(TMU) — The times are changing when it comes to drug prohibition and the war on drugs, and that’s just as true in Europe as it is in the United States.
And now, in the United Kingdom, rising drug deaths along with greater tolerance and open-mindedness toward substances like cannabis are stirring talk of a reassessment of the British drug laws—including the legalization of such drugs as cannabis, cocaine, and heroin.
Such a move would spell a dramatic reversal of its decades-long war on drugs in favor of a public health approach.
But with Boris Johnson’s conservative government in shambles, Labour Party Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot is speaking about how a possible government headed by Jeremy Corbyn would tackle the issue in the near future.
Abbott told the Sunday Times:
“We will establish a royal commission to review independently all drugs legislation and policy to address related issues of public health.
There is nothing more important than preserving the life of our citizens. Our current approach to drugs is simply not doing that.”
If the royal commission recommended so, a Labour government could decriminalize some, if not all, drugs. The country could also see overdose prevention clinics established by the government, allowing heavy drug users and addicts to safely inject themselves, the home secretary added.
A royal commission is a non-partisan advisory committee whose recommendations are non-binding, but which is convened by a head of state to look into specific issues. Royal commissions usually take about two to four years to complete, if not longer.
The announcement has been greeted by those who see the problem of drugs less as a crime or moral degradation, but more as a question of simple public safety and health.
Labour MP David Lammy tweeted that he was proud that his party would “commit to an evidence based approach on drug reform,” adding:
“The war on drugs is funding gangs, fueling crime, giving children easy access on social media and disproportionately criminalising working class young men.”
Sources within the Labour Party told the Times that recent spikes in drug-related deaths and the disproportionate impact of anti-drug policies, especially on ethnic minority communities, has driven the push for a study.
Pleased to see Labour commit to an evidence based approach on drug reform. The war on drugs is funding gangs, fueling crime, giving children easy access on social media and disproportionately criminalising working class young men. https://t.co/5Rm3Kan1Ym
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) September 15, 2019
According to official statistics, the U.K. has a higher rate of drug-related deaths than France, Germany, or Ireland, while Scotland has the highest rate in the European Union. Meanwhile, in Portugal, drug use has declined following decriminalization while HIV diagnoses due to drug injection have likewise fallen.
According to a report released earlier this summer by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, illegal drugs including ecstasy, cocaine, and opiates can potentially be less harmful than tobacco or alcohol, yet are seen as dangerous narcotics due to cultural biases and politics rather than actual science.
Such biases have served as a self-fulfilling prophecy by stigmatizing and criminalizing drug users while driving them underground rather than treating addiction as an all-too-common disease.
The group wrote:
“Such drug control policies have resulted in social and economic problems not only for people who use drugs but also for the general population, including health epidemics, prison overcrowding and arbitrary enforcement of drug laws.”
The commission added:
“This de facto prohibition is arbitrary. The current distinction between legal and illegal substances is not unequivocally based on pharmacological research but in large part on historical and cultural precedents.
It is also distorted by and feeds into morally charged perceptions about a presumed ‘good and evil’ distinction between legal and illegal drugs.”