By Roland Sebestyén
The former First Secretary of State, Leader of the House and current life peer in the House of Lords has called on the Tory government to change its approach to the drugs that could help people treat some of the most severe health conditions.
Writing for The Times, William Hague (the Lord Hague of Richmond) said that, while he was once in favour of a “zero tolerance” policy when top politicians, including Boris Johnson and Barack Obama, admit past drug use, his opinion has since altered.
Lord Hague has acknowledged that public attitudes have changed, meaning that “recreational drug use is no longer unmentionable.”
Lord Hague added: “The announcement last week of record deaths from drug addiction in England and Wales — more than 4,500 last year — therefore spread few ripples on the surface of politics.
“More controversy erupted in Scotland, where the equivalent figures have gone off the chart of international comparisons: drug-related deaths there are by far the highest in Europe and have nearly trebled under the SNP government.
“Nicola Sturgeon has admitted they “took their eye off the ball”; it’s a sad comment on potential independence when the government can just fail to notice thousands of deaths.
“Governments take their eyes off this ball because they do not know what to do with it — it is easier left out of sight.”
Lord Hague says death by overdosing and drug addiction is a massive social problem. The victims “match closely with child poverty and areas of deprivation.”
Also, as we argued in our opinion piece a few weeks ago, the black market means violence and “further death to young people, vast profits for organised crime and an endless distraction for the police.”
The solution? Lord Hague recommend the Portuguese model. In Portugal, drugs have been decriminalised for decades now.
He writes: “They reclassified the use, possession and purchase of drugs for individual consumption as misdemeanours: those caught with drugs appear before a committee which gives a reprimand, a fine or orders treatment.
“In short, they moved from seeing drug use as a criminal issue to a health issue, achieving a crucial change of culture that brings all relevant agencies and local authorities into working together to rescue the worst cases.”
Lord Hague refers to Portugal’s 2001 decriminalisation of illicit drugs – a move that, to many, remains as controversial as the day it was introduced. Criminal penalties for drug use were replaced with civil deterrents such as fines and more funds were allocated to health-led approaches such as treatment services.
Few can argue with the results of Portugal’s progressive drug policy. Prior to decriminalisation, Portugal was experiencing some of the highest rates of illegal drug use, drug-related deaths and HIV infections in Europe. Since changing the approach to drugs, however, Portugal has succeeded in drastically reducing deaths, addiction, and HIV infection associated with drug use.
William Hague continued, “Portugal has not legalised drugs and still punishes drug trafficking. But after decriminalisation, all major indicators in a variety of studies have improved, including an 18 per cent fall in the total costs to society after 11 years.
“By 2010, the number of drug offenders sent to criminal courts had halved. Less law enforcement work will have helped to pay for better treatments. Might this not be worth a try?”