A harm-reduction approach to policing in relation to drug possession and drug use
As Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset my priority will be the health and safety of all citizens. I will take an evidence-based, harm-reduction and public health approach to policing in relation to drugs and drug use, drawing on the best available evidence from police, science, medicine, academia, human rights organisations and drug reform charities, as well as examples of best practice elsewhere in the UK and internationally.
The Green Party is the only major party in England and Wales that has a policy for the full legalisation and regulation of all drugs. Based on substantial evidence, we believe this is the only way to truly address the range of drug-related harms – social, health and crime related – that face England and Wales today. The decriminalisation of people who use drugs is the editorial position of The Lancet and The British Medical Journal (BMJ, which also supports legal regulation), and is the policy of the Royal Society for Public Health, the Royal College of Physicians and the British Medical Association. A harm-reduction approach to drugs and policing is an integral part of a wider policy aimed at minimising harm and maximising public health for all citizens of Avon and Somerset. This approach will in turn lead to greater levels of trust in police and better relationships between police and communities.
As PCC, I pledge to follow and implement best practice and to do so with full transparency, making Avon and Somerset a model for policing through the following:
1) Diversion Scheme: As PCC for Avon and Somerset I will support and maintain the existing Drug Education Programme (DEP), originally piloted in Bristol in 2016 and rolled out to all of Avon and Somerset in 2019. The DEP has been successful in avoiding the unnecessary criminalization of people for minor drug possession and preventing the long-term damage of citizens’ negative encounters with the police and courts, as well as redressing racial inequalities in the policing of drug possession. In Bristol, for example, African descent (Black) and other ethnicities are more likely to be prosecuted for the cannabis possession than white people. Importantly, moreover, the implementation of DEP has freed up police time and resources for other matters.
2) Drug Consumption Rooms (DCRs; supervised spaces where people can access clean needles and inject drugs safely) and Heroine Assisted Therapy (HAT; heroin available on prescription under medical supervision): A 2016 report from the Government’s expert advisory group on drug use – the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) – recognizes that DCRs and HAT can help to reduce the number of deaths from opiate overdoses. International evidence demonstrates that these interventions help to reduce death rates, blood-borne disease infections and other health problems related to the injection of opiates and other drugs, hospital stays, emergency call outs, discarded drug litter, and social and crime problems associated with street drug use. They also improve engagement and retention in treatment for otherwise difficult-to-reach vulnerable people. There is no evidence that DCRs and HAT lead to increased drug use.
In March 2018, as Green Councillor in Bristol, I tabled a motion to Bristol City Council asking the Mayor to commit to delivering the recommendations of a study undertaken by the Council’s substance misuse team, including the establishment of a DCR. The Motion also called for the Mayor to consider prescribing small, regulated doses of heroin for those who have failed other treatments, as recommended by Public Health England. This motion was not passed by Bristol Council. I will use my elected position as PCC to pursue these proposals by convening key stakeholders and local leaders – police, drug charities, local drug and alcohol service providers, Public Health England – to work towards establishing a pilot DCR and provision for HAT in Bristol.
3) Naloxone provision: Naloxone, a medication that rapidly reverses the effect of heroin and other opiates, has also been recognized by the AMCD as a measure that can help to lower death rates from opiate overdoses. National Police Chiefs’ Council’s drugs lead, Jason Harwin, supports police officers carrying naloxone in areas where there is high risks of overdose among people who use drugs, and police forces in West Midlands, North Wales and Scotland have trialled the practice. I will work with police to ensure that, where appropriate, officers have access to and carry naloxone while on duty.
4) Drug Testing: In March 2019 the first drug testing centre in England and Wales was piloted in the north Somerset town in Weston-super-Mare. This followed the Government’s announcement in 2018 that drug testing is a matter for local authorities and police. Somerset and Avon is a region with high levels of street drug use and a number of major summer festivals, and the health and safety of residents and visitors alike should be promoted through the provision of drug testing facilities in specialised centres and at clubs and festivals. I will work with police, the drug charity The Loop and addiction and treatment facilities to ensure cooperation among these parties to enable the roll out of front-of-house testing facilities at festivals and other venues, including clubs and treatment centres. The Loop’s activities are supported by the Royal Society for Public Health as well as a number of festivals, nightclubs, drug reform organisations and police forces in England.
5) Cannabis: Over the past several years a number of countries in Europe and internationally have legalised or decriminalised the purchase and consumption of cannabis for recreational as well as medicinal use. As PCC for Avon and Somerset I will work with police to extend the principle of deprioritising the policing of cannabis beyond possession for personal use (see point 1 above) to the cultivation of cannabis for personal use and establishment and functioning of Cannabis Social Clubs ( for people eighteen years old and over). This would allow adults to grow cannabis for their personal use and consume it in private spaces with other adults without arrest and prosecution, again allowing police to concentrate their time and resources elsewhere, prioritising violent crimes and community protection.