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U.K. Celebrities Demand Drug Decriminalization

Dame Judith Dench, Sir Richard Branson, Sting, Julie Christie, Mike Leigh, and prominent politicians called on the Cameron government to reduce penalties for drugs.

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Judi Dench among celebs calling for drug reform.
Photo via anthonygeorge

By Kirwan Gray

06/02/11

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Drug reform activists in the U.K. turned up the star wattage yesterday with the release of an open letter, signed by a high-profile list of celebrities, calling for Prime Minister David Cameron to begin a “swift and transparent” review of the country’s drug and alcohol policies. Dame Judith Dench, Sting, Sir Richard Branson, Julie Christie, Mike Leigh, and former Labour drugs Minister Bob Ainsworth stirred up support and outrage by calling on the Cameron government to reduce penalties for all forms of drug possession. On the 40th anniversary of the Misuse of Drugs Act, which established the current categories of illegal drugs in Britain, the group published a full-page letter in the U.K. Guardian on behalf of a campaign organized by the British drug charity Release. Criminalizing drug users “leads to greater social exclusion and stigmatization making it much more difficult for them to gain employment and to play a productive role in society,” the letter said. “It creates a society full of wasted resources.”

According to the Guardian, the letter was timed to coincide with the “New York launch of the report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which counts three former South American presidents, the former secretary-general of the United Nations Kofi Annan and Sir Richard Branson among its membership.” Branson said the country needs "a new approach, one that takes the power out of the hands of organized crime and treats people with addiction problems like patients, not criminals.” The letter signers also pointed to the Portuguese experience with decriminalization, and defined decrim as the adoption of civil penalties, warnings and confiscations, rather than relying on criminal sanctions, arrests, and prosecution.

Unsurprisingly, reports the Guardian, “the immediate reaction from the Home Office last night was to rule out any such move,” releasing a statement that read in part: “We have no intention of liberalizing our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful—they destroy lives and cause untold misery to families and communities.”

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