A Labour ex-cabinet minister’s call for hard drugs to be decriminalised has been dismissed as “irresponsible” by the party leadership.
Bob Ainsworth, at one time in charge of drugs policy as a Home Office minister, wants the production and supply of drugs including cocaine to be officially regulated. The war on drugs had been “nothing but a disaster”, he said, and switching the trade from the hands of criminals to doctors and pharmacies appeared to be the best solution.
But the former defence secretary’s proposal, to be put to ministers in a parliamentary debate, was immediately rejected by the coalition Government, Labour leader Ed Miliband and a Labour MP who has led anti-drug campaigns moved swiftly to distance themselves from his “irresponsible” ideas.
“Bob’s views do not reflect Ed’s views, the party’s view or indeed the view of the vast majority of the public,” a spokeswoman for Ed Miliband said.
A party source described the legalisation proposal as “extremely irresponsible”. “I don’t know what he was thinking,” they said.
There was also a stinging retort from Labour MP John Mann, who carried out an inquiry into hard drug use in his Bassetlaw constituency while Mr Ainsworth was drugs minister, who said: “He didn’t know what he was talking about when I met him with my constituents during my heroin inquiry and he doesn’t know what he’s talking about now.”
Crime prevention minister James Brokenshire said: “Drugs are harmful and ruin lives – legalisation is not the answer. 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.”
Mr Ainsworth said his government roles had showed him that prohibition had failed and said: “My departure from the frontbenches gives me the freedom to express my long held view that, whilst it was put in place with the best of intentions, the war on drugs has been nothing short of a disaster.”
“I am not proposing the legalisation of heroin so we can all get zonked out on the street corner,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “What I am saying is that heroin needs to be taken out of the hands of the dealers, put into the hands of the medical profession, done in a mass way to the extent that’s necessary. We need to be bold, we need some fresh thinking. This has been going on for 50 years now and it is not getting better – the drugs trade is as big and as powerful as it ever was.”