Europe: British Public Supports More Rational Drug Policies, Survey Says

A survey of British attitudes toward drug policy has found that a majority of people are ready to decriminalize marijuana or make it an offense equivalent to a parking fine. But the poll also found that a solid majority draws a distinction between "soft" drugs like marijuana and "hard" drugs like cocaine and heroin. Most people do not want to see any lessening of restrictions on the use or sale of hard drugs.

The survey's release this week comes with Britain in the midst of a battle over redefining its largely drug war-style drug policies. Just two weeks ago, a parliamentary committee studying drug policy released a report calling Britain's drug classification scheme unscientific. Marijuana policy continues to bedevil the British, as does rising cocaine use and high levels of use of other drugs. The government is also discussing drug policy now because in two years it must evaluate its current 10-year strategy.

Marijuana is currently a Class C drug -- the least serious drug category -- and possession offenders are typical ticketed, while marijuana sales remains a serious crime punishable by up to seven years in prison. Only 38% wanted both possession and sales to remain criminal offenses, while 30% wanted lesser criminal penalties for possession only, 13% wanted simple possession totally decriminalized, and another 15% wanted to see both sales and possession treated as not a crime. In other words, 58% of respondents favored marijuana policies more lenient than current policies.

Attitudes were much tougher toward "hard" drugs, with 73% of respondents favoring the status quo. Only 17% favored lesser criminal penalties for simple possession and only 6% favored entirely decriminalizing possession. The poll didn’t even ask whether anyone would favor legalizing the hard drug trade.

Respondents also broadly agreed that a new drug classification scheme, perhaps containing a Class D for drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, would be a good thing by a margin of 56% to 30%. When it comes to comparing the harms of various drugs -- licit and illicit -- respondents ranked heroin as worst, followed closely by cocaine, solvents, ecstasy, and tobacco in descending order. Marijuana was rated as less harmful than any drugs except prescribed tranquilizers and coffee.

The British citizenry also displayed an awareness of the notion of harm reduction, with a whopping 89% agreeing that: "Whether we like it or not, there will always be people who use drugs and the aims should be to reduce the harm they cause themselves and others."

If this survey is any indicator, it looks like the British public is ready for some more rational drug policies. The question is: Is the British political class ready?

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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