The UK governmentâ€™s comparison of international drug laws, published on Wednesday, represents the first official recognition since the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act that there is no direct link between being â€śtough on drugsâ€ť and tackling the problem.
The report, which has been signed off by both the Conservative home secretary, Theresa May, and the Liberal Democrat crime prevention minister, Norman Baker, is based on an in-depth study of drug laws in 11 countries ranging from the zero-tolerance of Japan to the legalisation of Uruguay.
The key finding of the report, written by Home Office civil servants, lies in a comparison of Portugal, where personal use is decriminalised, and the Czech Republic, where criminal penalties for possession were introduced as recently as 2010.
â€śWe did not in our fact-finding observe any obvious relationship between the toughness of a countryâ€™s enforcement against drug possession, and levels of drug use in that country,â€ť it says. â€śThe Czech Republic and Portugal have similar approaches to possession, where possession of small amounts of any drug does not lead to criminal proceedings, but while levels of drug use in Portugal appear to be relatively low, reported levels of cannabis use in the Czech Republic are among the highest in Europe.
â€śIndicators of levels of drug use in Sweden, which has one of the toughest approaches we saw, point to relatively low levels of use, but not markedly lower than countries with different approaches.â€ť
Endless coalition wrangling over the contents of the report, which has taken more than eight months to be published, has ensured that it does not include any conclusions.
However, reading the evidence it provides, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Home Office civil servants who wrote it seem to have been impressed that a health-based rather than a criminal justice-based approach is where effective policies lie.
The policing and criminal justice cost of chasing low-end drug manufacture, sale and use is significant. Â The proof that it is bad is scant. Â Yet we keep on keeping on. Â Read more »