THE Home Affairs Committee report on drugs is really an appraisal of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act and the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.

The former dictated the regime under which people with drug addiction have been persecuted, isolated and disenfranchised from mainstream society.

They have been criminalised because the 1971 Act makes it absolutely clear that is how they must be treated by the criminal justice system.

More than 50 years of adhering to the mantra of coming down hard on drug use has resulted in what Dame Carol Black estimates as a £19 billion per year cost to society.

Beyond that we have seen record-high deaths, while the damage to addicts, their family and friends is immeasurable.

Addiction is an illness

THE report calls for a UK Government minister to sit across both the Health and Social Care Department and the Home Office.

The aim is to view addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal justice one. I don’t think that goes far enough. Addiction is an illness.

The emphasis must be on the support and treatment and before we can do that, we need to remove the threat of prosecution for using drugs.

If people are to step forward and ask for help, then they can’t have the threat of arrest and prosecution hanging over their heads.

We must be focused on treating the whole person with what are often very complex needs and resist the temptation to punish them because we feel the need for retribution or be driven by the desire to make an example of them in the false belief that it will deter others.

It hasn’t worked for 50 years, and no amount of jail time is going to help resolve the problem, no matter how convenient it is to place people out of the sight and mind of the majority of the population. 

Law enforcement agencies have a very important role to play but it mustn’t get in the road of patients accessing treatment.

The National:

Almost every police officer I have spoken to would agree with me on that but the system they work within can make that very difficult.

As more than one officer has said to me: “We don’t make the laws, we enforce them."

The 2001 regulations have a role to play as they allow us to classify and schedule drugs differently.

A full review is required but I am not convinced that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is the body to do this.

In 2006, the Science and Technology Committee produced a withering criticism of the council's ability to classify drugs.

It stated that: "Overall, our examination of the processes used by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and Home Office to make, respectively, recommendations and decisions regarding the classification of drugs has revealed a disconcertingly ad hoc approach to determining when reviews should be undertaken and a worrying lack of transparency in how classification decisions are made."

International evidence 

IT is good to see the report call for more evidence from abroad to be considered.

This is something that the UK Government has consistently been bad at.

This is a worldwide problem and we must learn from the successes and failures elsewhere.

The current UK classification system acts as a barrier to research and simple rescheduling of cannabis and psilocybin would enable medical professionals to do their job and educate us all.

That way, I would hope, elected members could formulate evidence-based policies that provide the medical professionals with the structures that are required.

But while the UK Government refuses to consider drug consumption rooms and the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use and instead prefers a photo opportunity at the latest drug seizure, I can’t see that happening.

The UK Government has to move away from the platitudes and make a serious commitment to funding rehabilitation and treatment.

They can’t praise Diamorphine Assisted Treatment and then allow the Middlesbrough facility to have its funding removed.

They can’t deny that drug consumption rooms work while every country that has adopted them has said they have been part of the improvement.

They can’t prosecute kids for personal possession and give them a criminal record which will affect their job opportunities for life while not recognising that most criminality and most drug abuse is driven by deprivation and lack of life choices.

We can’t continue to punish people who themselves are victims of physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

Addiction is a health issue and only when the UK Government gets in step with the devolved powers of Scotland and Wales will we be in a position to make the sort of changes required to make the dramatic improvements that we must.  

Ronnie Cowan is the SNP MP for Inverclyde and vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drugs Policy Reform