Drugs 'should be decriminalised'

The possession and use of all illegal drugs should be decriminalised and the least harmful substances should be regulated and sold in licensed shops, an inquiry by a group of cross-party peers has found.

A system for testing the safety of new drugs should be introduced with low-risk substances sold with labels detailing their risks, like cigarette packaging, members of the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform said.

While the supply of the most dangerous substances should remain banned, users caught with a small quantity of any drug should not be penalised, the inquiry found.

The controversial proposals are likely to irk the Prime Minister, who recently rejected calls by MPs to set up a royal commission to consider the decriminalisation of illegal drugs.

A panel of nine Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Labour and Crossbench peers from the all-party group conducted a parliamentary inquiry into new psychoactive substances. Presenting the inquiry findings, chair Baroness Meacher, who is also a chair of an NHS trust, said: "The Misuse of Drugs Act is counter-productive in attempting to reduce drug addiction and other drug harms to young people."

The Act, which has been in force for 40 years, is in desperate need of reform, the group said. The remaining sections of the act in use are causing "serious risks to the many young people who are determined to experiment with drugs", the group said.

The Act has forced thousands of young people into unemployment, homelessness and broken relationships, it added. In support of decriminalising the use of all drugs, the report alluded to the model in Portugal, where the numbers of young addicts has fallen under decriminalisation. And the proposals for regulating low-risk drugs echo those planned for New Zealand.

The group said strict regulatory controls could be introduced with an enhanced role for Trading Standards Services in the UK.

"Under these controls suppliers would, as is planned in New Zealand, be limited to certain outlets and required to label their product with a clear description of its contents, its risks and the maximum advisable dose," the group said. The licensed supplier would also be responsible for assuring that the product causes an "agreed level of limited harm".

Prevention programmes should also be promoted much more widely within schools and the community, the group said. It also recommended that that a minimum of £1.5 million be made available for a targeted pilot of Club Drug Clinics in 10 major hot spots across the UK with a duty to train front line accident and emergency and general practitioner staff.

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