WE are all familiar with the widespread evidence that the Misuse of Drugs Act has been a spectacular failure to control drug misuse and is responsible for a massive surge in related crime, enormous suffering and thousands of deaths.

I don’t need to rehearse the argument here again. Instead, I want to suggest a different but powerful factor in undermining the act and making it – at least in major part – redundant before politicians get round to repealing it.

Perhaps driven by clear shifts in public opinion, apparent in repeated polls going back for the last 10 years and revealing majorities for the legalisation of marijuana and the decriminalisation of other illegal drugs, frontline policing has been shifting ahead of changes in legislation.

Published in April 2021, but ignored by the mainstream media as far as I can see, research funded by the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust from interviews with 81 frontline officers based across England and Wales concluded: “Change is happening as police officers challenge the status quo and transform cultural knowledge and institutionalised practice.”

READ MORE: Former Met officer turned-Scottish MP says Misuse of Drugs Act must go

The report has several quotes which help us to understand the thinking that is leading officers to have become more likely to, as the authors put it, desist from criminalisation: “Certain experiences, certain stories will change the way you see policing … It will just change your viewpoint almost instantly, where you just go ‘f***, you know, I understand it now’.”

An earlier study in Scotland points to the Scottish Government strategy to reduce re-offending which encourages officers to avoid criminalisation where they can and describes similar experiences and developing preferences for discretion to those in the England and Wales study.

Both point to frustration with the managerial approach of senior staff and the extent to which this limits their ability to desist from criminalisation.

When those who must apply laws no longer think a 50-year-old act, written before many of them were born, is relevant to their times, it is time for the act to go before it causes any more harm.