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Criminal law: VIPs urge government to decriminalise possession of drugs

Many high-profile celebrities along with lawyers, academics and politicians have put their names to an open letter to David Cameron asking him to review the current drugs laws which criminalise those caught in possession of drugs.

The letter coincides with the launch of the campaign Drugs - It's Time for Better Laws, which has been organised by the national drug charity Release.

Among the VIPs supporting the campaign are Dame Judi Dench, Sir Richard Branson, Sting, Julie Christie, former Labour MP Bob Ainsworth and three former police chief constables.

The letter claims that in the last 40 years, since the passing of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, the illicit use of drugs has grown rapidly, and in the last ten years the drug laws have resulted in over a million people getting criminal records.

It states that: "Criminalising people who use drugs leads to greater social exclusion and stigmatisation making it much more difficult for them to gain employment and to play a productive role in society."

Campaigners hope that in future, rather than being arrested and receiving criminal convictions for possessing drugs, offenders would be warned and have their drugs confiscated and would be issued fines, in a similar way to Portugal's current system.

In Portugal, since July 2001, administrative penalties similar to parking fines are issued to those caught in possession of drugs.

Sir Richard Branson believes that "the war on drugs has failed to cut drug usage, but has filled our jails, cost millions in tax payer dollars, fuelled organised crime and caused thousands of deaths. We need a new approach, one that takes the power out of the hands of organised crime and treats people with addiction problems like patients, not criminals."

However, last night the Home Office stated: "We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful - they destroy lives and cause untold misery to families and communities."

Should the possession of drugs be decriminalised in the UK? Share your opinion in the FindLaw Community.

Related links:
Read more on this story (Guardian)
Read about current sentencing for possession of drugs (FindLaw)
Find local criminal solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)