Labour MP Jeff Smith calls for end to the ‘national scandal’ of prohibition


Jeff Smith – Labour MP for Manchester Withington and Chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform, a cross party group of MPs and Peers campaigning for evidence-based drug policy – has written a column in the Manchester Evening News calling for drugs to be legalised.

Smith, who has expressed interest in visiting a UKCSC club, wants Britain to go back to treating drug misuse as a public health instead of criminal justice issue.

Citing the example of a constituent who blames prohibition for the death of their son, who overdosed on heroin “because he was forced into the hands of an unscrupulous black market”, Smith says the results of prohibition ought be viewed as a “national scandal”.

With 3,756 drug-related deaths last year in England and Wales, the highest number since records began, the North-West was ranked the second worst region in the country, with 470 overdose deaths.

Smith writes: “We know these deaths are entirely preventable because it wasn’t always like this – the UK was once the world leader in pioneering methods to protect drug users, such as needle exchanges and heroin prescription services.

“But in 1971, the Government passed the Misuse of Drugs Act and, overnight, users were pushed into prisons rather than clinics, and international criminal cartels gained exclusive control of a lucrative market.

“For the next 40 years drug use – and drug deaths – skyrocketed, while criminal gangs become more and more violent in their control of the drug supply.

“The majority of drug use is recreational – by people who cause no harm to themselves or wider society. Criminalising these people is a waste of police time and resources, and damages many young people’s futures.

“Around 10% of all users in the UK are ‘problematic’, defined as those who require health, social or criminal justice interventions. These people need help and support, not a criminal record.”

Smith cites Portugal as an example of how drug reform works.

“In the early 2000s, Portugal had the worst heroin problem in Europe, with the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates on the continent. Instead of criminalising users, the Government stopped prosecuting people for personal use of drugs.

“Those caught with small amounts of illegal drugs are kept out of the criminal justice system and sent to appear in front of a ‘dissuasion commission’ made up of doctors, social workers and mental health professionals. They have seen HIV infection rates fall from over 100 cases per million in 2000, to just 4 in 2015.

“78 Drug Consumption Rooms, in which addicts can safely inject heroin and other drugs, are now in operation in Denmark, Norway, Germany and four other European countries. There hasn’t been a single overdose death in any of these facilities since they opened, and the evidence says they reduce drug-related crime in the area and save the taxpayer money.”

Last year 2.1 million people used cannabis “bought from dealers with little regard for the safety of their product”.

Smith adds: “We will never be able to stop people taking drugs, so we should look at ways to make drug use safer. The Government should back drug consumption rooms and drug safety testing to prevent accidental overdoses and give users access to as much information as possible on the risks.

“A legal, regulated cannabis market would protect us from harm in the same way as alcohol licensing prevents us from purchasing 80% proof moonshine or toxic tobacco.”

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