Last week, ahead of the big UN meeting on drugs, UNGASS, over a thousand world leaders and opinion formers signed an open letter to Ban Ki Moon expressing an eminent desire to reshape the way we globally think about drugs. The message? We need fair and compassionate drug laws that save lives.
Along with notable signatories such as Sting, Sir Richard Branson, members of law enforcement and global figures that have held the most senior offices, I too was proud to sign this letter, which was brilliantly collated by the Drug Policy Alliance and friends.
I was reminded of this tweet by @OverdoseGirl, an exponent of harm reduction and life-saving provisions:
Virgin Unite, war on drugs, Leap UK, tweet
The message needs to be grasped that we need to save lives and preserve the basic notion of liberty and dignity. We’ve been using the stick approach for far too long and as a result we’ve become desensitised to the issue. We’re too flippant in the way we look upon real lives – and we’re certainly far too easily persuaded that punishment is an easy and effective route.
On February 29th 2016, LEAP UK launched in the UK House of Commons. A selection of law enforcement figures stood in UK Parliament to convey the dangers and horrors of a punitive approach to drug laws. Standing side-by-side with us were a number of supporting voices, such as Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK, a group that sees first-hand how the youth are disproportionally impacted by the ‘war on drugs’. We also had StopWatch – an organisation that brings awareness to the insidious disparity of Stop and Search powers and how black people are six times more likely to be searched for drugs.
Virgin Unite, war on drugs, Leap UK, Release, Stop and Seach
We were also honoured to have Rose Humphries stand for drug policy reform. Rose represented Anyone’s Child. This organisation of bereaved family members wish to reform our drug laws so that we can prevent the same tragedies that they have all faced… to ensure that no other family receives the call that a family member has died through overdose – in Rose’s case, two sons.
Virgin Unite, war on drugs, Leap UK, Anyone's Child
Rose received an extended, near standing ovation after delivering her first ever speech on the issue. I asked permission to publish her words.
Rose has become one of the many people I hold in mind whenever I work on drug policy. Anyone’s Child stood on the threshold of UNGASS and made prominent and powerful plea for reform.
Rose and Anyone’s Child give the best reasons for why we must reform our drug laws. A change in our laws can save lives.
Virgin Unite, war on drugs, Leap UK, Anyone's Child2
These are Rose Humphries’ powerful words:
My story is of two of my sons. As young teenagers, they began dabbling with drugs, and we didn’t suspect. Cannabis, amphetamines and magic mushrooms were readily available despite their supply being against the law. Jake’s and Roland’s friends were doing these drugs too, even though using them was against the law. But when most of their friends did not go on to become heroin addicts, my boys did. It could happen to anyone’s child regardless of their upbringing.
Roland, my youngest, died twelve years ago aged 23, while on a long methadone programme waiting list. He used heroin at a friend’s house. The people there delayed calling 999. We wonder if they delayed from fear of trouble with the police.
Roland’s death didn’t deter Jake from drug use. Jake, away at university when it happened, coped with his distress by using drugs. But, eventually, Jake became free of drugs for almost seven years. Then in 2013 he relapsed for a short time. In 2014, just before completing a Masters degree, he relapsed again. We found out, he was ashamed, and promised to stop. His future was bright, but a few days later he died alone from heroin overdose. He was 37. If only he could have got heroin from somewhere where it was prescribed, along with counselling, instead of from a street dealer...
When my grandchildren are older, I’d prefer them not to use drugs. But, if they do, I want it to be without going to risky environments, without risking a criminal record or worse, without their families feeling fear and shame, and with truthful drugs education and by choosing safely produced and labelled products from regulated outlets.
That’s why I joined Anyone’s Child. The families in our group know the misery caused by our drug laws. I hope we can influence policy to prevent other parents having to hear the worst news any parent can hear, the thing most parents don’t even want to think about, the tears, and the grief of having to arrange their child’s funeral. That’s why I want legal regulation of drugs.
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