UK Study Finds Punitive Drug Laws Don't Reduce Drug Use

By McCarton Ackerman 10/31/14

Despite new evidence, the government has no intention to decriminalize drugs.

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The UK government has completed a study on international drug laws and found that punitive punishments for drug possession do not lead to lower levels of overall drug use.

Both Conservative home secretary, Theresa May, and Liberal Democrat minister, Norman Baker, have signed off on the document and will stand behind an official expert report that calls for a ban on both the sale and trade for legal highs. Although drug use has declined in Britain in recent years, Baker has attributed this to a more risk-averse generation of young people and not the current drug laws in the country.

“Banging people up and increasing sentences does not stop drug use,” he said. “ [The] lazy assumption in the right wing press is that if you have harsher penalties it will reduce drug use, but there is no evidence for that at all. If anything, the evidence is the contrary.”

Despite the new evidence, however, a Home Office spokesperson said, “This government has absolutely no intention of decriminalizing drugs. Our drugs strategy is working and there is a long-term downward trend in drug misuse in the UK. It is right that we look at drugs policies in other countries and today’s report summarizes a number of these international approaches.”

The strategy to tackle drug abuse in the UK may not be working entirely. Last May, London was named the “cocaine capital of Europe” after a study found that the city’s sewage water contained more traces of cocaine than the 42 European cities examined. London’s sewage water contained 711 mg of benzoylecgonine, the main chemical in cocaine, per 1,000 people, compared to 393 mg in Amsterdam and 233 mg in Milan. The samples also showed that London has some of the highest rates of ecstasy use among European cities.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.