Durham’s most senior Police officer has called for Class A drugs to be decriminalised and said drug addicts should be “treated and cared for not criminalised”.
Chief Constable Mike Barton of Durham Police commented in the Observer at the weekend that “prohibition had put billions of pounds into the hands of criminals”. Mr Barton compared drugs prohibition to the ban on alcohol in the US in the 1920s which led to an increase in organised crime.
However, the Home Office commented:
“Drugs are illegal because they are dangerous. They destroy lives and blight communities.
“The UK’s approach on drugs remains clear, we must help individuals who are dependent by treatment, while ensuring law enforcement protects society by stopping the supply and tackling the organised crime that is associated with the drugs trade.”
Mr Barton indicated he believed the decriminalising of Class A drugs would take away the income of dealers, destroy their power, and that a “controlled environment” would be a more successful way of tackling the issue. He called for an open and honest debate on the matter.
Mr Barton said:
“If an addict were able to access drugs via the NHS or something similar, then they would not have to go out and buy illegal drugs.
“Buying or being treated with, say, diamorphine is cheap. It’s cheap to produce it therapeutically.
“I think addiction to anything – drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc – is not a good thing, but outright prohibition hands revenue streams to villains.
“Not all crime gangs raise income through selling drugs, but most of them do in my experience. So offering an alternative route of supply to users cuts their income stream off.
“What I am saying is that drugs should be controlled. They should not, of course, be freely available.”
Treatment vs Criminalisation
He added that drug addicts must be treated and cared for and encouraged to break the cycle of addiction – they do not need to be criminalised.
Mr Barton continued:
“Since 1971 [the Misuse of Drugs Act] prohibition has put billions into the hands of villains who sell adulterated drugs on the streets.
“If you started to give a heroin addict the drug therapeutically, then we would not have the scourge of hepatitis C and Aids spreading among needle users, for instance. I am calling for a controlled environment, not a free-for-all.”
New legislation was announced in July by the Home Secretary to allow drug treatment providers the opportunity to offer addicts foil – to heat up drugs like heroin – as part of increased efforts to get drug addicts into treatment, and to protect their health.
Chief Constable Andy Bliss, who is ACPO’s most senior officer on police relating to drugs, said he felt it was a decision for MPs to debate.
“Government policy on drugs enforcement is very clear and unambiguous and our job as police officers is to enforce the law.
“Clearly, a senior colleague like Mike Barton is entitled to his views and he has added his contribution to the national debate, but it would be ACPO’s position that these are matters for parliament to decide.”