Europe: Britain's North Wales Police Back Chief's Call for Drug Legalization

Last week, we reported on North Wales police chief Richard Brunstom's call to legalize drugs in a paper he released in response to a call from the Home Office for input on the direction the country's drug policy should take. Since then, Brunstrom's remarks have ignited a firestorm of controversy, but his force has stood behind him. On Monday, the North Wales Police Authority approved plans to send Brunstrom's paper on to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

The North Wales Police Authority passed three of Brunstrom's recommendations:

  • That the Authority submits a response to the current Home Office consultation on drugs strategy.
  • That the Authority submits a response to the forthcoming Welsh Assembly Government consultation on the all Wales substance misuse strategy.
  • That the Authority urges the repeal of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and its replacement with a Misuse of Substances Act, based upon a new 'hierarchy of harm' that includes alcohol and nicotine.
Independent legalization cover (courtesy Transform)
While Brunstrom's stand has excited criticism, he has also picked up at least one prominent supporter. Lord Ramsbotham, the former chief inspector of prisons, told The Independent Brunstom's prescription was on the money. "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 percent 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."

A fourth Brunstrom recommendation, that the Police Authority affiliate with the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a leading British drug reform group, is on hold pending discussions between Transform and the authority. Transform is nonetheless quite pleased with the results so far.

"It is hugely significant that the call for a legal regulation and control of drugs has now been publicly supported by the North Wales police authority, and they are to be congratulated in taking a bold stand in this urgent and vital debate," said Transform executive director Danny Kushlick. "There are many high profile individuals who support this position, but this sort of institutional support really puts the debate center stage. We hope to see other police authorities following their lead, and we look forward to the Police Authority affiliating to Transform in the near future. The Government have tried their best to avoid this debate in the current drug strategy consultation and review process, not engaging with any policy alternatives despite the obvious failings of the current approach that the North Wales police highlight so clearly," Kushlick continued. "The call from the North Wales Police Authority makes the continued evasion from meaningful debate impossible: the Government must now engage with the significant and growing body of mainstream opinion calling for pragmatic moves away from prohibition towards evidence based regulatory alternatives."

While Transform is pleased, neither the government nor the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is smiling. In response to a question from a North Wales parliamentarian this week, Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said that strict enforcement of the drug laws was needed.

The ACPO, for its part, suggested that Brunstrom's ideas were a "counsel of despair." ACPO president Ken Jones issued a statement saying Brunstrom's views were "his personal views, to which he is entitled," and that ACPO disagreed. "ACPO does not agree with the repeal of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or the legalisation of drugs -- this is arguably a counsel of despair," Jones said. "The reduction of harm caused by drugs to our neighborhoods is a priority for chief officers across the UK. According to the Drug Harm Index it has been reducing since 2001. This is a complex pernicious global problem. Moving to total legalization would, in our view, greatly exacerbate the harm to people in this country, not reduce it. It simply does not make sense to legitimize dangerous narcotic substances which would then have the potential to ruin even more lives and our neighborhoods."

But it is ACPO and its fellow prohibitionists who are on a path to nowhere, Brunstrom retorted. Three million people take illegal drugs in Britain, he noted, while 2.5 million are alcoholics and 9.5 million addicted to nicotine. "This is a real counsel of despair if one chooses to look at the evidence. Seizures of drugs in the UK are less than 1%. In 2003 the UK stopped 10% of heroin coming in and only 15% of cocaine."

Meanwhile, as the debate continues, so does Britain's drug war. The Home Office announced Thursday that the number of drug offenses police reported in the second quarter of this year was up 14% over the same period last year. That's another 55,000 drug arrests for the British police, courts, and prisons to deal with.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Lets Start with Marijuana: Re-Legalize Now!

I have always been for complete legalization of drugs, however, I am mindful of the people that must ultimately make that choice within the confines of a democratic republic. Having said that I DO think the American people are in favor of legalizing Marijuana TODAY!

I have a specific model in mind that is becoming widely known as MERP. I just did an extensive interview where I discuss it and would be more than happy to entertain one of my favorite drug reformers, Dave Bordern, with a similar interview at his request. You can find the interview at my website below.

Bruce W. Cain

MERP in a nutshell:

“The MERP model of Marijuana Re-Legalization would minimally allow non-commercial cultivation, by adults above the age of 18, to be done without any form of government taxation, regulation of other interference.”

Good on you

I support your MERP proposal.

Send a copy to the White House!

Its time for the US to conceder the medical addiction factor not just the criminal aspect associated the recreational/medical marijuana use! Stop treating users as criminals and discrimination in the work place from drug testing practices!

Malkavian's picture

Police doing harm reduction? I think not.

It's a gross misunderstanding that what the police does is in any way "harm reduction".

Recently Sweden was complimented by the UN for their drug policy (simply because ideologically Sweden is the stuff the UN drug policy is made of). While describing the Swedish policy as a wonderful success the UN chose to ignore the fact that in the last ten years or so the increasingly hard line on drugs and drug offenders has been matched with almost a doubling of heroin related deaths.

And what's this about "drugs ruining neighborhoods"? Everyone says it but they don't seem to think it through. If they did they'd see that the drugs aren't ruining neighborhoods as much as the black market related crime that is a direct effect of prohibition. Nor is there any evidence that there are whole neighborhoods that are devastated because everyone is under the influence all of the time.

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