16 August 2010 Last updated at 19:45 ET Decriminalising drug use could drastically reduce crime and improve health, the outgoing president of the Royal College of Physicians has said.
Sir Ian Gilmore said the laws on misuse of drugs should be reviewed but that drugs should still be regulated.
He had formed his view after seeing the problems caused by dirty needles and contaminated drugs, Sir Ian said in a parting e-mail to 25,000 RCP members.
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Everyone who has looked at this in a serious and sustained way concludes that the present policy of prohibition is not a success”End Quote Sir Ian Gilmore Royal College of Physicians
But the government says it does not believe this is the right approach.
In the e-mail, which Sir Ian said expressed own views rather than those of the RCP, he wrote that he felt like finishing his presidency on a "controversial note".
He endorsed a recent article in the British Medical Journal by Stephen Rolles from the drug research charity Transform, which argued that the policy of prohibition had harmed public health, encouraged organised crime and fuelled corruption.
Sir Ian told the BBC: "Everyone who has looked at this in a serious and sustained way concludes that the present policy of prohibition is not a success.
"There are really strong arguments to look again."
Sir Ian said he had a longstanding interest in the subject, stemming from his work as a liver specialist.
During that time he was used to seeing intravenous drug users who had developed hepatitis C, and people coming into A&E units "day-in and day-out".
'Nail in the coffin' He argued that many of the problems health staff encountered were the consequences not of heroin itself, but of prohibition.
In his e-mail, Sir Ian wrote: "I personally back the chairman of the UK Bar Council, Nicholas Green QC, when he calls for drug laws to be reconsidered with a view to decriminalising illicit drugs use. This could drastically reduce crime and improve health," he wrote.
In his recent report to the Bar Council, Mr Green said there was growing evidence that decriminalising personal use could free up police resources, reduce crime and improve public health.
Danny Kushlick from the charity Transform Drug Policy Foundation said Sir Ian's comments were "another nail in prohibition's coffin".
He went on: "With a prime minster and deputy prime minister, both longstanding supporters of alternatives to the war on drugs, at the very least the government must initiate an impact assessment comparing prohibition with decriminalisation and strict legal regulation."
'Extremely harmful' In a statement the Royal College of Physicians said a joint report in 2000 with the Royal College of Psychiatrists had called for much greater investment in research and in treatment programmes.
The RCP said it was hoping to review the report's findings under its new president, Sir Richard Thompson.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: "Drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis are extremely harmful and can cause misery to communities across the country.
"The government does not believe that decriminalisation is the right approach. Our priorities are clear; we want to reduce drug use, crack down on drug related crime and disorder and help addicts come off drugs for good."
Article Source : BBC News
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