'We can't arrest our way out of Norwich's drug problems'
- Credit: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Suggestions for a new approach to tackling drug use in Norwich have been welcomed by a council flat resident after a decade of issues.
Martin Schmierer, the Green Party candidate for Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner has called for a rethink on the way drug issues are combated, arguing the war on drugs in Britain has failed like alcohol prohibition in 1920s America.
"The war on drugs isn't being won and we cannot arrest our way out of the problem,” Mr Schmierer said.
“These are not my words, but the words of police officers, judges and healthcare professionals I've spoken to.
“We need a new approach which treats addiction as a health issue, not just a criminal one."
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Mr Schmierer pointed to Office for National Statistics figures from 2019, which showed Norwich had the second-highest number of drug-poisoning deaths in the country.
To help tackle the issue, he called for the introduction of ‘safer consumption rooms’ - places where users can use drugs while being supervised by a healthcare professional.
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“This will lead to safer communities for everyone and all residents of Norwich deserve to feel safe in the areas they live in."
The idea has already been used in other countries, including Switzerland and Denmark, while Scottish medical experts recently called for decriminalisation to tackle issues there.
Mr Schmierer’s proposal was welcomed by Gillian Dickinson of Ebenezer Place in Norwich, a set of council flats which has endured a decade of antisocial behaviour, including drug-dealing and people walking into the unsecured buildings to use drugs.
“The people that come into Ebenezer Place have probably had horrible things happen to them,” Ms Dickinson said, who works as a psychotherapist.
“One day I shouted at them and told them to get out and I saw this poor girl who was just skin and bone.
“She looked so frightened, I felt dreadful.
“It’s really the drug dealers that create this situation, these people are probably going through the horror of their lives."
Instead, Ms Dickinson argued that by making drugs legal you could better tackle the issues that lead to drug addiction in the first place.
“I have always felt that if it was legal then it won't be such a big business and therefore there won't be so many crooks around.”
Ms Dickinson said instead you could tackle the issue through better education and improved care for addicts.
Mr Schmierer’s idea drew a mixed reaction from his opponents in the PCC race, with several pointing out the spaces would require a change in law, which is beyond their power.
Conservative candidate Giles Orpen-Smellie agreed that drug addiction was not a problem you could “arrest your way out of,” apart from by going after the suppliers.
However, he argued safe spaces might be useful in prison, as a means of tackling the trade there.
The Liberal Democrat candidate, John Crofts, was perhaps the most supportive of the scheme, calling for more leniency for drug users, especially cannabis.
He said: “We need to have a serious talk about how we deal with drugs, at the moment the police spend a lot of time looking at personal use, my belief is there should be more tolerance of personal use while at the same time spending more time tackling the harder drugs.”
Michael Rosen, the Labour candidate, also agreed there needed to be a public health approach, with a focus on why people use drugs while pursuing those who supply.
Mr Rosen said he would consider any proposal backed by evidence, and make full use of the opportunities provided by Project Adder - a £148m government scheme to cut drug crime.
David Moreland, an independent candidate, said he was not in favour of safe drug rooms, saying he did not believe anyone would use them - adding that he felt people had "turned to drugs" as a result of lockdown boredom.