British doctors are calling for the decriminalization of all drugs, including marijuana

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A leading medical journal says that prosecuting drug users has become a public health issue

While the research community continues to debate the medical benefits of illegal drugs like marijuana, doctors and researchers in the United Kingdom say that decriminalizing drugs is necessary to protect the public’s health, no matter how healthy or harmful such substances might prove to be.

Most recently, The British Medical Journal, one of the oldest and most-cited peer-reviewed research publications in the United States and England, has formally called for ending criminal charges on non-violent drug users and legalizing and regulating drugs for recreational or medical use.

“The BMJ is firmly behind efforts to legalize, regulate, and tax the sale of drugs for recreational and medicinal use,” says a piece signed by the journal’s editor-in-chief Dr. Fiona Godlee. “This is an issue on which doctors can and should make their voices heard.”

Increased revenue and better treatment

Godlee’s piece was focused on the United Kingdom, where the failure of authorities to end drug abuse despite millions spent on the prosecution of drug users has mirrored the failing war on drugs here in the United States.

“This is not about whether you think drugs are good or bad,” Godlee writes.  “It is an evidence based position entirely in line with the public health approach to violent crime.”

Godlee points to the tax revenue generated in states in the U.S. where marijuana was legalized as a potential benefit, but her proposal would go much further than any laws have here in calling for the decriminalization of all drug possession.

Decriminalizing non-violent drug possession would give communities more resources to provide public health treatment for addicts and reduce violent crime, she argues.

The journal’s formal call for the decriminalization of drugs follows a similar policy position recently released by the Royal College of Physicians of London, a medical association representing 34,000 doctors internationally. The doctors’ group last month said that the war on drugs has deterred people who need medical help for their addictions from seeking it.

Medical groups changing tune

Despite promising research in the United States about the medical benefits of some illegal drugs such as cannabis, the medical community as a whole has been hesitant to call for any drug reforms here. Calls to end the “war on drugs” have typically come from criminal justice advocates or marijuana enthusiasts, not doctors’ groups.  

The American Medical Association (AMA), the largest association representing medical professionals in the United States, remained opposed to the legalization of cannabis until 2016, when it updated its policy position on the substance to argue only that the issue should be studied further.

While the AMA argues that “public health strategies” are better than incarceration for marijuana users, the association maintains that “cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern.”

Last year, a Department of Justice intern asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions why he was tougher on marijuana possession than on gun regulations. Sessions responded by pointing to the AMA’s position on marijuana.

“Marijuana is not a healthy substance in my opinion. The American Medical Association is crystal clear on that. Do you believe that?” he said. “Well, you can write the AMA and see why.”

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