There is no "clear correlation" between tough-on-drugs laws and lower drug use, finds a landmark UK government study based on a comparative analysis of narcotics laws around the world.
Published Thursday by the Home Office, the report was signed by the Conservative home secretary Theresa May and the Liberal Democrat minister Norman Baker. While the study steers away from specific policy recommendations, it notes there is no evidence that punitive approaches impact levels of drug use.
The study examines numerous countries, including Portugal, where the government has pursued policies of decriminalization, focusing on health and treatment over incarceration.
"It is not clear that decriminalization has an impact on levels of drug use," the report states. "Following decriminalization in Portugal there has not been a lasting increase in adult drug use." Furthermore, there is evidence of "improved health prospects for users," including a reduction in cases of drug-related HIV and AIDS, the study finds.
"We encountered a range of approaches to drug possession, from ‘zero-tolerance’ to decriminalization," the report reads. "The evidence from other countries show that levels of drug use are influenced by factors more complex and nuanced than legislation and enforcement alone."
According to Baker, the report has been ready for release since July, but its publication was delayed due to suppression by the Conservative Party. The Telegraph reports that the release of the study touched off a political "row" and sparked "panic" in the Home Office. Prime Minister David Cameron promptly responded to the study by declaring he doesn't "believe" in decriminalizing drugs.
"It’s time for a radical change in British drugs policy," Baker declared in a statement released Thursday. "The fact is we should spend more time and effort cracking down on the Mr Bigs’ and criminal gangs who traffic drugs than users and addicts who should be helped to recover, not put behind bars."