Comment: Getting tough on drugs just doesn't work

Dr Julian Huppert has been Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge since 2010.
Dr Julian Huppert has been Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge since 2010.

Britain's drug policy has failed. It's time for a radical overhaul.

By Dr Julian Huppert MP

The failure of Britain's drugs policy is blatantly obvious. Traffickers and dealers are making huge amounts of money through drugs coming into this country and, as a result of our growing drugs problem, we are facing enormous health issues. I believe the time has come for us to radically overhaul our approach to the drugs problem which is growing on an international scale.

Taking a tough line through the courts and imposing jail sentences on drug addicts for relatively small drugs charges hasn't worked. Our jails are overcrowded. Drugs have become more accessible, making more money for the traffickers and dealers. In turn, more and more people are using illegal substances, often turning to crime to fuel their habits. New substances are coming onto the market and our young people are experimenting with the so called 'party drugs' sometimes with tragic results. We are facing a vicious circle while at the same time continuing with laws which are, for the most part ineffective.


We cannot continue in this way; we have to find a new approach. The drugs market is changing and the government must respond to that change. It is time that we developed a rational policy based on scientific evidence rather than on media hype. I have been working as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on drug policy reform to generate ideas and led a debate on the issue at the Lib Dem autumn conference designed to open up discussion.

But I don't know what the correct solution is. I do know that something has to change and we can no longer rely on a policy which isn't working and hasn't worked for decades. The prime minister, David Cameron, acknowledged this recently and accepted that we need to find a better way based on education and treatment. But we cannot do this without expert help and we need to seek expert advice so that we can find out what is and isn't working and look at all our options.

I believe we need a policy which provides treatment for addicts so that we can help them kick their drug habits without adding to their problems. We need to provide better education so that our young people can make informed choices. We need a policy that concentrates resources on the serious issue of drug dealing and trafficking and allows the police to concentrate their efforts on tackling organised drug pushers and gangs. And we need a policy that doesn't add to our already overcrowded prisons which are putting an increasing burden on public finances.

How we do that is not simple, and there is no simple answer – I'm certainly not calling for immediate legalisation of drugs.

Whatever we do, we must take this slowly, looking at all the options open to us so that we make sure we get it right. We have to move on this debate and we can only do that if we have independent expert analysis which can help to show us the way forward. I believe that to do nothing and continue to pursue drugs policies which are ineffective and expensive is no longer an option.

Dr Julian Huppert has been Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge since 2010.

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