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Former prisons inspector backs call to legalise drugs

Nigel Morris,Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 16 October 2007 00:00 BST

A senior police officer's call for the legalisation of all drugs, including heroin, has been backed by a former chief inspector of prisons.

Lord Ramsbotham argued that the huge number of people in jail with a drug problem proved that current policy, based on "prohibition", was not working.

Richard Brunstrom, the Chief Constable of North Wales, provoked controversy after he said the "war on drugs" could not be won and should be replaced with a radical new approach.

Lord Ramsbotham said: "The present regime has failed in every way. If you look at prohibition of alcohol in the US, it failed. The Chief Constable's suggestions must be considered seriously. We've got to stop the dealers who cause so much misery for society."

He added: "I used to reckon that 80 per cent of those people received into prison were misusing a substance of some kind when they came in. The amount of acquisitive crime connected to drug abuse is immense. That is why there needs to be a new approach."

The North Wales Police Authority gave Mr Brunstrom the go-ahead yesterday to submit a report to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, calling for a review of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, which is the basis for the current "ABC" classification system, for legalisation and for hard drugs to be available on prescription.

John Anderson, an authority member, backed Mr Brunstrom's recommendations but warned they had little chance of being implemented. He said: "We are up against politicians with knee-jerk reactions and who are unburdened by the facts. The other thing we are up against is, there are no votes in it."

Leanne Wood, a Plaid Cymru member of the Welsh Assembly and a former probation officer, said the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was "not fit for purpose" and Mr Brunstrom was right to raise the issue. She said: "I've seen how people are just recycled through the system. They go to prison, they come out of prison, they end up continuing using drugs and continuing breaking the law, and that has to change."

Mr Brunstrom denied yesterday that he was proposing an "anarchic free-for-all". He said his report was not a "crusade or proactive" but a response based on a degree of radicalism". Current policy was "irrational, illogical, hypocritical and doesn't work".

The Home Office made clear that it had no intention of implementing Mr Brunstrom's proposals.

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