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PM rules out drugs policy review
David Cameron has ruled out a fundamental review of the Government's approach to drugs, insisting its current strategy is "working".
The Prime Minister dismissed calls from a cross-party group of MPs to hold a wide-ranging Royal Commission to consider alternative methods, including legalisation.
After a year-long inquiry, the Commons Home Affairs Committee said the Government's current policy was not working.
But, speaking during a visit to Cambridge, Mr Cameron said: "I don't support decriminalisation. We have a policy which actually is working in Britain. Drugs use is coming down, the emphasis on treatment is absolutely right, and we need to continue with that to make sure we can really make a difference. Also, we need to do more to keep drugs out of our prisons. These are the Government's priorities and I think we should continue with that rather than have some very, very long-term Royal Commission."
In a report, the influential Home Affairs Committee said ministers could learn from the experience of Portugal where drugs have been "depenalised" - with possession of small amounts not subject to criminal penalties, even though they remain illegal.
It also urged the Government to fund detailed studies of changes in Washington and Colorado in the United States - where cannabis is being legalised - and Uruguay where a state monopoly of cannabis production and sale is being proposed.
Ten years after its predecessor committee last looked at the issue, it said change was now urgent and that a Royal Commission should be set up immediately so it could report back by 2015, when the next general election is due to take place. In other recommendations, the committee called for the prosecution of senior officials in banks responsible for laundering the profits of drugs gangs and for better drugs education in schools.
Ministers should, it said, open discussions with the United Nations Commission on Drugs on new ways to tackle what it called the "global drugs dilemma" - including "the possibility of legalisation and regulation".
At the same time, the committee was highly critical of the Government's failure to hit the profits of the drugs gangs, saying its approach to money laundering was "far too weak". It said ministers should legislate to extend the "personal, criminal liability" of the most senior office holders in the banks involved, and so that retailers who sell untested "legal highs" can be held liable for any harm the products cause. Committee chairman Keith Vaz said that action was now imperative and ministers could not afford to "kick this issue into the long grass".
However, Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, expressed concern about the possible impact of cannabis use, saying: "If the report is to be responsible, it must take account of the specific damage that cannabis can do to the developing brain, not only as recent studies have shown inducing irreversible cognitive deterioration but in around 10% of cases triggering severe psychotic illness."