England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies has told BBC radio 3 that drug addiction should be a medical issue rather than a matter for the criminal justice system.
In the interview with BBC radio 3’s Private passions, Davies criticised the UK’s treatment of addicts as criminals and even admitted to trying cannabis cookies during her time at university.
"I never smoked so I couldn't smoke joints but I did have some cookies, until on the third or fourth occasion I had hallucinations and I've never touched it since. And I think I understood through that what my father said to me when I told him I was going to try it. He said: 'Drugs decivilise you. You stop being a civilised person. And I understood why so many people were against even the soft drugs.”
This being said, drug addiction has not always been viewed as a criminal offence. Before 1916, the UK had few laws regarding drugs and those that did exist were primarily to prevent poisons from being used in crime.
In 1916, the first real drug regulation act was called the Defence of the Realm Act or DORA. This was emergency legislation and made it a criminal offence to possess or distribute cocaine or opium. While DORA was initially intended to guarantee the availability of medical drugs when they were needed, it also supported growing anti-drug sentiment in the UK.
It was not until 1923 with the passing of the Dangerous Drugs Act that drug possession and addiction became criminalised.
This drove drug use as well, as those suffering with an addiction, underground and started the criminalisation of addiction that we see today.
While there are arguments both for and against criminalising drug use, it can have a chilling effect on those looking to enter addiction treatment.
In response to Davies claims that drug addiction should not be criminalised, a spokesman for the department of health said, “Drugs ruin lives and cause misery to families and communities and this government is committed to breaking the cycle of drug and alcohol dependency. The UK approach is to consider drug use as both a health and criminal issue and so the CMO is not saying anything new."