Release (agency)

Release, founded in 1967 by Caroline Coon and Rufus Harris, is a UK agency that provides legal advice and arrange legal representation for young people charged with the possession of drugs. Today Release is the oldest independent drugs charity in the world and continues to provide a range of services dedicated to meeting the health, welfare and legal needs of drugs users and those who live and work with them.


To begin with, the aim of Release was to provide bail services to people arrested for drugs offences and to refer them to solicitors. A 24-hour telephone help line was set up and run by volunteers. Coon was the fundraiser and spokesperson for the organisation and Harris was the administrator. By the end of 1967 Release was based in an office at 50 Princedale Road, Holland Park. In its first two years, Release handled more than 2,000 cases. High-profile clients included John Lennon and George Harrison, who donated £5,000 in 1969.

In 1969 Harris and Coon summarised their early work in The Release Report on Drug Offenders and the Law, published by Sphere Books.

From 1969 to 1972 Harris collaborated with HM Inspector of Constabulary Frank Williamson in his investigation of corruption within the Metropolitan Police. .

Release gained charitable status in 1972, following a review of its activities by the Rowntree Foundation. By the mid-1970s, Release was supported directly by a Home Office grant, without compromising its libertarian principles.

In June 2000, Coon won damages of £73,000 from publisher Random House after author Jonathon Green, in his 1998 book All Dressed Up: the Sixties and the Counter-Culture, suggested that in Release's early days she traded sexual favours for donations. The book was withdrawn. .

Rufus Harris died of cancer on April 7, 2007.

Present Day

Release is now home to the UK's only dedicated free legal and drugs advice service. With experts in both fields working under one roof, Release is able to offer a unique service to drug users and their families, as well as people working in the drugs industry and members of the general public. The helpline now runs from 11am to 1pm and 2pm to 4pm from Monday to Friday and is staffed by qualified legal advisors and drugs experts. Call 0845 4500 215 or email

Release campaigns for an evidence-based approach to drugs policy. Release uses the knowledge it gains from daily contact with drug users and their families to inform its policy position and formulate the best strategy for influencing government to make appropriate changes to drugs legislation. Release believes that UK drug policy should reflect the fact that the majority of drug use is not in itself problematic - millions of people take drugs every year whilst continuing to lead full and otherwise legitimate lifestyles. For the minority whose drug use becomes problematic, a health-centered rather than criminal justice approach is appropriate.

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