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Saturday, October 25, 2003


The Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference is always a small but well managed family affair. Everybody knows everyone else and we spend a lot of time socialising with each other. The debates are civilised as well. Thus when we had a very controversial discussion today on substance misuse all the speakers kept to the issues, there were no accusations of being soft on drugs and rather than have an up and downer about details the motion was referred back for further work. I was disappointed about that referral back as I would have preferred to have had a clear cut decision but that is life.

I didn't get to do my summing up in which I planned to quote some of the facts presented to us by the Chief Constable of North Wales on Thursday. He told us that heroin prices had dropped over the last ten years indicating a marked increase in supply. The inference was that the authorities are failing to stop the importation of drugs into the UK. At present the Police and Customs stop about 20% of all drugs coming into the country reaching the streets. Even if they doubled their resource, which would be expensive and difficult, they would still only be stopping 40%. The drug trade is worth about £8 billion a year in the UK, nearly two thirds of the Assembly's total annual budget. That amounts to £2 million a week in Wales. It accounts for over half of acquisitive crime. There are 10,000 problematic drug users in Wales, by which he means those who pay for their habit by stealing. They are criminals but putting them in prison will not stop them, as they are addicts and need to feed their habit. They need effective treatment rather more than punishment. The idea of directly prescribing heroin sounds radical and expensive but it will break the link between drug abuse and crime. It will ensure that addicts have a supply without having to steal to pay for it. It is also a fact that the Government currently manufactures heroin in Edinburgh legally for £1 a gramme. Heroin cut with other dubious substances can be sold on the streets for £60 a gramme. Tobacco and Alcohol are significantly more harmful than any other drug. They account for far more deaths than heroin, cannabis, ecstacy or cocaine. Yet they are legal. I am not advocating legalising all drugs but I am advocating their availability to registered addicts under medical supervision as a way forward to deal with drug deaths and to reduce drug related crime. This is a debate that we need to have for the sake of all those whose life is at risk because of their addiction.

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