DRUGS INQUIRY: Should our drugs laws be changed?
The Leicester Mercury today launches an online opinion poll asking readers if they support a major overhaul of the country's drugs laws.
Readers are asked whether they believe highly-addictive drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine should be decriminalised.
They are also being asked if they believe cannabis should be legalised.
Responses to the online poll – on the Mercury's website – will feed directly into a major inquiry being conducted by the Home Affairs Select Committee, chaired by Leicester East MP Keith Vaz, and could shape the future of the country's drug laws.
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Mr Vaz said the committee's review was the first of its kind in a decade and that the cross-party group of MPs had specifically chosen Leicester to take part.
He said: "Leicester is perfect because it is a city in the middle of England and we hope the things they tell us about their experiences of drugs will help us shine a light into the shadows.
"The big thing we can do in the UK is to reduce demand and the big question the committee is asking is how do we stop people wanting to take drugs."
Mr Vaz said there is a growing body of opinion that damaging and addictive drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine should be decriminalised. When people call for decriminalisation of heroin or crack cocaine, they mean for possession.
If the policy was introduced, addicts would not face criminal action when caught with either of the drugs. Instead, under a system favoured by people including Sir Richard Branson, addicts would be dealt with as people in need of treatment rather than criminals.
Heroin would be provided by the state and efforts stepped up to help users beat their addiction.
Such a move would also mean addicts would not be placed at risk of buying from criminals who often mix drugs with other – sometimes harmful – substances to increase profitability.
Dealers and people producing hard drugs would still be committing a criminal offence. Legalisation, which the pro-cannabis lobby argues for, would mean the drug could be sold legally, but with some controls such as those which govern the sale of alcohol and tobacco.
Dr James Treadwell, a criminologist at the University of Leicester, said: "This is a good time for a sensible and considered debate about drugs.
"More people are coming around to the idea that the war on drugs has failed and cannot be won even in the long-term.
"We know from the recession of the 70s and 80s that use of illegal drugs went up.
"During an economic downturn, people can feel a general despair and bleakness.
"Because of the economic problems, you may start to see more young people turning to heroin as a means of escape."
Mr Vaz and members of his committee visited Miami, in the United States, and Bogota, in Columbia, last week, to hear first-hand accounts of efforts in those countries to tackle the cocaine trade.
It is estimated that the majority of cocaine which ends up in cities such as Leicester originated in Columbia.
Mr Vaz added: "In countries like Columbia there is little or no choice for people to become part of the cocaine trade.
"Billions of pounds of tax payers' money has been spent fighting the drugs trade there, but the heroin is still flowing.
"We want to engage people in Leicester in this debate. It is the first time in 10 years that the committee has looked at drugs policy to this extent."
ADD YOUR VOTE TO OUR ONLINE POLLS
Question 1: Should possession of drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine be decriminalised? Add your vote to the poll on this page, right.
Question 2: Should possession of cannabis be legalised? Click here to add you vote.
SEND IN YOUR VIEWS: Write and tell the Home Affairs Select Committee what you think
As well as taking part in our online survey, Mercury readers can contribute to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry by answering the following questions.
1. In general, do you believe the drug laws in this country are a) too liberal b) about right c) not liberal enough?
2. Which drugs do you believe are the most prevalent in Leicester?
3. Is drug-related crime such as burglary or shoplifting a problem in Leicester?
4. Do parents have enough information about so-called legal highs?
5. Is the Government too slow to ban legal highs?
6. Is sufficient drug education provided in schools?
7. Do you believe ex-addicts should provide drug education in schools?
8. At what age do you believe drug education should begin in schools?
9. Do parents know how to discuss drug issues with their children?
Send answers to the office of Keith Vaz, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.