Drink and Drugs News DDN June 2019 | Page 14

Parliament The strength of evidence demands a clear strategy to overturn failing drug policy, according to a meeting of parliamentarians, police and policymakers Rising tide t he ‘tough on drugs’ approach is impractical, outdated and costly in every sense, according to a meeting of the APPG for Drug Policy Reform. Considering pieces of evidence from home and abroad – including Germany, Portugal and the Czech Republic, where legislation had decriminalised drug consumption – the group discussed how the lack of a clear national strategy was resulting in inconsistent law enforcement relating to drug possession and consumption in the UK. A decade ago we were familiar with arrest referral schemes and their successor, the Drug Interventions Programme. This government-funded programme was used in courts and custody suites to divert people who had been arrested in possession of drugs into education and treatment programmes, rather than prison. With funding withdrawn, drug-related crime rates were rising as fewer offenders with drug problems were being referred into treatment. Furthermore, the group was concerned at the ‘postcode lottery’ playing out – in some areas people might receive a warning or a fine; in other areas they would receive a short prison sentence for the same offence. Those on the receiving end of harsher punishment, it was noted, were more likely to be from poor areas and minority ethnic groups. 14 | drinkanddrugsnews | June 2019 Mike Trace, ex deputy drug czar to the Blair government, said that in the UK we used to be very enthusiastic about diverting people into treatment, but that this had declined over the last ten years. However, he believed the Ministry of Justice was now interested in diversion and deflection as it was cost effective. Some police and crime commissioners were running early stage deflection schemes, referring people into education and treatment programmes. Among them, chief inspector Jason Kew had become increasingly convinced of the value of this approach in the Thames Valley. ‘We have had nothing but private engagement and support and acknowledgement that we need to reform,’ he said. Pre-arrest diversion was ‘as close to decriminalisation as you can get in the current framework’, but it was a postcode lottery. Two miles down the road you could end up in custody. ‘If we were using decriminalisation [a system like in Portugal] we wouldn’t need to be talking about diversion,’ he said, adding ‘We are trying to evolve and innovate, but are also having to deal with the effects of austerity on drug services.’ Despite the constraints of the current legislative framework, there had been an opportunity to give evidence to the Home Office independent review of drug markets and violence, led by Dame Carol Black. The National Police Council were ‘The lack of a clear national strategy is resulting in inconsistent law enforcement relating to drug possession and consumption in the UK.’ contributing, said Kew, and Kirstie Douse added that Release were submitting a full response. The review would be looking at drug harms – an opportunity, the meeting agreed, to provide strong evidence on harm reduction that should pave the www.drinkanddrugsnews.com