The 'safe houses' represent a step forward in drug policy, but who’s brave enough to back Brighton?

Despite the overwhelming international evidence, successive governments have done more, not less, to compound the suffering of addicts and their communities

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The Independent Online

And so Brighton makes a small but significant step on the centuries-long march from murderous stupidity to eventual sanity that is drugs policy across the Western world. The lovely seaside town, where one in four people have used drugs, could be the first in Britain to trial shooting galleries where addicts can safely consume illegal drugs without fear of prosecution. The aim is to shift the focus of addiction treatment from criminality to public health.

Such decriminalisation consumption rooms are widespread in Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg, where they have had mixed results. That’s mixed as in varying from the highly effective to exceptionally effective. By taking addicts out of the shadows, away from the bridges and underpasses and station concourses where our monstrous drugs policy has long forced them, such galleries reduce harm not just to the addict, but to the society to whom he or she belongs.

And yet the overwhelming international evidence didn’t stop the following unforgivable inanity from South Coast rozzers. As the BBC reported: “Sussex Police welcomed the report but emphasised the importance of a ‘holistic approach’ to illegal drugs” In other words, we hope this helps, but we’re not holding our breaths… So is ceding control of the supply of drugs to organised crime syndicates still the way to go?

It’s important to outline just what suffocating short-sightedness this is. Imagine a “war” waged by successive British governments for 40 years, costing a billion pounds a month. Tens of thousands of casualties; the same number again locked up in jail each year; and the enemy is roughly half a million strong, and getting stronger by the minute. This, you would think, would be enough to warrant successive prime ministers being sacked, never mind home secretaries. Yet madly, because of foggy thinking and a shrieking press, successive governments have done more, not less, to compound our suffering, safe in the knowledge that it will help them get re-elected.

In fact, that fatuously labelled “war” has been waged, ever since the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. The problem is not just that we’re losing it; it’s that there is not the remotest prospect of victory. Until we have the guts, as a country, to recognise the catastrophe of our drugs policy, and challenge the hysteria and immaturity that consigns millions of people to needless misery, innovations like that in Brighton will be welcome but small distractions, a bunch of needles in a giant, international haystack of our own making. And Sussex Police will go on trotting out nonsense, instead of making our country safer.