The majority of Britons think criminalising drugs is futile

14th October 2021

A significant proportion of the British public believes that the UK’s ongoing “War on Drugs” has been ineffective and that criminalising drug use is futile.

According to a recent poll by YouGov, almost two-thirds (6 in 10) of respondents believe that making drugs illegal is not an effective way of curbing their consumption.

These findings were consistent across the political spectrum. Overall, less than a quarter of respondents believed that criminalisation was an effective way to prevent the use of drugs. This rose to 28% among Conservative voters and fell to 20% among Labour voters.

In contrast, 59% of Tory voters and 67% of Labour voters stated their belief that criminalisation is ineffective.

However, when asked to further explain their views, the majority of respondents supported at least some level of criminalisation: 36% believed that drugs should be treated equally as a health and crime issue, 28% pushed that it should be solely a health issue, and 24% believe drugs should only be a criminal matter.

The results from the poll come just months after a landmark review concluded that England’s drug treatment system is currently “not fit for purpose” and is in urgent need of extra support.

The authors of the report urged ministers to recognise addiction as a chronic health condition. In response, the government recently committed to ” a comprehensive, whole-system approach to tackling drugs” and has since set up a cross-government drugs unit.

However, in a somewhat contradictory move, the home secretary Priti Patel recently announced that the government would be intensifying its hard-line approach to drug policy, including a new crackdown on recreational drug use that would urge police to “make an example” of middle-class cocaine users.

The home secretary has also announced the possibility of placing a ban on nitrous oxide – also known as “nos” of “laughing gas” – which has become popular among young people, prompting experts to call for “smart education, not blunt regulation”.

This message has now been echoed by the British public as YouGov found that Britons largely believe laughing gas to be less harmful than legal drugs tobacco and alcohol and causes the least harm to society of all 12 drugs listed.

Drug-related deaths hit an all-time high in England and Wales for the eighth consecutive year, with opiates such as heroin and prescription painkillers being the most fatal.

Despite being introduced as a plan to curb drug use and reduce associated harms, the Misuse of Drugs Act – which turned 50 this year – has gained significant criticism as drug use has continued to rise over the years.

Now, experts and the public are apparently becoming united in the opinion that it is time to overhaul the UK’s outdated and ineffective drug laws, with a priority on making drugs a health issue, rather than a criminal one.

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