In an essay published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Lord Simon Woolley has said that the “50 year old UK Misuse of Drugs Act has failed to reduce illicit drug supply, use, and harms and was designed, and continues to be used, as a tool of systemic racism”.
Simon Woolley is a political activist focusing on equality and a crossbench member of the House of Lords. In 2019 he was appointed by Theresa May to the Chair of the Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Unit, advising ministers on issues of race and equality. He said the failure of UK drugs legislation was having a devastating impact on public health, and that the laws cause “a high-level of mental health issues in black people”.
“It creates anxiety, stress and alienation that contribute to the high levels of mental health harm experienced across our black communities,” he wrote in the BMJ, as he appealed for doctors to speak out on the issue.
“For decades, politicians from all sides have either turned a blind eye to drug policy failures or weaponised the debate to score cheap political points,” he said. “This has led to half a century of stagnation, which has landed with force on our black communities, driving up needless criminalisation and undermining relationships with the police.”
Lord Woolley, who became the first black man to be elected head of an Oxbridge College, also points out that despite white people reporting higher rates of drug use, black people were still more likely to be stopped and searched for suspected drug possession, and were more likely to be arrested, charged and imprisoned for drug offences.
In his BMJ essay, he urged others in the medical profession to support a “root-and-branch” review of the law to consider alternative approaches.
“Such a review should provide a comprehensive, independent assessment of the effects of the Misuse of Drugs Act and its fitness for purpose 50 years on,” he wrote. “It must also consider in detail the options for alternative approaches, including the growing body of evidence indicating benefit in both decriminalisation of people who take drugs and legal regulation of non-medical drug supplies worldwide.”