Secret report says war on hard drugs has failed
Martin Bright, home affairs editor
Sunday July 3, 2005
A secret Downing Street report on crack and heroin, suppressed by ministers, has discovered that the government's war on drugs has failed.
The document, seen by The Observer, was one of several papers on key areas of government policy prepared by the strategy unit at the Cabinet Office and overseen by policy tsar Lord Birt.
Researchers found that stamping down on hard drugs through the police and courts had little effect on production and found no evidence that attacking drug supply had any impact on the harm caused by heroin and crack users. The full report provides a powerful argument for legalising drugs so they are not controlled by criminals.Even if the war on supply succeeds, the report found, it would simply lead to a rise in the price of crack and heroin, in turn producing more crime by addicts needing to feed their habit and increased profits for the drug barons. The cost of crime associated with heroin and crack users was estimated at £16 billion by researchers, but the report found that the global crusade on drugs had coincided with a rise in consumption.
Birt's advice to the Prime Minister remains secret, but one source said he ignored the conclusions about the war on drugs and concentrated on the finding that 30,000 'high-harm' drug users were committing 21 million offences a year. As a result, he recommended coercing drug users into treatment.
Half of the report, written by the Cabinet Office's Strategy Unit, was released on Friday night after a series of freedom of information requests with other papers on education, health, crime and London. But the report ends on page 53 with a note saying that the rest of the report had been withheld.
The full findings of the 105-page report contained such a devastating critique of the government's policy of prohibition they are unlikely ever to be published.
The suppressed pages, seen by The Observer, show that Downing Street experts found that the international drug war, led by the US, simply displaced production from one country to another. On page 61, for example, the researchers conclude that 'effective efforts at eradication of coca growing in Colombia [are] thought to have displaced crops to Peru and Bolivia'.
Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said: 'It is totally unacceptable if new evidence about harder drugs is being suppressed.'
Danny Kushlick of the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation, campaigning for an end to drugs laws, said: 'This is a devastating critique of the government's policy and a powerful argument against prohibition. Ministers should now publish the whole report and establish an inquiry to balance the cost of the war against drugs against the harm being done by the illegal trade in drugs.'
A Downing Street spokeswoman denied the pages had been suppressed to avoid government embarrassment, but said they had been withheld under the Freedom of Information Act, which exempts information relating to security matters. Sections of the act relating to the formulation of government policy had also been invoked.