Plymouth professor calls for debate on drug laws
A PLYMOUTH academic has backed Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's claim that Britain is losing the war on drugs.
But Professor Ross Coomber, director of the Drug and Alcohol Research Unit at Plymouth University, said that there should not be a "knee-jerk reaction" to Mr Clegg's warning.
Instead Prof Coomber said there should a considered debate about the UK's current drug control system – a view echoed by other key figures involved in drug treatment and protection of young people in Plymouth.
Yesterday, Lib Dem leader Mr Clegg said Britain was losing the drugs war "on an industrial scale" and called for a reform of current laws.
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He said: "If you were waging any other war where you have 2,000 fatalities a year, your enemies are making billions in profit, constantly throwing new weapons at you and targeting more young people, you'd have to say you are losing and it's time to do something different."
Prof Coomber, a professor of Sociology, said: "I pretty much agree with Mr Clegg. If we consider most of the criteria that those who undertake the drugs war use, the drug war has pretty much failed.
"The problem is that there is always a backlash against calls for reform of drugs control, and it becomes a political football.
"Suggesting reform is not being soft on drugs. Too often there are media and moral panics about drugs."
He added: "There certainly needs an ongoing and considered debate about some reform of the drugs control system.
"It is very important to continuously review any policy that has a large effect on large numbers of people. There is a need for more extensive debate."
Meanwhile, a senior Plymouth Labour councillor said education and debate is the key to steering young people away from drugs.
Cllr Nicky Williams, Cabinet member for children and young people, said she hoped Mr Clegg's comments would stimulate an "honest" and wide-ranging discussion of drugs.
Cllr Williams – who stated that her gut reaction was "no" to the legalisation of drugs during her unsuccessful bid last month to become Devon and Cornwall Police Commissioner – said: "We have to tread very carefully on the drugs issue. We know that the policy as its stands does not seem to be working.
"I am particularly concerned with the growing use of so-called legal highs. The perception that they are legal means some people do not realise the really harmful side-effects they have.
"For me, the education is the key. We don't want young people getting involved in drugs in the first place, and we need honest debate about the harm legal highs and other drugs can do to your body and mental health.
"We seem to have the view that if you don't talk about drugs, children won't access them.
"So often there is hysteria and talk of 'zero tolerance' surrounding drugs. So if Nick Clegg's comments spark debate, I welcome that."
Jeremy Prichard , chief executive of Plymouth's Harbour Drug and Alcohol Services, added: "As a provider of drug services, we want to stay out of the political agenda involving drugs.
"But I would say there needs to be a dispassionate look at the whole issue of drugs.
"I wouldn't restrict this to individual drugs; I would widen it to prescribed drugs and 'legal highs', which are a different combination of the same elements of illegal drugs."