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Cameron urged to start drug debate
David Cameron has been urged by MPs to start a wide-ranging public debate on drug policy - including the possibility of legalisation.
The Commons Home Affairs Committee said current strategies were not working and it called on the Prime Minister to establish a Royal Commission to look at all the alternatives.
Following a year-long inquiry, the committee concluded that efforts to combat the drug barons had failed while there was not enough focus on helping users to break their habits.
It said ministers could learn from the experience of Portugal where drugs have been "depenalised"- with possession of small amounts not subject to criminal penalties, even though they remain illegal. It also urged the Government to also fund detailed studies of changes in Washington and Colorado in the United States - where cannabis is being legalised - and Uruguay where a state monopoly of cannabis production and sale is being proposed.
Ten years after its predecessor committee last looked at the issue, it said change was now urgent and that a Royal Commission should be set up immediately so it could report back by 2015, when the next general election is due to take place.
The committee said it was clear from the experience of countries around the world that the current approach was not working. "We were impressed by what we saw of the Portuguese depenalised system. It had clearly reduced public concern about drug use in that country, and was supported by all political parties and the police," it said.
However, Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, expressed concern about the possible impact on cannabis use. "If the report is to be responsible, it must take account of the specific damage that cannabis can do to the developing brain, not only as recent studies have shown inducing irreversible cognitive deterioration but in around 10% of cases triggering severe psychotic illness," she said.
A government spokesperson said: "Drugs are illegal because they are harmful - they destroy lives and blight communities. A Royal Commission on drugs is simply not necessary. Our cross-government approach is working. Drug usage is at its lowest level since records began and people going into treatment today are far more likely to free themselves from dependency than ever before. We will respond to the report more fully in due course."
Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne said the Government was "open to new ways of thinking". He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We are open-minded, we think it's a decent, thoughtful, balanced report. We will consider it carefully."
Pressed on whether the Government would hold a Royal Commission as suggested, Mr Browne said: "The Home Secretary has said she doesn't think the Royal Commission is the answer at this time, but we are open to new ideas and evidence-based research to carry on reducing the harm caused by drugs in this country."