Today, February 29th – or ‘leap day’ – has marked the launch of LEAP UK: the British chapter of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The organisation’s executive director, Jason Reed, marked the occasion by convening a lively discussion in the House of Commons with a host of law enforcement veterans, as well as policymakers and drug law experts. Speakers gathered from across the political spectrum, and across the world, to make a case for drug policy reform – primarily an end to the War on Drugs, and the prohibitionist policies that accompany it.
Suzanne Sharkey, a former constable and undercover operative of the Northumbria Constabulary, denounced the lack of empathy in contemporary drug policy. “We need solutions based in health and compassion”, Sharkey implored, while disparaging the current approach of criminalising addicts. There is no chance of success, for drug users or society, by continuing to arrest “poor and deprived people with little or no hope”.
James Duffy, the former Chair of the Strathclyde Police Federation, directed his message at concerned parents – many who may think that drug legalisation increases the likelihood of their children using dangerous substances. “Drug dealers decide what they sell to your children”, he asserted, “they choose the drugs’ purity, they choose what to cut it with, and they never check ID”.
The reform of drug policy should appeal to people and policymakers, regardless of their political persuasion. Norman Lamb, an MP for the Liberal Democrats and former Health minister, proclaimed that punishing people for drug use has been ”the most discredited public policy” and quipped that it was “started by the most discredited US president, Richard Nixon”.
Johann Hari, writer of critically acclaimed drug war book Chasing The Scream, noted that drug law reform often gains support from unexpected places; in some parts of the world, it has proved equally popular among the left and right-wing. For example, despite the traditionally conservative political culture of Switzerland, “seventy per cent [of its electorate] voted to maintain the legality of heroin for addicts” after its implementation’s success, Hari described.
The event also brought law enforcement specialists and experts from overseas. Neill Franklin, the director of LEAP’s US chapter, lamented the devastation that the War on Drugs has caused to his country. Franklin described how prohibitionist policies in the US were partly implemented to continue the legacy of racist slavery in the United States; as the US constitution prohibits involuntary servitude, unless as a punishment for a crime.
“Drug prohibition”, Franklin argues, “is the foundation of the racial profiling that we see today”. Although the implementation of racist policies has a long tradition in the United States, the drug war has now entrenched such discrimination in the British legal system. “The increased police-citizen negative contact for Black and Asians in the UK” he described, “[has led to] community disenfranchisement of the opportunity to thrive”. Franklin’s point has been corroborated by Release, a UK drug law reform charity that identified a massive gulf in the implementation of drug policies towards people of different races.
Mike Shiner of Stopwatch – a coalition campaigning for accountable policing in the UK – argued that “progressive police officers making the case for [drug policy] reform” is vital for influencing policy. The launch of LEAP UK, as a large and vocal group of experienced police officers denouncing contemporary drug policy, will hopefully give policymakers the courage to publicly realign their approach to drug legislation. Additionally, it is vital that LEAP UK’s message is disseminated as widely as possible, so that the wider public become aware of the hypocrisy and repression that are inextricably linked to the War on Drugs.
To find out more about LEAP UK, visit their website.