Page last updated at 07:18 GMT, Wednesday, 13 August 2008 08:18 UK

Tough-on-drugs policy 'pointless'

Julian Critchley argues all drugs should be made legal

Britain's policy of being tough on drugs is "pointless", says a former civil servant who once ran the Cabinet's anti-drugs unit.

Julian Critchley now believes the best way to reduce the harm to society from drugs would be to legalise them.

Mr Critchley, who worked with ex-Labour drug tsar Keith Hellawell, said many he had worked alongside felt the same.

They publicly backed government policy but privately believed it was not doing any good, he said.

War on drugs

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme in a media-driven age it was difficult to present a case on what was a complex issue.

He said: "It's much easier to come out with soundbites about being tough on drugs and continuing to crack down on drug dealers when in actual fact we know that doesn't work."


Ten years ago, the Cabinet Office's Anti-Drug Co-ordination Unit was at the heart of the war on drugs in the UK, co-ordinating policy across all government departments.

Mr Hellawell, the controversial former police chief who went on to accuse Labour ministers of "closing their eyes" to the drugs problem, was appointed in 1998 as the public face of the government's war on drugs. Mr Critchley worked behind the scenes as the unit's director.

In a response to an entry about drugs on BBC home editor Mark Easton's blog, the former senior civil servant wrote that when he started work in the field he did not favour decriminalisation, but as time went on he changed his mind.

"I joined the unit more or less agnostic on drugs policy, being personally opposed to drug use, but open-minded about the best way to deal with the problem. I was certainly not inclined to decriminalise," he said.

But he soon came to the view that enforcement of the law was "largely pointless" and had "no significant, lasting impact on the availability, affordability or use of drugs", he said.

Market 'saturated'

Mr Critchley went on to argue that wishing drug use away was "folly" and that there was "no doubt" there would be a fall in crime as a result of legalisation.

The idea that many people are holding back solely because of a law which they know is already unenforceable is simply ridiculous
Julian Critchley
Former senior civil servant

"The argument always put forward against this is that there would be a commensurate increase in drug use as a result of legalisation," he said.

"This, it seems to me, is a bogus point: tobacco is a legal drug, whose use is declining, and precisely because it is legal, its users are far more amenable to government control, education programmes and taxation than they would be were it illegal."

Studies showed the market was already almost saturated with drugs, he said, and anyone who wished to purchase the drug of their choice could already do so.

"The idea that many people are holding back solely because of a law which they know is already unenforceable is simply ridiculous," he said.

He also said the "overwhelming majority of professionals" he met, including those from the police, the health service, government and voluntary sectors, held the same view.

"Yet publicly, all those intelligent, knowledgeable people were forced to repeat the nonsensical mantra that the government would be 'tough on drugs', even though they all knew that the government's policy was actually causing harm."

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