Plymouth judge says we should look at legalising drugs
A JUDGE has called for policy-makers to look at whether drugs should be legalised – saying that the war on drugs is being lost.
District judge Paul Farmer said that money was being wasted prosecuting addicts when they should be getting help to kick the habit.
Mr Farmer, who has sentenced scores of addicts, said it would be better to treat them with prescriptions and prosecute dealers.
He said: "I would be one of the people who is not convinced that it is of any great benefit to make the use of drugs a criminal offence.
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"I would much rather all those who are detected are dealt with by means of prescription, so that the whole time they use they are monitored.
"Then there is a chance of monitoring their use and bringing that use down and they have not got to steal to use.
"All the police's efforts should be directed towards the suppliers.
"We are wasting an inordinate amount of money: the police, the courts and in legal aid."
Mr Farmer, aged 64, who has just retired after nine years as Devon and Cornwall's district judge, has sentenced scores of people for possession of drugs or for theft to fund their addictions.
He has also reviewed dozens of Drug Rehabilitation Requirements, six-month court orders which test and treat defendants for their habits.
Heroin users are typically given a reducing prescription of methadone to wean them from the drug.
Many addicts are caught in a cycle of addiction and offending to fund their habits, with some making dozens of court appearances for possession and theft. Many go to jail for short periods but do not stop committing crime.
Mr Farmer said more resources could also be freed up to persuade young people not to start using drugs.
He added: "I do not think the current system is working, that is not the answer. It is time to look at a prescription system so that those people who are using are actively using in the community.
"They will be better assisted to come off the drugs.
"The main aim of sentencing tends to get them off drugs, so why not start at that point in the first place?"
He said sending offenders to prison was a 'last resort' – and was almost always for people who had previously breached community orders.
Mr Farmer said every single heroin user he dealt with had similar problems.
He added: "They have issues with housing, issues with benefit and if they are living in hostels, they are living with people with exactly the same problem.
"It is a chance to do something new. I think there is a chance it could be more successful than the current system."
Mr Farmer said that addicts had so many deep-seated problems a court sentence tended to be just a 'finger in the dyke'.
Asked whether he thought drugs should be legalised, Mr Farmer said: "I am not a politician. It is a matter for Parliament. We need a better way of dealing with it."
"I just believe we are not winning the war at the moment and it might be time to look at a different approach."
Mr Farmer praised the work of agencies which work together in Plymouth to tackle drug abuse and related crime. He is to become a trustee of Hamoaze House, a drug rehabilitation centre.
The former district judge for Essex, Kevin Gray, has taken Mr Farmer's role in Devon and Cornwall.
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