An open letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron signed by 64 prominent Brits and endorsed by 27 organizations calls on the government to move toward an approach that reduces the “harms caused by drugs and current drug policies.”
The letter, organized by the human rights group Release, is signed by Richard Branson, Sting, actors Russell Brand and Julie Christie, and three MPs including Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and Franstine Jones, the first woman to head the UK's National Black Police Association. Academics signing on include Prof. Ian Gilmore, previous president of the Royal College of Physicians, and Prof. David Nutt, who was famously fired from his chairmanship of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2010 after he published data about the relative harms of cannabis, alcohol and other drugs.
Cameron, who refused to answer a question about whether or not he had ever used drugs while running for office in 2005, was the only Tory leadership candidate not to support calls for the law on cannabis to be tightened again in the UK. In 2002, he declared that heroin addicts should be given diamorphine to help wean them off the drug. "One of the things that has held back the debate is the politicians' attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator by posturing with tough policies and calling for crackdown after crackdown," he said then.
'Countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala have witnessed hundreds of thousands of deaths as a result of the War on Drugs, and are leading the charge for a global debate on the issue.'
Yet Cameron hasn’t put his policy where his rhetoric is according to the letter, which was released on June 26 along with a multi-city protest in London, Paris, Rome, Warsaw and Mexico City, as well as cities in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Senegal and other countries where the death penalty is being enforced for drug crimes. Pussy Riot joined the protest in Moscow; Russia has one of the highest rates of intravenous drug use in the world.
In addition to addressing the UK’s drug laws, the letter urges Cameron to “fully engage” in the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs in New York, and lend his support to governments in Latin America that are pushing for reform. “Countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala have witnessed hundreds of thousands of deaths as a result of the ‘War on Drugs,’ and are leading the charge for a global debate on the issue,” a press release from Release states. “However, without support from governments in the West there is a risk that the necessary action to change the international drug control system will not be taken in 2016.”
UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is reportedly committed to reform on the drug issue, recently sent Home Office minister Norman Baker on a global fact-finding mission “to assess the various experiments with drug law being conducted,” including in the U.S., Uruguay and Portugal. Clegg has proposed that European countries work together to come up with a common position on drug legislation ahead of the U.N.'s special session.
On June 24, two days before the letter’s release, the North African intoxicant khat was scheduled as a class C drug in the UK, with Cameron’s support. "Government’s overriding aim is to give people security and peace of mind in every area of life," he noted. "Removing this drug from our streets and from people’s lives is one important way of doing that.”
Prof. Nutt disagrees with this decision. “The risks associated with khat are not something we should take lightly, but bans are an excuse to do nothing productive to address a problem," he states. "Nearly every possible objective measure, alcohol causes far greater danger to health, life and society at large than khat."