Release’s current campaign calls for the decriminalisation of drug possession offences in the UK. The campaign, ‘Better Drug Laws Now’, was launched in June 2011 and saw the organisation write to David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, calling for a review of our current drug policies and promoting the introduction of the decriminalisation of drug possession (whereby non-criminal sanctions, and in some cases no sanctions, were applied to the possession of some or all drugs). The letter was supported by high profile individuals including Sting, Richard Branson, Caroline Lucas MP and Baroness Meacher and received significant media coverage.
Release campaigns for decriminalisation of all drugs because of the experience of our clients. We see every day the harms that are caused to those we represent, many of whom are young people or people who use drugs problematically. We believe ending the criminalisation of tens of thousands of people every year in the UK will have a positive impact on individuals, their families and communities. The policy change that we advocate for is based on an evidenced approach of how to deal with drug use in our society.
The campaign will continue throughout 2013 and 2014 and is supported by a number of research publications.
The first report, published in July 2012, ‘A Quiet Revolution: Drug Decriminalisation Policies in Practice Across the Globe’ looked at 21 jurisdictions that had adopted some form of decriminalisation of drug possession. Overwhelmingly, the research showed that such an approach does not lead to an increase in drug use. Importantly, the evidence demonstrated that by not criminalising those who use drugs there were improved outcomes in terms of employment and relationships, reduced stigma and that people were less likely to enter or re-enter the criminal justice system. Experience from other jurisdictions also showed there can be significant financial savings for the criminal justice system when decriminalisation is implemented.
The second report, published in August 2013, demonstrates that the policing and prosecution of drug possession offences in England and Wales is unduly focussed on black and minority communities. This report looks at racial disparity rates at stop and search, arrest, prosecution and sentencing and clearly demonstrates that the drug laws in the UK are a major driver of the disproportionality that exists in our criminal justice system in relation to the BME community.
As the first report demonstrated, criminalisation does not act as a deterrent when someone decides to use drugs but it does cause significant harms in terms of a criminal record. This second report goes further and establishes that those harms are being applied in an unfair manner. An urgent review of UK drug policy is necessary to reduce this disparity, and bring equitable justice to all communities.
The final report, to be launched in 2014, will look at the economic costs associated with policing and prosecuting the possession of drugs in the UK.
It is our belief that by demonstrating the positive evidence for the implementation of decriminalisation of drug possession offences, and by highlighting the serious and negative implications of current UK drug policy, politicians and the public will be more open to the urgent debate that is needed on reforming out drug laws.