Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has teamed up with Virgin Boss Sir Richard Branson in an effort to get the Government to decriminalise personal use of almost all drugs. The pair wants the UK Government to follow the example set by Portugal and stop penalising those who are found in possession of drugs deemed to be for personal use.
Mr Clegg and Sir Richard have written a joint article for The Guardian saying that Britain is losing the war on drugs. Currently, those found with drugs could face a criminal conviction – a conviction that could follow them forever, all because of ‘youthful mistakes’.
Following Lead of Other Countries
Sir Richard and Mr Clegg have pointed out that countries such as Spain, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Portugal are reforming their drugs laws in a bid to cut crime and reduce harm. These measures include decriminalisation of drug possession to prescribing drugs such as heroin.
In Portugal, reforms to the law mean that those caught in possession of drugs are sent for treatment instead of being arrested. If they fail to take up the treatment, they face a fine. Many believed that these reforms would see an increase in the numbers using drugs, but the opposite has happened. There has been a dramatic decrease in the number of drug-related deaths, HIV infections, and addictions to drugs.
The article by Mr Clegg and Sir Richard states, “The Portuguese system works, and on an issue as important as this, where lives are at stake, governments cannot afford to ignore the evidence. We should set up pilots to test and develop a British version of the Portuguese model.”
Negative Impact on Society
Mr Clegg believes that the drugs laws in the UK often prevent people from contributing to society in a positive way because they cannot access the career they want. The pair would like to see drug abuse treated rather than penalised. They say that current laws do not work in deterring others from abusing drugs and that there has to be a focus on education and treatment instead.
Redirecting of Resources
Using Portugal’s drug reforms as an example, the duo said that resources could be redirected towards treating addicts instead of imprisoning them, which would reduce deaths and infections. In 2001, Portugal made it legal for its citizens to be in possession of 5g of hashish, 25g of marijuana leaves, 2g of cocaine, and 1g of heroin.
Both men attended the Chatham House International Affairs think-tank, at which Mr Clegg outlined the Lib Dems plans. He was keen to point out that the proposed reforms would not extend to those who deal, import or manufacture illicit drugs, or to those selling or producing unregulated ‘legal’ highs.
Treat the Addiction
Mr Clegg is among many who believe that those with addiction need to be treated rather than punished. Addiction is an illness that requires professional treatment, in the same way other illnesses do.
Sending addicts to prison for something that they have no control over will not tackle the war on drugs. In fact, many addicts are caught up in a life of crime once they have spent time in prison because they cannot get jobs when they come out. It is far better to address the addiction with the proper treatment first.
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