New voices to the drug policy debate include the National Black Police Association, Michael Mansfield QC, Prison Governors Association, the main HIV/AIDs charities and social justice NGOs
As part of a global day of action, over 80 high-profile figures and organisations have signed an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron calling on the government to review drug policy in the United Kingdom and move toward an approach that reduces the “harms caused by drugs and current drug policies.”
The letter – signed by Sting, Russell Brand, Will Self, Simon Woolley, Michael Mansfield QC, the National Black Police Association, and the Prison Governors Association, among others – highlights that in the past 15 years, over 1.5 million people have been criminalised in the UK for drugs possession. What’s more, these drug laws are being disproportionately applied, with black people in England and Wales six times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched for drug offences despite the fact that drug use amongst this group is almost half that of the white population.
Supported by leading organisations from the fields of HIV/AIDS; drugs policy and treatment; and social justice, the signatories support the end of criminal sanctions for possession of drugs. The letter highlights the social and economic costs of pursuing a criminal justice response that impacts primarily on young people who receive criminal records that limit their employment and educational opportunities.
In addition to addressing the UK’s drug laws, the Prime Minister is urged to fully engage in the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in New York, and lend his support to governments in Latin America that are pushing for reform. Countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala have witnessed hundreds of thousands of deaths as a result of the “War on Drugs,” and are leading the charge for a global debate on the issue. However, without support from governments in the West there is a risk that the necessary action to change the international drug control system will not be taken in 2016.
Niamh Eastwood, Executive Director of Release, the organisation leading the action stated: “The drug policy reform debate has moved forward in recent years and the UK government needs to be at the forefront of it. In 2002 when the Prime Minister was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee he supported the recommendation that the UN consider alternatives to the status quo. We are asking him to stand by that commitment and recognise the damage that has been done, both nationally and internationally, by repressive drug policies”.
In conjunction with the letter, people will be staging a day of action in Parliament Square, Westminster, with a billboard (see image, below) erected to face Parliament which will underscore the Prime Minister’s inaction on drug policy. This will form part of the “Support. Don’t Punish” global day of action taking place in 100 cities around the world and will highlight the pressing need for better drug laws. Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, who are coordinating the “Support. Don’t Punish” global day of action, said: “Today is a public show of force for drug policy reform. The tide is turning and governments need to urgently fix their drug policies and repair the damage that has been done”.
Niamh Eastwood – Tel: 07900002632 Email: email@example.com
Edward Fox – Tel: 07917017816 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternative Quotes For Journalists Provided By Signatories Of The Letter
Nick Glynn, Vice President of the National Black Police Association: "It is time for a mature, informed, objective debate around the UK's drugs laws. Enforcement of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act has created many unintended, negative consequences and new approaches must be considered, including those which have been successful in other countries. Strategies that avoid criminalising people and focus instead on health and education seem to me to offer a positive way forward."
Yasmin Batliwala, Chair of Westminster Drug Project, a provider of drug treatment services across London: "We are fully in support of the letter. It is time for Cameron and his government to take the bold step and look more closely at the UK’s drug policy to bring it firmly into the 21st century using an evidence-based approach."
Reprieve: “Countries like the UK profess their opposition to the death penalty, but their financial support for the “War on Drugs” leads to the executions of hundreds of people every year around the world, including children. Many of the 8,000 people on death row in Pakistan are there on drugs charges, and at least 123 people have been hanged for drug offences in Iran this year alone. The fact that European governments continue to fund these hardline practices while claiming they oppose the death penalty is a costly and untenable hypocrisy.”
Simon Woolley, Director, Operation Black Vote: “Too much local policing in BME areas has become a sledge hammer to crack a nut, particularly in regards to drug enforcement. The result is illegal racial profiling which literally alienates tens of thousands of young men, not just from the police but also from other authorities. A radical, practical rethink is demanded which halts the destructive 'war on drugs', and builds trust and confidence between the authorities and communities.”
Caroline Lucas MP: “Let’s openly acknowledge what we already know: the UK’s drug laws are outdated, ineffective, and enormously costly. The evidence shows that, as a first step, treating drug addiction as a health issue, rather than a criminal one, would significantly reduce the social and individual harms associated with criminalisation. It’s time to face up to the facts: the system is broken and it’s time for reform.”
Maajid Nawaz, Executive Director, Quilliam: "Having spent most of my own youth completely disenfranchised from wider society, ending up as a political prisoner, I deeply care for this cause. The "War on Drugs" not only unnecessarily criminalises our youth, but statistics point to the fact that it disproportionately targets young people from diverse ethnic backgrounds like mine, driving them further to the fringes of our society. It's high time we approached drug abuse through a liberal health lens, not an illiberal criminal one."
Baroness Molly Meacher, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform: “The UN Office on Drugs and Crime recognizes that drug addiction is a health problem and not a crime. I urge the UK Government to heed the UN position and to decriminalise the possession and use of drugs. This policy has been shown to work and to reduce drug addiction among young people.”
Susie McLean, International HIV/AIDS Alliance: “All governments have signed up to a commitment to end AIDS. That's going to require getting HIV services to people who use drugs. We're just not going to achieve this - ending AIDS - if we continue to throw millions of young people in jail for using drugs. When drugs are a problem, people need services, not prison terms and criminal records.”
Notes to Editors
- A copy of the letter to the Prime Minister and the list of signatories are attached.
- The demonstration will take place at 11am on 26 June, 2014, outside of the Palaces of Westminster and we would welcome photo journalists to come and attend the event. A billboard with the picture below will form the central part of the action:
- Release is the national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law providing expert advice to the public and campaign (www.release.org.uk)
- The Support. Don’t Punish campaign is a global initiative supported by more than 100 NGOs around the world. It calls for investments in proven, cost-effective harm reduction responses for people who use drugs, and for the decriminalization of people who use drugs and the removal of other laws that impede public health services. For more information and resources about the campaign, visit www.supportdontpunish.org and http://supportdontpunish.org/day-of-action-2014/