Cameron Joins Obama, Rejects Drug Decriminalization Despite Empirical Evidence it Works

e96dd8ac64d674a603dc5d428bf94a1c8bbc Cameron Joins Obama, Rejects Drug Decriminalization Despite Empirical Evidence it Works

Today, British Prime Minister
David Cameron rejected
recommendations from Members of Parliament to consider the
decriminalization of drugs. ; The Home Affairs Committee
undertook a year-long inquiry into the U.K.’s drug policy and
produced a
report that includes the following:

42. ; ;We were impressed by what we saw
of the Portuguese depenalised system. It had clearly reduced public
concern about drug use in that country, and was supported by all
political parties and the police. The current political debate in
Portugal is about how treatment is funded and its governance
structures, not about depenalisation itself. Although it is not
certain that the Portuguese experience could be replicated in the
UK, given societal differences, we believe this is a model that
merits significantly closer consideration. (Paragraph 243)
43. ; ;Following the legalisation of
marijuana in the states of Washington and Colorado and the proposed
state monopoly of cannabis production and sale in Uruguay, we
recommend that the Government fund a detailed research project to
monitor the effects of each legalisation system to measure the
effectiveness of each and the overall costs and benefits of
cannabis legalisation. (Paragraph 248)

Cameron has rejected the call to consider Portugal’s example,
saying that, “I don’t support decriminalisation. We have a policy
which actually is working in Britain.”
It is true that government
data does suggest that drug use has been going down. The number
of 16 to 59 year-olds in England and Wales who reported using drugs
in the last year has dropped from 11.1 percent in 1996 to 8.9
percent in 2011/12. However, use of Class A drugs (cocaine,
ecstasy, LSD, magic mushrooms) has increased in the same time from
2.7 percent to 3 percent. Since the current government came to
power in 2010 the rate of adults reporting use of Class A drugs in
the last year dropped from 3.1 percent to 3 percent. The Home
Affairs Committee specifically ;outlined the trend in British
drug taking among young adults:

4. Illicit drug use is, in fact, falling—according to the crime
survey of England and Wales, it is at almost its lowest level since
measurements began in 1996[9]—but
the types of drugs that people are seeking treatment for has
changed. This is especially true of the 18-24 age group, among whom
heroin use has fallen sharply to about a third of the level it was
at six or seven years ago. However, in the same time-period, the
significantly smaller number of young people seeking treatment for
problem cannabis use has risen by around a third, from 3,328 in
2005-06 to 4,741 in 2011-12.

The report also mentions prisons, where
one in eight British prisoners will develop a drug problem. A

report from the think tank Policy Exchange explains how some of
the drug abuse in British prisons is a result of random drug
testing, which encourages the use of hard drugs over drugs like
marijuana because hard drugs are traceable for a shorter period of

While some of these trends and figures might be encouraging to
Cameron they are not as impressive as the numbers in
Portugal, where all drugs have been decriminalized since 2001.
It has been over ten years since the decriminalization policy was
introduced, and the results have been encouraging: the number
addicts hooked on hard drugs is down by half since the early 1990s,
and the number of ;drug users ;who suffer from infections
thanks to intravenous drug use ;is down. ;In Portugal
there is currently no major push for Portugal to go back to its
previous drug policy.
One of the U.K.’s most prominent drug warriors,
Peter Hitchens, has slammed the report and mentioned that it
gives not mention to Sweden or Greece:

The Home Affairs Committee Report on drugs is remarkably dull,
and seems to have been something of a damp squid, barely mentioned
by many newspapers this morning. ;It is interesting that the
committee chose to visit Portugal, which, as I have mentioned here
before, is not perhaps the poster-boy for decriminalisation that
the Cato Institute, itself far from neutral, ;has claimed
(there are varying accounts of this episode, and I would say the
jury was still out).
But they did not visit Sweden, one of the few advanced countries
which has not followed the fashion for going soft on cannabis, or
Greece (which one correspondent tells me has been conducting a
fairly stringent campaign to clamp down on drugs. I am looking into

Hitchens is the author of
The War We Never Fought, which details what Hitchens
characterizes as the British establishment’s surrender to drugs. I
would encourage all readers to regularly visit Hitchens’ blog, it’s
never dull. Hitchens gave his own thoughts on the war on drugs at
my old stomping ground, the Institute of Economic Affairs.
It is frustrating enough that Cameron does not think that
Portugal’s example is worthy of serious consideration. Some have
been quick to argue that drug policy should be based on moral
considerations, not empirical evidence. Writing for
The Telegraph, Thomas Pascoe says that taking drugs is a
moral issue while also making the argument that legalizing drugs
somehow legitimizes drug use, a connection that is not explained or
adequately defended. I don’t see how a product being legal means
that the product is implicitly legitimatized or endorsed, nor do I
see how alcohol would fit into Pascoe’s framework. ;
David Cameron is not the only politician to dismiss
decriminalization. President Obama once thought that the war on
drugs was a failure and that decriminalization was a viable

Quite what makes those in power immune to empirical evidence I
don’t know, but it is a powerful trend. ;

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Cameron Joins Obama, Rejects Drug Decriminalization Despite Empirical Evidence it Works

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