HomeNewsBriefUK Study Could Impact LatAm Drug Use Policies
BRIEF

UK Study Could Impact LatAm Drug Use Policies

DRUG POLICY / 31 OCT 2014 BY MARGUERITE CAWLEY EN

A new study published by the British government found that punitive drug laws don’t necessarily result in less drug use, a finding that could have important implications for drug policy reform in Latin America.

Based on international fact-finding missions undertaken in 2013 and 2014 — including visits to countries with more conservative drug policies, like the United States, to those that are trying a more liberal approach, like Uruguay — the United Kingdom Home Office (pdf) found “no apparent correlations between the ‘toughness’ of a country’s approach and the prevalence of adult drug use.” 

The study also found that while decriminalization doesn’t result in fewer people consuming drugs, it doesn’t appear to promote more drug use. Decriminalizing drug use may also reduce pressure on the criminal justice system, said the Home Office.

The study went on to say that decriminalization may have positive health effects for users, pointing to Portugal as an example, where the possession of small amounts of any drug hasn’t been a prosecutable offense since 2001. Since that year, cases of HIV and AIDS among drug users have dropped significant in the country.

The report advocated demand reduction and treatment-based approaches to drug use, but did not give specific recommendations for how law enforcement should approach the issue. 

On the same day the report was published, UK ministers held a debate in which they called on the Home Office to review current drug polices by the end of 2015.

InSight Crime Analysis

Coming from a country with an influential role in the international drug policy debate — and one that has traditionally maintained a conservative approach to drug use — this report may yet result in serious reverberations among policymakers. Many countries in Latin America have been working to revise hardline approaches to drug use, which can clog the justice system and turn addicts into criminals. The evidence presented by the UK could be an important catalyst.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

The UK has traditionally aligned with the United States’ “war on drugs” rhetoric. However, this report — coupled with claims by the deputy prime minister that the tough-on-drugs approach isn’t working and an atmosphere favoring less stringent marijuana laws — indicates attitudes are slowly changing. This has also been the case in the US, where anti-drug official William Brownfield recently advocated a more tolerant approach to drug users.

All of Europe — including the European Union, which has generally taken a more soft-side approach to drug policy — has a vested interest in cutting drug trafficking from Latin America, particularly from Peru and Bolivia, which have become major providers for the European cocaine market. The UK has Europe’s highest cocaine consumption rates.

In another indication that the UK may slowly be shifting away from its traditional “drug war” approach, the National Crime Agency (NCA), created in 2013, has begun placing resources into targeting the entire structures of drug trafficking organizations — such as their finances — rather than just targeting certain drugs. 

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

DRUG POLICY / 25 OCT 2019

A pilot study in Mexico is showing promising results for measuring the frequency and type of drugs being used across the…

DRUG POLICY / 1 AUG 2017

Authorities in Uruguay have announced that funds seized from drug traffickers will be used to finance resources for people…

CARIBBEAN / 25 FEB 2014

Jamaica plans to decriminalize marijuana before the end of the year, bringing it in line with many of its Latin…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Strategic Communications Manager Job Description

12 FEB 2021

InSight Crime is looking for a full-time strategic communications manager. This person needs to be able to work in a fast-paced world of daily news, high-profile investigations, national and international…

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …