A North East police commissioner has backed his chief constable in a call for all drugs to be decriminalised.
Durham’s Ron Hogg said the time has come for the UK to consider regulating drugs such as cannabis and cocaine in a way which will drive out criminality.
A former deputy chief constable, Mr Hogg spent 30 years as a police offer before becoming the Labour commissioner last year, and says that first-hand experience left him convinced the time had come to treat drug addiction as a medical problem rather than a criminal one.
Mr Hogg was speaking after Mike Barton, chief constable at Durham, wrote in a Sunday newspaper that it was time to end the war on drugs. The commissioner said he backed his chief constable 100%, saying that “if you look at the drugs strategy it simply does not work”.
Speaking to The Journal, Mr Hogg added: “A lot of people will disagree, yes, but we already have legalised drugs with tobacco and alcohol, but the difference is we can regulate this and take it out of the hands of criminal organisations. As the chief constable said, we have some 40-odd organised criminal gangs in Durham and the majority are funded through illegal drugs. And we are spending millions of pounds trying to tackle this, but it is not working and the time has come to look at legal access to drugs.
“I’m not saying we leave it at that, it needs regulating. If you look at alcohol, the big difference between an addiction to that and an addiction to other drugs is that we are more likely to treat alcohol abuse because it is viewed as an illness the person suffers rather than something illegal.”
He added: “Drugs money fuels crime, and we see it in the violence between drugs gangs, thankfully something that mostly they keep between themselves. But we also see it in children addicted to drugs and lives ruined.
“We will continue to take drugs crime very seriously, but alongside that we need to take treating drug addiction just as seriously and helping those groups who seek to tackle this.”
Writing in the Observer yesterday, the chief constable said that “if the war on drugs means stopping every street corner turning into an opium den and discouraging the mass consumption of laudanum – as happened during the 19th century – then it has succeeded. But if the war on drugs means trying to reduce the illicit supply of drugs, then it has comprehensively failed.”
He added: “In my force area we have 43 organised crime groups on our radar. Most of them have their primary source of income in illicit drug supply; all of them are involved in some way. These criminals are often local heroes and role models for young people who covet their wealth. Decriminalising their commodity will immediately cut off their income stream and destroy their power. Making drugs legal would tackle the supply chain much more effectively and much more economically than we can currently manage.”
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird was more cautious about Mr Barton’s calls, saying she had seen the devastation caused by drugs.
She said: “I am always happy to have a debate but I have done many court cases about horrible violence used by people on crack cocaine which is almost instantly addictive. they get onto a ‘crack mission’ and will do anything for cash for more. Crack could never be lawfully sold.
“I also fear that around every legitimate regulated business for other drugs, if that is the plan, a racket would develop.
“Addicted customers looking for more cheaper would still buy contraband stuff from where ever they could.
“Mike is right that treating addicts as patients first makes sense and we do that more and more but drug-taking is in decline now so his overall argument is weaker than when it’s been deployed before.”
While North Durham MP Kevan Jones doesn’t support a decriminalisation of drugs he would support them being administered by GPs, adding: “I would support the properly controlled prescriptions of drugs by GPs as part of a treatment programme.”