Our next Prime Minister will almost certainly be a self-confessed criminal. It is time to take a look at our drug laws

It is now almost certain that our next Prime Minister will be a self-confessed criminal; liable to up 14 years in prison in the case of possession of Class A drugs or up to 5 years for Class B drugs such as cannabis. But at least they will be properly representative of the country they hope to lead.

Last year at the Durham Union, Mike Barton, the Durham Chief Constable, who was debating drug laws alongside me, asked the 300 or so students how many of them had used illegal drugs. About 80 per cent of them put their hands up. It might be an idea to start asking some fundamental questions about our laws and policy on drugs when they are routinely ignored by large numbers of our fellow citizens, from aspiring prime ministers to those many students content to confess a crime to a senior police officer.

We are surrounded by evidence of the catastrophic failure of the global war on drugs over the last half century. It was the USA that led the world to a policy of global prohibition in 1961, where they seemingly forgot their disastrous experiment with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. In a famous speech in 1971 Richard Nixon rocket-fuelled the global "war on drugs". Here in Britain, we passed the Misuse of Drugs Act that same year. 

This ushered in an ideological "just say no" approach, reinforced by a demand for abstinence from drug addicts, that allowed politicians to occupy the "drugs are bad, they are banned" moral high ground. This sense of superiority has come at a fearful cost; we have stopped treating drug addiction as a medical problem, turning it into a criminal one in the name of being tough on drugs.

The result? Mexico alone recorded 29,168 drug violence related murders in 2017. In the Philippines, 3,906 extra-judicial killings of drug users were documented at the hands of the police from July 2016 to September 2017 alone, while unidentified gunmen have killed thousands more, bringing the total death toll to more than 12,000.

Nations such as Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, Columbia, Albania, Kosovo and Afghanistan teeter on the brink of falling into the hands of the drug cartels who have been gifted an industry worth about $500 billion a year, comparable to Sweden's entire GDP for 2017. It hasn't escaped the UK either. Here, 2,593 drug overdose deaths were recorded in 2016 and in 2016-17, 75 per cent of killings involved the use or dealing of drugs.

Every one of these tragic cases is someone's friend, parent, brother, sister or child. These aren't deaths from drugs, they are deaths from a drugs policy where criminal gangs fight for control of this lucrative market. A policy that should have by now been abandoned as a failure.  

That politicians continue to pursue a tough-on-drugs approach, blaming middle-class consumers, which includes them, is as hypocritical as it is reckless. Politicians, and all of us, have a moral duty to reflect honestly on the implications of a policy which has wholly failed to deter drug use. This would be a far more impressive contribution to political debate than relying on outmoded sound bites.

It doesn't need to be this way. All we need to do is take a hard look at the evidence and make reducing the societal harms caused by drugs our main priority, not reinforcing the moral satisfaction of policy makers, reluctant to face up the consequences of the simplicities of prohibition.

We are addressing a central feature of humanity's history. From the Amazon's Ayahuasca, to Asia's cannabis all the way to Europe's and the Middle East's alcohol production, drugs have been present across the planet for thousands of years. Whether we like it or not, young and old alike continue to consume them in today's societies - to make conversation easier, fuel creativity, relieve pain or party all night - unless of course you are completely abstinent.

We need law and policy based on evidence, not a debate dangerously fuelled by the need for sensation to sell newspapers. The revelations about our aspirant Prime Minsters is an opportunity we should not miss. Rather than the hand-wringing regret for past actions, by nearly all of them, calm consideration is required about why we are in this position and what are the routes out of it. 

We should review emerging evidence from our allies and neighbours such as Canada's licensing and regulation of cannabis for adult use and Portugal's decriminalisation strategy. Instantly slashing the power of gangs and alleviating pressure on the police and judicial system would be a welcome first step. Finding resources in the public health system for those who have got into a mess with drugs, rather than consigning them to largely ineffective treatment inside the criminal justice system.

But it's time to think calmly and based on evidence. It is time for a Royal Commission which should simply be asked to assess the costs and benefits of the prohibition of narcotic drugs and make recommendations for Government policy.