LONDON (Reuters) - Drugs laws are driven by “moral panic” and should be replaced by a more flexible approach that recognises most drug users harm neither themselves nor those around them, a two-year study concluded on Thursday.
Drug use should be treated as a health issue and not just as a matter for police and courts, said a commission formed by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).
It said the current Misuse of Drugs act was “not fit for purpose” and should be scrapped.
“Current policy at best gives mixed messages and at worst is dishonest ... It is driven more by ‘moral panic’ than by a practical desire to reduce harm,” the commission said in a report.
Professor Anthony King of Essex University, who chaired the RSA commission, told BBC radio that the current legal split of drugs into just three classes of increasing harm should be replaced.
“At the moment you have this ridiculous ABC classification, which is very crude, very inflexible,” he said. “Drug users pay no attention do it. We want something that is more elaborate, more subtle, more flexible.”
But he said the commission did not want to decriminalise drug use.
“You should take all of the substances that can cause harm, draw up an index of harms that they do cause ... and look at them coolly and rationally and decide what policy approach is most appropriate to each of those substances,” he said.
“Illegal drugs do cause harm. Our approach is directed at trying to reduce those harms.”
King said the great majority of people who used illegal drugs did not harm themselves or cause anyone else any trouble.
“Their only problem is that they are breaking the law in possessing drugs,” he said.
The RSA commission called for a new Misuse of Substances Act which would regulate illegal drugs alongside alcohol, tobacco, proscribed medicines and other legal drugs.
Drug consumption rooms, or “shooting galleries”, should be made available for users.
The bulk of drugs education should be moved to primary schools, it said, adding that the only practical drugs message for secondary pupils was “harm reduction”.
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith agreed that drugs laws were “chaotic” but said the study had ignored the need to help addicts get off drugs.
The Home Office said the government’s drugs strategy had been a success, with record numbers of people entering and staying in treatment.
“However, we are not complacent and we will continue to look to improve our work in this area wherever we can,” it said.
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