Police chief: Drugs should be legal
One of England's top police officers has called for hard drugs to be legalised.
Durham chief constable Mike Barton claimed the war on drugs had failed and decriminalisation was the best way to wrestle power away from criminal gangs.
Writing in The Observer, the national intelligence leader for the Association of Chief Police Officers also suggested the NHS should supply class-A drugs such as heroin and cocaine to addicts.
He said: "Not all crime gangs raise income through selling drugs, but most of them do in my experience.
"So offering an alternative route of supply to users cuts off the gang's income stream.
"If an addict were able to access drugs via the NHS or some similar organisation, then they would not have to go out and buy illegal drugs.
"Drugs should be controlled. They should not, of course, be freely available.
"I think addiction to anything - drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc - is not a good thing, but outright prohibition hands revenue streams to villains."
Under Mr Barton's direction, Durham Constabulary launched Operation Sledgehammer, a sustained campaign to "get in the faces" of organised crime gangs.
He has previously claimed to seek inspiration in the way notorious Prohibition-era mafioso Al Capone was finally brought down not for bootlegging, but tax evasion.
The officer, who has served for nearly 34 years, said he had witnessed a worsening drug addiction problem since prohibition began in 1971 with the Misuse of Drugs Act.
He argued that pushers had made billions from adulterated drugs , transforming them into local folk heroes for young people.
"Decriminalising their commodity will immediately cut off their income stream and destroy their power," he said.
"Making drugs legal would tackle the supply chain much more effectively and much more economically than we can currently manage."
Mr Barton said that offering drugs therapeutically through the NHS and similar organisations would avoid the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among needle users.
But he underlined that he was in favour of their use in a controlled environment, rather than a "free for all".
"I am saying that people who encourage others to take drugs by selling them are criminals, and their actions should be tackled," he said.
"But addicts, on the other hand, need to be treated, cared for and encouraged to break the cycle of addiction. They do not need to be criminalised."
Mr Barton was out of the force area and unavailable to comment further on his views, Durham Police said.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Durham Constabulary Ron Hogg backed the chief, saying: "I am delighted he has spoken out.
"He is a professional officer with 34 years experience and he has seen the effects of the current policy," Mr Hogg said.
"Clearly we will enforce the law in Durham as it stands, but people like Mike Barton have to stand up and I applaud him for doing so."
Mr Hogg, himself a former senior police officer, said he had discussed the issue many times with Mr Barton in the past.
The crime commissioner agreed the drugs policy was not working, as it allowed criminals to make millions, with the wider public suffering as a consequence.
"We do need a radical rethink," Mr Hogg said.
ACPO said the issue was for Parliament to decide, not officers.
National policing lead on drug-related crime, Chief Constable Andy Bliss, said: "Recent evidence suggests that, overall, drug misuse in the UK is falling.
"However, government policy on drugs enforcement is very clear and unambiguous and our job as police officers is to enforce the law.
"Clearly, a senior colleague like Mike Barton is entitled to his views and he has added his contribution to the national debate, but it would be ACPO's position that these are matters for parliament to decide.
"We need in particular to be very thoughtful about setting clear boundaries, especially for young people, in relation to drugs, their misuse and criminal activity surrounding them.
"We also need to take account of the fact that illicit drugs markets are dynamic and the wider issue is not just about Class A drugs.
"Issues like cannabis farms and new psychoactive drugs also create social harms and attract organised criminality."