Two public health organisations have called for the complete decriminalisation of drugs in the UK.
The Faculty of Public Health and the Royal Society for Public Health claim that the Government’s ‘war on drugs’ has not been successful.
However, the Home Office has defended its stance and critics have denounced the calls as “irresponsible”.
A new report backed by the two public health bodies claims that criminal sanctions do not affect illegal drug use and undermine people’s life chances.
It argues that the law should be relaxed to allow possession and personal use of all drugs.
The report advocates the approach taken by Portugal, where people caught using illegal substances are not prosecuted but could be offered treatment instead.
‘Irresponsible and naïve’
However, Kathy Gyngell, of the Centre for Policy Studies, noted that cannabis use amongst young people in Portugal has increased since the law was changed.
I can’t think of anything more irresponsible than decriminalisation in terms of the serious risk of rising drug use in young people.Kathy Gyngell
“I can’t think of anything more irresponsible than decriminalisation in terms of the serious risk of rising drug use in young people.
“The proposals are naïve and fly in the face of what happens when you decriminalise.”
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “The UK’s approach on drugs remains clear — we must prevent drug use in our communities and support people dependent on drugs through treatment and recovery.
“At the same time we have to stop the supply of illegal drugs and tackle the organised crime behind the drugs trade.”
The spokesman added that there has been a fall in drug abuse in the last ten years and said more people are recovering from addiction now than in 2009-2010.
There have been repeated calls to decriminalise drugs in the UK by figures such as Nick Clegg and Richard Branson.
However, the Government says drug use and possession should remain criminal offences.
In April this year, research for The Independent found that the majority of young people in Britain are against the liberalisation of drugs laws.
Seven in ten people aged 55-64 agreed cannabis should be “completely illegal to buy or sell”.