Police 'lead
debate on drugs'

Former drug squad officer says war on drugs creates more violent gangsters

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Police are challenging established drug policy while politicians bury their heads in the sand, it has been claimed.

Neil Woods, a former undercover officer turned campaigner, says several forces are starting to police street drugs in a more common-sense way – flying in the face of government policy.

He said: “Police are beginning to challenge the status quo, and police and crime commissioners are leading the debate. In Durham they have decriminalised possession of any drug – offenders are sent to a diversion scheme rather than being arrested.

“West Midlands are looking at doing something similar and are also looking at promoting heroin-assisted treatment and heroin consumption rooms. This goes against everything the Home Office says but may happen anyway.”

The Loop, which has trialled drug testing at music festivals, is also in talks with several local authorities to deliver city centre drug testing.

Woods, who spent 14 years in the drug squad – often posing as a heroin and crack addict to gain intelligence about gangsters – now works for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), raising awareness of the shortcomings of established policy.

He took part in the recent Street Drugs in the Northern Powerhouse symposium at Manchester University, arguing for full regulation of the drugs trade. Under this system, heroin would be distributed on a medical model to those who are addicted.

He said: “For a long time I was invested in the idea of getting the dangerous people off the streets. Then I realised the reason that gangsters were getting more violent was down to police tactics.

“I had actually been causing harm with no benefit whatsoever. The dealers that survive are the most vicious and organised crime gets perpetually more violent. This hasn’t happened by accident – it’s cause and effect.”

“Head in the sand”

Former government drugs adviser Professor David Nutt, of Imperial College London, who also took part in the conference, voiced frustration with official policy. He said: “The only thing the Home Office can think is to ban things. It’s head in the sand politics, and it’s been like this for 10 years.

“Every time a minister for drugs leaves their job they seem to come out and say they have got it wrong. But within government they say what they are told. There is no debate allowed.

“We have got reason to be concerned about drugs like spice, because they are very toxic and we should encourage people to go back to using cannabis instead.”

But he added that the rise of fentanyl – a powerful opioid blamed for an upsurge of deaths among heroin users – requires even more drastic action.

“Some fentanyls are 1,000 times more potent than heroin. Over 40 types have been detected in the UK in the past year.

“I see a terrifying future – cannabinoids such as spice can send people mad and zombie-like but that usually lasts a few hours – whereas fentanyl kills. We really need open testing of drugs and if there’s fentanyl in there people should never take it.

“The Home Office is disapproving of this approach but it’s really up to the police and whether they will prosecute people who are taking drugs to be safety-tested.”

LEAP, Nutt and other campaigners lobby politicians. Nutt estimates around 100 MPs from across the political divide want regulation, around 100 are resolutely prohibitionist and the remainder follow their party lines.

The Home Office has refused to be drawn on what would happen if police forces deviate from official policy but stressed there is no legal framework for the provision of drug consumption rooms in the UK.

A spokesman said a range of offences is likely to be committed in such locations – such as possession of a controlled drug, encouraging or assisting the possession and supply of controlled drugs or knowingly permitting the premises to be used for supplying a controlled drug.

He added: “This government has no plans to decriminalise drug possession. Decriminalisation would send the wrong message to the vast majority of people who do not take drugs, especially young and vulnerable people, with the potential grave risk of increased misuse of drugs.”

Interact: Responses to Police ‘lead debate on drugs’

  • Damien
    25 Apr 2018 18:08
    I believe the current interpretation of the misuse of drugs act defiles the British values of individual liberty and the right to religious freedom. The police oath swears 'to keep the peace.' again the outdated interpretation of the missuse of drugs act is failing there as well.
  • Street Drugs in the Northern Powerhouse: Perspective and Policy – FBMH News
    23 Apr 2018 10:15
    […] Big Issue North article […]
  • David Raynes
    22 Apr 2018 16:04
    The UK abandoned the (British System) medical prescription model for heroin (for most addicts) in the 60s, because that model could not cope with drugs use as a lifestyle choice. Was Neil Woods even alive then? Too many people talking about this who do not understand the history, they produce simplistic ill thought out, half baked solutions to complex social problems. Legalisation and normalisation of more drugs, given the immense harm of the tobacco/alcohol model asd variously applied, is just not going to happen in the UK. Cannabis is a very nasty substance with serious epigenetic and teratogenic effects . Professor Nutt as a scientist ought to understand that. No man or woman of child bearing/producing age should ever take cannabis.
  • Jo Neill, organiser
    22 Apr 2018 07:40
    This is an excellent article on what was an exceptional and ground breaking event that we aim to re-run in London in the Autumn. See these links for full write-up and information on the event and the issues discussed: full article with pictures. https://www.bap.org.uk/articles/street-drugs-in-the-northern-powerhouse-perspective-and-policy/ David Nutt's talk: https://youtu.be/A16Tb7DaMcs An article by Neil Woods: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/street-drugs-legalisation-is-a-meaningless-word/

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