For years, drug policy reform organisations have been advocating for policies which promote alternatives to prohibition, such as a move away from the criminalization of people who use drugs, and a move towards evidence-based models such as harm reduction. Whilst harm reduction measures are mentioned – the first time since the 1990s – activists are still left with a bitter taste in their mouth as the new drugs strategy (and the media attention surrounding it) doubles down on the failed and unevidenced ‘War on Drugs’ discourse perpetuated by its 2011 and 2017 counterparts.
Despite the well-known success of the decriminalisation model in Portugal, the UK drugs strategy chooses not to take this path, incorrectly asserting it would “leave criminals in control while risking an increase in drug use”. Yet, the evidence clearly shows that where the harm reduction measures described above are implemented in conjunction with decriminalisation of drugs, such increases do not occur.
The UK still lags behind the global trend of reform that can be seen across Europe in countries such as Norway and Germany as well as in North America. Despite UN guidance to move away from repression and punishment of people who use drugs and to decriminalise drug use, the UK government has chosen to continue along a punitive path which has been shown time and again to exacerbate all the societal ills that criminal justice responses purport to address.