The Government should consider decriminalising drugs because the blanket ban has failed to cut crime or improve health, a leading doctor has said.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, former president of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), said he agreed that drug laws should be "reconsidered with a view to decriminalising illicit drugs use".
He called for the UK to take a fresh look at its laws and added there was a strong case for putting a regulatory framework around illicit drugs, rather than the current blanket ban.
Sir Ian told the Press Association: "There's a lot of evidence that the total prohibition of drugs, making them totally illicit and unavailable, has not been successful at reducing not only the health burden, but also the impact on crime. I'm trying to take a fresh look, as many people have done. There is a strong case for trying a different approach. I'm not saying we should make heroin available to everyone, but we should be treating it as a health issue rather than criminalising people."
Sir Ian said while decriminalisation was a "difficult word", he was "in favour of at least having a look at putting a regulatory framework around illicit drugs rather than a blanket prohibition".
Similar calls for reform of the UK's drugs laws last month were criticised by some politicians and campaigners. Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said the legalisation of drugs "would simply create the mistaken impression that these substances are not harmful, when in fact this is far from the truth".
Sir Ian said this was "a risk and a concern that has to be taken seriously", but added: "I don't think anybody thinks heroin is not harmful, far from it."
He said the evidence showed that decriminalising heroin or other drugs "doesn't increase the number of drug users" and added that the aim was one of "helping people with addiction problems, rather than putting them in prison".
"I see a lot of patients with the complications of opiate addiction from dirty needles, or from using drugs that are contaminated - and not from the use of heroin itself," he said.
Sir Ian added there may also be further economic benefits. He said: "In times of financial hardship, the closer to the drug user you invest your money the better value you get. It's more cost effective to try to treat people with drug problems than to close down poppy fields in disparate countries."