Labour's Drugs Failure; Ten-Year 'War' Has Achieved Nothing but Lower Street Prices, Say Experts

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Byline: STEVE DOUGHTY

A DECADE of Labour's war on drugs has done nothing to curb the misery and crime caused by abuse, a research group declared yesterday.

Propaganda campaigns, law enforcement and imprisonment for drug dealers have had no effect on levels of drug use, it said.

Police activity against drug markets and seizures of smuggled drugs have resulted only in lower street prices.

The scathing criticism came in a report by the UK Drug Policy Commission, an independently funded group which intends to press the Government to try harder to tackle huge levels of damage caused by drug users.

It said that one in four people in their late 20s have tried a hard drug such as heroin or cocaine at least once; that nearly half of all young people have used cannabis; and that the drug addiction rate in Britain is more than twice the levels of France, Germany, Sweden or Holland.

The report added that there is a drugs market worth an estimated [pounds sterling]5billion a year, that the cost of drug-related crime is thought to be [pounds sterling]13billion, and that one in five of all people arrested for crime are dependent on heroin.

The verdict comes at a time of growing pressure on the Government for change in the drugs laws that were last radically overhauled more than 35 years ago.

Ministers are due to consider the effects of Labour's ten-year drugs programme - which began bullishly-with the 'war on drugs' in 1998 - next year.

Tony Blair's war on drugs appeared to be reversed spectacularly in 2001 when then Home Secretary David Blunkett announced the reclassification of cannabis, a move which downgraded the criminal status of the drug so that users are unlikely to be arrested.

The chairman of the new Commission, Dame Ruth Runciman, was one of the key figures behind the cannabis reclassification.

She said yesterday: 'We are an independent organisation that will provide objective analysis of drug policy.

The debate on drugs is often sensationalised and polarised. Our mission is to improve political and public understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of policies for tackling drug misuse.' Yesterday's report praised 'harm reduction' policies - which broadly accept the use of drugs and attempt to cut the damage addicts cause - while dismissing the effects of enforcement law and imprisonment.

It said: 'Government policies have only limited impact on rates of drug use itself. …