Ainsworth breaks ranks to demand drug legalisation

By Ian Dunt

The former defence secretary has become the most senior political figure so far to call for an end to drug criminalisation.

Bob Ainsworth, who was temporarily in charge of drugs policy while serving as home office minister under Tony Blair, said a strict system of legal regulation should be introduced, even for hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

“Prohibition has failed to protect us,” he said.

“Politicians and the media need to engage in a genuine and grown up debate about alternatives to prohibition, so that we can build a consensus based on delivering the best outcomes for our children and communities.

“Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit.”

“It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children,” he said earlier.

“We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.”

Labour quickly distanced itself from his comments today.

“These are not the views of Ed Miliband, the Labour party or the public,” a spokesperson said.

The government ruled out any change in drugs policy.

“Drugs are harmful and ruin lives – legalisation is not the answer,” crime prevention minister James Brokenshire said.

“Decriminalisation is a simplistic solution that fails to recognise the complexity of the problem and ignores the serious harm drug taking poses to the individual.

“Legalisation fails to address the reasons people misuse drugs in the first place or the misery, cost and lost opportunities that dependence causes individuals, their families and the wider community.”

Nick Clegg and David Cameron are both thought to privately harbour liberal views on the topic, with Mr Cameron sitting on a Commons committee which suggested reform of heroin laws.

But the drug issue remains so toxic that few politicians are willing to publically demand their legalisation, fearing a backlash from the tabloid press.

Mr Ainsworth himself admitted he was only able to come forward now that he had become a backbencher.

He is just the latest in a series of public figures who have come out to express the view that criminalisation is not the answer.

Earlier this year the chair of the Bar Council and the editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) both demanded drug law reform.