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Legalise all drugs: chief constable demands end to 'immoral laws'
By Jonathan Brown and David Langton
Published: 15 October 2007
One of Britain's most senior police officers is to call for all drugs – including heroin and cocaine – to be legalised and urges the Government to declare an end to the "failed" war on illegal narcotics.
Richard Brunstrom, the Chief Constable of North Wales, advocates an end to UK drug policy based on "prohibition". His comments come as the Home Office this week ends the process of gathering expert advice looking at the next 10 years of strategy.
In his radical analysis, which he will present to the North Wales Police Authority today, Mr Brunstrom points out that illegal drugs are now cheaper and more plentiful than ever before.
The number of users has soared while drug-related crime is rising with narcotics now supporting a worldwide business empire second only in value to oil. "If policy on drugs is in future to be pragmatic not moralistic, driven by ethics not dogma, then the current prohibitionist stance will have to be swept away as both unworkable and immoral, to be replaced with an evidence-based unified system (specifically including tobacco and alcohol) aimed at minimisation of harms to society," he will say.
The demand will not find favour in Downing Street. In his conference speech this year, Gordon Brown signalled an intensification of the existing battle. "We will send out a clear message that drugs are never going to be decriminalised," the Prime Minister told the party.
The Tories also rejected the proposals. David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said a more effective move would be the creation of a UK border police force to stop drugs getting into the country as well as expanding rehabilitation centres. He added: "We would put police on the streets to catch and deter drug dealers and we would ensure sufficient prison capacity so they could actually be punished."
Mr Brunstrom, whose championing of speed cameras has made him a hate figure among some motoring groups, also found his suggestion that the war on drugs was unwinnable dismissed as a "counsel of despair" by the Association of Chief Police Officers. "Moving to total legalisation would, in our view, greatly exacerbate the harm to people in this country, not reduce it," an Acpo spokeswoman said.
But the 30-page report, entitled Drugs Policy – a radical look ahead, includes a number of persuasive voices. Today Mr Brunstrom will urge his colleagues to submit the paper to Westminster and the Welsh Assembly. In it, he quotes the findings in March this year of a Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts commission, which stated that "the law as it stands is not fit for purpose" and argues for the replacement of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act with a new Misuse of Substances Act.
That would mean scrapping the ABC system introduced by the home secretary James Callaghan with a new scale that assesses substances, including alcohol and tobacco, in relation to the harm they cause – although he admits banning booze and cigarettes is not likely.
But he notes that figures from the Chief Medical Officer have found that, in Scotland, 13,000 people died from tobacco-related use in 2004 while 2,052 died as a result of alcohol. Illegal drugs, meanwhile, accounted for 356 deaths. The maximum penalty for possessing a class A drug is 14 years in prison while supplying it carries a life term.