• Mike Barton, chief constable of Durham Constabulary, said NHS should hand out drugs to addicts and treat them
• Anti-drugs campaigner Mary Brett, of Cannabis Skunk Sense, said the war on drugs ‘has never been fought’
• It follows Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s vow to ban ‘simple’ cautions for serious offences such as drug abuse and drug handling

A senior police officer sparked fury last night after he called for the legalisation of banned hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Mike Barton, the chief constable of Durham Constabulary, said the war on drugs had ‘comprehensively failed’ and compared it to America’s disastrous efforts to ban alcohol during the Prohibition era.

Addicts, he said, should be given or sold hard drugs through the NHS and ‘treated and cared for’ instead of criminalised.

But anti-drugs campaigners condemned his comments.

Mary Brett, from Cannabis Skunk Sense, said police were already failing to enforce drugs laws properly.

‘The war on drugs has never been fought – in fact there has never been a war on drugs,’ she added.

‘The police go around handing out cautions and a slap on the wrist even for people caught with hard drugs.

‘They hardly ever get prosecuted and sent to prison. People know that users take cocaine all the time in nightclubs, and the police should go in and catch these people.

‘The idea of giving out hard drugs for free at taxpayers’ expense is abhorrent.’

Mr Barton’s intervention into the drugs debate came in an article for the Left-wing Observer newspaper yesterday.

He argued that a controlled supply would undermine the criminal gangs who make millions selling drugs.

He wrote: ‘Not all crime gangs raise income through selling drugs, but most of them do in my experience. So offering an alternative route of supply to users cuts off the gangs’ income stream.

‘If an addict were able to access drugs via the NHS or some similar organisation then they would not have to go out and buy illegal drugs. Drugs should be controlled. They should not, of course, be freely available.
‘I think addiction to anything – drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc – is not a good thing, but outright prohibition hands revenue streams to villains.’

Comparing Britain’s drug policies with the situation that gave rise to gangsters such as Al Capone in 1920s America, he said: ‘Have we not learned the lessons of prohibition in history?

‘The Mob’s sinister rise to prominence in the US was pretty much funded through its supply of a prohibited drug: alcohol. That’s arguably what we are doing in the UK.’

The police chief also said he was ‘deeply disappointed’ the Government had abandoned plans for a minimum price for alcohol.

Mr Barton, the head of criminal intelligence at the Association of Chief Police Officers, has spent 34 years as a police officer. But his suggestions have been given short shrift by ministers.

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘Drugs are illegal because they are dangerous. They destroy lives and blight communities.

‘The UK’s approach on drugs remains clear.
‘We must help individuals who are dependent by treatment, while ensuring law enforcement protects society by stopping the supply and tackling the organised crime that is associated with the drugs trade.’

A recent report by the Home Affairs Select Committee appeared to endorse decriminalising drugs as a way of helping South American countries combat organised crime.

Chief Constable Andy Bliss, ACPO’s drugs spokesman, said: ‘Clearly, a senior colleague like Mike Barton is entitled to his views and he has added his contribution to the national debate, but it would be ACPO’s position that these are matters for Parliament to decide.

‘We need in particular to be very thoughtful about setting clear boundaries, especially for young people, in relation to drugs, their misuse and criminal activity surrounding them.’

Sec Tech UK opinion: Isn’t it sad to see Chief Constable Mike Barton being lambasted for expressing an opinion which actually shows immense common sense. Furthermore, after 34 years as a serving Police Officer, who knows more about the fight against drugs than him? He appears to be simply trying to open a discussion which those in power who don’t want to discuss at any cost. Please keep trying Mr. Barton. Remember, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.