A cross-party group met in Westminster today to mark the 50th anniversary of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Half a century on the controversial legislation still defines how the UK approaches drug-related issues – but a broad spread of lawmakers want change.
Fifty MPs and peers have signed a statement calling for reform, saying the act has ‘failed to reduce drug consumption’ and has ‘increased harm, damaged public health and exacerbated social inequalities’.
Drug controls have a huge knock on effect for cannabis businesses as it makes the cultivation and transport of raw materials needed in the products legally difficult.
Hemp cultivators still need to destroy the bulk of their crop because it is controlled under the act despite holding no psychoactive properties at all.
On the eve of the act’s 50th anniversary, politicians from across parliament met to call for change and to consider new evidence from advocacy group Transform Drug Policy Foundation that drug-related deaths have increased 30-fold over the law’s lifetime.
Conservative Dr Dan Poulter MP said: “The Misuse of Drugs Act is hopelessly outdated and in need of urgent reform and change.
“Drugs policy should no longer be seen through the narrow prism of the criminal justice system but as a health issue, so that we can ensure those with drug dependence can get better access to the help and support they need.”
Labour’s Jeff Smith MP said: “The Misuse of Drugs Act was supposed to eradicate drug use, reduce harm, and keep people safe.
“But since 1971, drug use has risen dramatically in the UK, decent people have been needlessly criminalised and had their lives destroyed, those struggling with addictions have been stigmatised and punished, thousands of children have fallen victim to trafficking and exploitation at the hands of criminal gangs, and we are in the midst of a devastating drug-related deaths crisis.”
According to Transform, annual drug-related deaths in England and Wales have risen from under 100 to 2883 under the act and heroin use has increased from under 10,000 people to over 250,000 an increase of 2,400%.
Cannabis use has increased from around half a million people to over 2.5 million – an increase of 400% – and, while cocaine seizures have increased from around 6kg a year to over 4,000kg a year, the UK still has the highest usage in Europe.
Poulter and fellow Conservative MP Crispin Blunt have separately called for drug issues to be taken out of the hands of the Home Office to prevent medical use being stymied by efforts to prohibit recreational use.
Dr James Nicholls, CEO of Transform, said: “The Misuse of Drugs Act has been a disaster. In the 50 years since it was introduced, we have seen both use and deaths rise dramatically.
“The UK now has some of the highest drug deaths in Europe, and the situation continues to get worse.
“At the same time, countless lives have either been lost, or ruined through needless and damaging criminalisation.
“The Government’s recent review of drug markets sets out this failure in detail, and confirms that it cannot be resolved simply through more policing.”