MILLIONS of pounds seized from drug dealers should be funnelled into a new independent researcher in a bid to tackle the country’s drug problems, according to campaigners.
In a highly-critical report, the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) warned a lack of leadership and high turnover of Ministers and civil servants were hindering progress.
A new body funded by up to £10m a year in cash raised through the confiscated assets of drug-related crime is required to improve drug policy, the UKDPC said, while politicians should establish a cross-party forum to decide where progress could be made. The 18-month study, titled How to make drug policy better, comes after Prime Minister David Cameron ruled out a fundamental review of the Government’s approach to drugs.
Mr Cameron dismissed calls from the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee to hold a wide-ranging Royal Commission to consider alternative approaches, including legalisation.
Discussing the process for testing the effectiveness of policies, a senior political adviser told the UKDPC: “Our impact assessment system is broken and needs to be completely reformed.”
The report, based on interviews with former Home Secretaries, drugs Ministers, senior civil servants and policy experts, warned there is a lack of serious discussion about the aims of drug policy and options are not adequately researched or tested.
The UK also lacks evaluation of existing and alternative policies, according to the research, while a rapid succession of drugs Ministers is harming efforts to improve policy.
There have been four drugs Ministers and three Home Office civil servants with lead responsibility for drugs since the 2010 election, the UKDPC said.
UKDPC chief executive Roger Howard said: “We have not been taking evidence seriously. As a result we are spending billions of pounds a year tackling drug problems, without always knowing what difference it makes.
“We need a body that takes responsibility for collecting and sharing evidence.
“Until we get serious about this, we will continue to be driving blind with many of our drug policies.
“At the moment, no-one can say that much of what we are doing in enforcement and prevention offers value for money.”
The commission said a new independent body could provide leadership, commission new research and assess current drug and alcohol strategies.
In addition to the funding made available by the various research councils, the UKDPC said there may be a strong case for some of the resources being raised through the forfeiture of crime assets – a model used in Australia.
After a year-long inquiry, the Home Affairs committee said current policy was not working and the Government could learn from Portugal where drugs have been “depenalised”.
But Mr Cameron said: “I don’t support decriminalisation. We have a policy which actually is working in Britain.”
UKDPC commissioner Tracey Brown said: “The response to the Home Affairs Committee’s report suggests we have got as far as we can with our current structures for making drug policy.
“Reviews of the UK’s drug policies all come to similar conclusions, but we lack the political will to act on them.
“To make progress, we need the party leaders to work together to take the heat out of the debate. They may not agree on everything, but they should be able to agree to improve the way we use evidence – so we know our policies are working as best they can.”
In October, UKDPC published the results of a six-year study of drug policy. The report, A Fresh Approach to Drugs, found that of the £3bn spent annually tackling drug problems in the UK, at least £2bn is not supported by clear evidence.
Under the last Government cannabis was downgraded, but there have been mixed opinions as to whether that policy has been a success.