War on drugs has failed - we need a zero-tolerance approach

LAST December, Inspector Jim Duffy, the chairman of the Strathclyde Police Federation, called for the legalisation of drugs. This week, John Vine, Tayside's Chief Constable, called for heroin to be prescribed to drug addicts who have turned to crime to fund their habit.

And so it goes on. More and more senior police officers are calling for drugs to be either decriminalised or legalised. And who can blame them? With about 60 per cent of UK crime - and about 80 per cent in Scotland - being drugs related, the arguments are compelling.

Since the 60s, our politicians have failed to tackle our drugs problem and now our towns and cities, even our prisons, are flooded with drugs. Last year, one prison was described as "a junkies' supermarket".

Drugs enjoy what is called "retail availability" - if you want them, you can have them: any time, any place, anywhere. Some dealers even provide home delivery. Clearly, we can't continue with the current regime - but is decriminalisation, legalisation or prescribing heroin to addicts really the answer?

Is there an alternative, or do we just have to admit that society is powerless in its attempts to do anything to turn the tide on drugs, and accept the social and health consequences of the drugs problem and the knock-on effects on the NHS?

My view is that now is the time to bite the bullet and consider a radical, some might say harsh, alternative: a zero tolerance approach by making class A drugs illegal - completely.

None of the main parties has even considered the possibility. We need a full debate on our drugs problem to consider all possible solutions, including a zero-tolerance approach.

There are many difficulties in adopting this approach, and the first difficulty is actually defining "zero tolerance". Many people mistakenly think we already have this in place.

Few people are aware that it is perfectly legal to be under the influence of illegal substances.

This haphazard approach just doesn't work. First, it sends out the wrong message; second, it makes the job of the police almost impossible, and certainly pointless.

In a zero-tolerance regime, it would be against the law to be under the influence of an illegal substance. And that would make law enforcement perfectly straightforward.

Testing for the presence of class A drugs is a simple process.

In my view, the current laws are a farce and make the war on drugs impossible for the police to win. I know it, John Vine knows it, and I suspect most, if not all, police officers know it.

In a zero-tolerance regime, the rules would be different and the dice would be loaded in favour of law enforcement - rather than in favour of the drug dealers.

I will be the first to admit a zero-tolerance approach to our drugs problem is a harsh approach - but I cannot see us continuing to pussy-foot around with the present laws.

I feel, as a society, we have a decision to make. We either legalise class A drugs or go the zero-tolerance route.

And my personal view is a zero-tolerance approach is the only way forward.

• Mev Brown stood for Scottish Voice NHSFirst in Airdrie and Shotts in the Scottish Parliamentary elections.

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