Ex-minister calls for drugs to be decriminalised
LONDON (Reuters) - A former minister who once had responsibility for Britain's narcotics policy said on Thursday all drugs should be decriminalised, arguing that prohibition and the war on narcotics had been a failure.
Bob Ainsworth said he had changed his mind on his issue during his period as a Labour minister at the Home Office because of the futility of the policy of trying to outlaw drugs but had not wanted to speak out while he was still in government.
However, the Conservative-led coalition government has ruled out making any changes to the law.
"The war on drugs does not work. We need to be bold, we need some fresh thinking," Ainsworth, who was also Defence Secretary in the former Labour government, told BBC radio.
"This has been going on for 50 years now and it isn't getting better. The drugs trade is as big and as powerful as it ever was across the world."
The BBC said Ainsworth was the most senior politician to call for the decriminalisation of all drugs.
Peter Lilley, former deputy leader of the Conservative Party, called for cannabis to be legalised in 2001 but said drugs such as heroin and cocaine should still be illegal.
Ainsworth said each drug should be examined on its own terms and there should be different regimes for each one. Heroin should be legally available, but only on prescription, he suggested, while cocaine could be available from legal sources such as doctors.
"I'm not proposing the liberalisation and legalisation of heroin so we can all get zonked out on the street corner," he said.
"What I'm saying is heroin needs to be taken out of the hands of the dealers, put into the hands of the medical profession, done in a mass way to the extent that's necessary.
The Labour government had eased penalties on the use of cannabis on its advisory body's advice in 2004 but former Prime Minister Gordon Brown reversed that decision four years later, saying he wanted to send a message that use of the drug was unacceptable. However, Ainsworth said that had been a mistake as there was no evidence that there had been an increase in cannabis after the penalties were eased.
He said one senior police officer had told him the authorities aimed to disrupt criminal gangs rather than trying to raise the price of drugs.
"They are disrupting the criminal gangs to prevent a Pablo Escobar or an Al Capone," he said.
Crime Prevention Minister James Brokenshire said drugs were harmful and should not be legalised.
"Decriminalisation is a simplistic solution that fails to recognise the complexity of the problem and ignores the serious harm drug taking poses to the individual," he said in a statement.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison)
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