Russell Brand has hit the headlines this week after appearing in parliament before the Home Affairs Select Committee to discuss his experience and views on drug abuse. A former addict himself, the elegiac funny man and Hollywood star appeared, as always, fashionably bedraggled, as if someone had used a Louis Vuitton stencil to cut out the holes in his baggy black vest.
Despite this infuriatingly annoying ‘faux-shabbines’, as well as the use of some poorly chosen flamboyant language that would have no doubt only further dissuaded the stiff necked Committee he sat before from his argument, the self-described “recalcitrant” comedian, (to you and me that means “a bit of an arse”), came up with some excellent points, leaving me with a great deal of respect for the man.
Decriminalisation of all drug use was his main agenda. Stating from experience that the illegality of drugs was no more than “a minor inconvenience”, he was adamant that users and addicts should not be treated as criminals, but as mental health patients. By decriminalising drugs – which, by the way, is not the same thing as legalising them – users would still be arrested but, instead of being sent to prison as punishment, they would be automatically sent for rehabilitation.
If you’re not convinced by this idea, one must only look to Portugal for proof of its effectiveness where, since the decriminalisation of all drugs in 2001, positive statistical correlations include reduced drug related deaths, reduced use in adolescents, reduced burden on criminal courts[i] and increased uptake of treatment.[ii]
Of course, there are a plethora of social factors that cause drug abuse, such that decriminalisation alone would be but a small inroad into solving the problem. Still, I agree with Russell that addicts should not be treated as criminals, and I sincerely hope that the Select Committee were not too distracted by all his ostentation to see past what was basically excellent advice.
Nicholas Chowdrey 27/04/2012
[i] Hughes, Caitlin; Stevens, Alex (2010-7-21), “What can we learn from the Portuguese decriminalization of illicit drugs?”, British Journal of Criminology. Oxford University Press
[ii] Hughes, Caitlin; Stevens, Alex (December 2007), “The Effects of Decriminalization of Drug Use in Portugal”, Briefing Paper 14, Oxford: Beckley Foundation