Senior members of the House of Lords have called for a major overhaul of the country’s drug laws to focus on treatment instead of criminalisation.
During a debate yesterday Labour peer Lord Patel of called for a cross-party group to review drug policy.
He pointed favourably to the example of Portugal, where criminal sentences for drug use have been scrapped in favour of” drug treatment panels”.
Lord Patel, who wrote a report for the government in 2010 on reducing drug-crime and rehabilitating offenders, told peers: “All governments, my own included, sometimes failed to make the right decisions based on evidence due to the pressures that build up from public debate, which is itself often ill-informed due to exaggeration in the media and cries that the government of the day are somehow being soft on drugs if they give way to the advice of experts.
“Let’s be clear about this - the evidence supports treatment rather than criminalisation and punishment.
“I would strongly urge the government to ensure that our current drugs policy is based on research and evidence rather than ideological and moral opinions of media commentators.”
Tory former cabinet minister Lord Fowler joined those calling for a new approach to drugs control, warning that the “old policies” had failed.
Lord Fowler said talk of a “war on drugs” might give comfort to politicians but does little to solve the problem.
“This one-dimensional approach has never worked in the past and is unlikely to work in the future,” he said.
The debate came after deputy prime minister Nick Clegg recently accused the Conservatives of refusing to look “imaginatively” at new ways of tackling the UK’s drugs problem.
However, the Lords appear to be at odds with home secretary Teresa May and Labour leader Ed Miliband. Ms May has insisted the current approach is working while Mr Miliband said the answer was not “decriminalisation or legislation” but “better education, better prevention and better treatment.”