The Government is wasting money by policing minor drugs offences, the comedian and former heroin addict Russell Brand told MPs today.
Brand, giving evidence in Parliament to MPs reviewing the Government’s drugs strategy, said that for many addicts the illegal status of drugs is “irrelevant...at best an inconvenience,” adding that he backed the decriminalisation of drugs.
Arriving in a black hat and torn vest, with gold chains and crucifixes, Brand addressed MPs by their first names, telling that he had beaten his own addictions to heroin but had been arrested a dozen times in connection with his drug use.
He said spending less money on policing drugs would be “a brilliant idea”, because for addicts being arrested is seen as little more than an “administrative blip.”
"Penalising people for possession of drugs is costly and expensive," Brand said, adding: “Making it illegal is not working anyway.”
“A good number of times I was arrested was simply for possession, and the administrative costs of that would be better spent, I think, on education and addressing the costs of treatment...I think that would be a very, very sensible use of those redirected funds."
On the subject of the decriminalisation of drugs, Brand said society was wrong to criminalise addiction suggesting it should be treated as a potentially fatal illness instead. He added that he felt there was a significant difference between decriminalising and legalising drugs.
“I think that there's a degree of cowardice and wilful ignorance around this condition…It's something we increasingly need to handle compassionately and pragmatically,” he said.
“We need to recognise the distinction that certain people have a condition or a tendency that drugs and alcohol are going to ruin their lives. We need to identify those people and offer them the correct treatment.”
Although he insisted he was not calling for "a free-for-all where everyone goes around taking drugs,” Brand said that he felt some people can take drugs safely and without harmful consequence.
He added that he is not promoting a “just say no” message, instead calling for more help and support for those with the "condition of addiction".
"I think some people can safely take drugs, I think they can…As long as it doesn't turn them into criminals, or harm their health, then I don't feel as if it's any of my business.
"Let's have an authoritative, truthful, honest debate and some funding for abstinence-based recovery."
Brand claimed this would help "neutralise the toxic social threat” addicts pose as criminals and ensure they are not simply put on methadone programmes for years at a time, which leaves them written off on the sidelines of society.
On his own battle with drugs, Brand said he became addicted due to emotional and psychological difficulties, calling the experience “rough”.
During the energetic 30-minute hearing, Brand called the MPs "mate" and, when pushed for time by chairman Keith Vaz, replied: "Time is infinite. We can't run out of time. Who's next? Theresa May? She may not show up. Check she knows what day it is."