- Published on Wednesday, 19 August 2015 13:03
MPs and peers calling for drug policy reform say human rights legislation could be used to decriminalise possession, purchase and growing of drugs
Taking drugs is a human right, according to a cross-party group of MPs and peers who want to legalise the possession, purchase and growing of drugs.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform want to use human rights legislation to decriminalise drug use, claiming the "blanket prohibition" drug policy approach has failed.
In a new report (see below) it suggests that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which outlines rights to "private and family life", could be used by defendants caught with illegal drugs.
It says drug laws needed to “reflect the supremacy of human rights conventions" and suggests that as long as drug taking does not harm others, it should not be a criminal offence.
The group is an informal grouping of parliamentarians but its high profile and authoritative membership gives the group a significant degree of influence.
Its members include the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, former Justice Secretary Lord Falconer, former Labour leader Lord Kinnock, former Conservative Chancellor Lord Lawson and the former director general of M15 Baroness Manningham-Buller.
The report by the group could lead to a test case brought by a drug user but Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, who said the successful use of Article 8 of the ECHR could "open the flood gates" for people using the legislation to avoid prosecution against all kinds of crimes.
"This is novel as far as decriminalisation is concerned," he said. "One exemption, though minor, could open the floodgates. Human rights legislation is not designed to be used in this way."
The report by the group says: “For European countries the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular Article 8, could be invoked in support of the argument that possession or purchase or cultivation of drugs for personal use, particularly in small quantities, do not injure other people's rights either directly or indirectly and therefore should not be criminalised.
“The interpretation of the Drug Control Conventions must take full account of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the impact of current policies in human terms.
“This applies fully to the response to the production, trafficking and sale of controlled drugs.
“When the existing unbalanced prohibitionist response to drug market activities breaches human rights, then adjustments must be made.”
A Government spokesman said it had "no intention of decriminalising or legalising drugs".
APPG Guidance on Interpreting the UN Drug Conventions
Drug policy is now part of a debate at UN level, and a review of the UN Drug Conventions on Drugs will begin at the UN General Assembly in September and culminate in the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drug Policy in March 2016 where Member States will be considering a number of policy approaches. As a contribution to that debate the APPG has published Guidance on a flexible interpretation of the Drug Conventions which demonstrates the extent to which reform of national drug policies can be accommodated within current Conventions.
The guidance has been prepared by the Group with the support of officials and experts from Latin America and Europe. It provides a radical re-interpretation of the Conventions.
It is not, for example, justified to violate human rights in the quest to comply with the conventions on drugs. Blanket aerial coca crop eradication in rural areas is unacceptable when this leaves families and whole communities without access to clean water or a livelihood.
Likewise, denying terminally ill people access to essential pain relieving medicines, in the interests of upholding the UN drug conventions cannot be justified. And yet this is commonplace in 160 UN Member States. In total, 5.5 billion people, including 5.5 million with terminal cancer live in countries with low or non-existent access to controlled medicines.
Across the Globe, children and young people are being criminalised for using small quantities of drugs. This prohibitionist approach to use leads to greater use of the most dangerous Class A drugs; higher levels of addiction and long term damage to the prospects of the children and young people affected.
The UN drug conventions permit drug supply and possession for ‘medical and scientific purposes. The Guidance proposes that a modern interpretation of the term 'scientific purposes' enables drug reforms to be introduced and evaluated, thus contributing to creating a new experimental and evidential ethos and improving the knowledge base on the efficacy of drug policies.
The full text of the APPG Guidance: