Why we need to use evidence to form drug policy

If you have overwhelming evidence that something isn’t working, would you continue to do it? If I was running a business that was failing, and saw no signs of improvement, I would shut it down and try a new approach.

The evidence calling for an end to the failed war on drugs is clear – we should be treating drug use as a health issue not a criminal issue. The world needs a new approach to drug policy.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy has published several studies into many aspects of drug policy, from pathways to policies that work to the impact of the drug war on HIV/AIDS and the hidden Hepatitis C epidemic. The Commission uses evidence from countries experimenting successfully with new drug policies, ranging from Portugal to Uruguay. These are readily available for politicians responsible for drug policy to use, as well as everybody else to read.

In this exclusive clip from The Culture High, yours truly and several experts on drug policy discuss why the use of evidence is so important to creating more effective policies. Dr Julian Huppert, a scientist and Member of Parliament for Cambridge, makes a point that should be completely obvious, but sadly isn’t always put into practice. “It is essential to make decisions on public policy, wherever possible, based on the actual evidence that there is for something.”

Professor Alex Stevens from the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, expands on the problem. He worked as a senior policy advisor to the UK government on issues of drugs and crime. He found it difficult to get politicians to listen to the evidence.

“Civil servants told me that they had learnt that it is not helpful to use evidence which challenges the dominant way of thinking that is already structuring those policies. It is much easier to take the evidence that supports what you are already doing and use that to justify the continuation of your existing policy.”

It is this kind of thinking from politicians that results in more damaging policies being created and continued, and evidence being ignored. It is time leaders took their heads out of the sand, opened their eyes and ears and listened to the evidence. The war on drugs is not working.

We’ll be sharing more excerpts from The Culture High over on Virgin Unite in the coming weeks, and you can watch the whole documentary on Netflix now.

This article was originally written by Richard Branson for the official Virgin website.

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