Drug Use and Possession: Royal Commission — Question for Short Debate
Lord Taverne (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, all the speeches so far have made an overwhelming case for a really authoritative, weighty inquiry into the whole question of drug use. The first question is: should possession of drugs be a crime? When I was a Minister in the Home Office in that glorious period between 1966 and 1968, when Roy Jenkins was Home Secretary, possession of drugs was not actually a crime. Heroin addicts could get a GP's prescription for uncontaminated heroin and they were much more likely to go for treatment. Of course, circumstances were very different, but it is notable that at that stage drug addiction was much less of a problem than it is now.
Is the criminal law the right instrument for dealing with drug abuse? The experience of Portugal, the Netherlands and a number of other places shows that education and rehabilitation are a far more profitable route. Why do the Government not recognise the reality that the war on drugs is not being won and never will be won? If you are losing a war-or certainly not winning it-at enormous cost, is it not time to look at the whole question again?
There is the further question of the reclassification of drugs. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has just said, it is absurd to have ecstasy put in the same category as hard drugs of other kinds, and the reclassification of cannabis has no scientific evidence behind it.
When it comes to alcohol, it is high time for us to consider what could be a much more effective approach. The recent inquiry by the independent committee on drug use showed, in a very systematic analysis, that alcohol was by miles the most harmful drug being sold at present. At the moment it is less directly harmful to the individual, but even that may change. On present trends, many people forecast that liver disease will soon be a bigger killer than heart disease.
The present policy is not based on scientific evidence. It is true that scientific evidence is not necessarily conclusive. However, if the policy is not based on scientific evidence, reasons should be given why it is not and it should be based on some other evidence. All these are eminently matters for a royal commission. The Government should recognise, if they make any pretence of having policy based on evidence, that the present way in which they approach drugs is not.