into the mainstream where we can see them, and give people correct information on the side of packets, so they know what they are taking." Mr Davies said heroin was a "benign drug" which was dangerous only because it was supplied by criminals who often adulterated it with other substances. "Heroin is very addictive," he said, "but it does not damage the mind or body of its users."

A former police chief, Francis Wilkinson, also supported the calls for reform by saying that doctors should be allowed to supply heroin to users.

Writing a pamphlet for the Centre for Reform, Mr Wilkinson, a former chief constable of Gwent, said "the only way" to reduce the crime committed by addicts was "to supply heroin officially to users in a way that will minimise the leakage of those supplies." He called for a radical rethink of the law on drugs in the pamphlet, Heroin: The Failure of Prohibition And What To Do, which was endorsed by Sir David Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons, who said the time was right "for something different to be tried".

According to the Government, the courts have recorded a 45 per cent rise in offences related to class A drugs.

Bob Ainsworth, a Home Office minister, told the committee about a "shocking" visit he made to a drugs den in Brixton during a trip to the south London borough of Lambeth to check on the progress of a pilot scheme under which cannabis users detected by police are issued with an instant caution but not arrested.

The minister was shown a derelict building which Brixton police suspected was a drugs den. The floor was covered with used syringe needles and rubbish, and two people, suspected of being drug users, were sleeping there. "I've seen things like that on television but I have never seen them at first hand," said Mr Ainsworth.

"I was aware this kind of thing existed but actually to see it in reality was quite a shock. The kind of problems in Brixton are at the sharp end of drug problems."