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London ‘dragging its feet’ with drug reform as Sadiq Khan urged to deliver on election promise

·3-min read
Sadiq Khan wins second term (PA)
Sadiq Khan wins second term (PA)

London is “dragging its feet” when it comes to tackling drug deaths, according to experts who have called on Sadiq Khan to move forward with plans to re-examine drug policy.

During his re-election campaign earlier this year, Mr Khan pledged to set up a commission to explore alternative approaches to harm prevention for drug users including whether cannabis should be decriminalised.

But six months into his second term as Mayor of London, there has been seemingly no progress on the scheme.

On Monday, the London Assembly’s health committee heard from a panel of experts representing leading drug charities and drug policy research groups including The Loop, Release and Change, Grow, Live around ways to tackle drug deaths in London.

More than 200 people in London died from drug poisoning related to opiates such as heroin during 2020 while nationally drug deaths are trending upwards.

Speaking at City Hall, Niamh Eastwood, executive director of Release and Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at Transform and representing The Loop, both said they had been in contact with the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) about working on the London Drug Commission, but “haven’t had confirmation of it starting yet”.

Among the strategies discussed at City Hall were making drug testing more widely available for recreational users and drug consumption rooms which provide secure, supervised spaces for the most “high risk” drug users to safely consume drugs.

Real world examples have shown drug testing can significantly reduce risks associated with recreational drug taking, while drug consumption rooms in other countries have seen reductions of up to 35 per cent in overdose deaths, City Hall was told.

Steve Rolles told the London Assembly there was a “general shift” to adopting such measures elsewhere, but that London “is not leading the charge and in some degrees, is dragging its feet”.

Mr Rolles went on to say Mr Khan would be “negligent” to rule out any potential harm reduction methods, including drug consumption rooms which the mayor has previously said he has “no plans” to look into.

The bulk of Mr Khan’s proposals regarding the drugs commission during the election revolved around the decriminalisation of cannabis, which the Government shot down as it is “not a matter for his office”.

But Professor Alex Stevens, professor of criminal justice at the University of Kent, told City Hall on Monday “it is possible” for the Mayor of London, along with the Met Commissioner, to introduce de facto decriminalisation in London by instructing officers not to punish those found in possession of small quantities of drugs.

Professor Stevens said: “The criminalisation of people for the possession of drugs for their own use is costly, ineffective and counterproductive.”

He added: “It’s ineffective because the reviews that I and other people have done in the field show that decriminalisation does not increase use and criminalisation does not reduce it.”

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London, said: “The Mayor recognises there is growing demand for a debate on our drug laws, and he has committed to establishing a London Drug Commission of independent experts who will examine the latest evidence from around the world, with particular focus on cannabis.

“The Commission will consider the effectiveness of our drugs law and make policy recommendations as to how to improve the situation for Londoners, reducing the huge harm that those illegal drugs, including cannabis, cause to our communities and society.”

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