The man who was once responsible for coordinating the British government's drug policy now says drug legalization would be preferable to the current prohibitionist-style approach embraced by successive British governments. Julian Critchley, former director of the UK Anti-Drugs Coordination Unit in the Cabinet Office, said that his views were shared by "the overwhelming majority" of professionals in the field, but that the New Labor government played to a tabloid audience in setting drug policy, instead looking at the evidence for what worked and what didn't.
As director of the coordination unit, Critchley reported to then drug czar Keith Hellawell. The defection of such a high level player is yet another blow to Britain's prohibitionist drug policies, most recently scored as failing in a report from the UK Drug Policy Commission. It was in response to an online discussion of that report that Critchley took his stand.
Critchley first announced his change of heart during a BBC web site discussion on drug policy (see comment #73), then, after the Transform Drug Policy Foundation's Steve Rolles dug up and blogged about Critchley's comments Wednesday, exciting a British media frenzy, Critchley elaborated on them in The Independent on Thursday.
During his time with the anti-drug unit, "it became apparent to me that the available evidence pointed very clearly to the fact that enforcement and supply-side interventions were largely pointless. They have no significant, lasting impact on the availability, affordability or use of drugs," Critchley wrote on the BBC blog on July 30.
"It seems apparent to me that wishing drug use away is folly," he continued. "The only sensible cause of action is to minimize the damage caused to society by individuals' drugs choices. What harms society is the illegality of drugs and all the costs associated with that. There is no doubt at all that the benefits to society of the fall in crime as a result of legalization would be dramatic," he argued. "The argument always put forward against this is that there would be a commensurate increase in drug use as a result of legalization. This, it seems to me, is a bogus point : tobacco is a legal drug, whose use is declining, and precisely because it is legal, its users are far more amenable to Government control, education programs and taxation than they would be, were it illegal. Studies suggest that the market is already almost saturated, and anyone who wishes to purchase the drug of their choice, anywhere in the UK, can already do so. The idea that many people are holding back solely because of a law which they know is already unenforceable is simply ridiculous."
Hear, hear! But is anyone in the Gordon Brown government listening? Or are they busy trying to figure out what will sell with Daily Mail readers?