Thursday, June 02, 2011

Time to end the war on drugs

This week marks the fortieth anniversary of the Misuse of Drugs Act which heralded the beginning of the war on drugs (a term first used by Nixon in June 1971). This war has done irreparable harm to millions and yet still, it appears, drugs won. It's time to negotiate an honourable surrender and accept we are well and truly occupied.

The ongoing policy treats a public health issue as primarily a law and order issue has not just failed, in many cases we can see that it has made the problems associated with drug use worse.

In the US the continuing anti-drug user escalation means that states are introducing mandatory drug testing for welfare claimants. Don't worry though all you deficit watchers, the claimant has to pay for the test themselves in order to apply for benefits, and if they fail they are simply cut off.

Drug addicts without any means of support - what could go wrong?

Part of the oddness of the whole debate though is that public opinion seems remarkably resilient. Despite the fact that you're unlikely to see an article in the press or a BBC broadcast advocating the repeal of the drugs laws - and God help any politician that suggests such a thing - there is still a large body of opinion that our current approach simply is not working despite the fact this argument is never articulated in the media or by our leading political figures.

A campaign to get the government to rethink was launched today but it was met with a swift rebuff. A government spokesman said:
"We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful – they destroy lives and cause untold misery to families and communities. Those caught in the cycle of dependency must be supported to live drug-free lives, but giving people a green light to possess drugs through decriminalisation is clearly not the answer".

But where is the evidence that drug laws protect people from harm rather than simply criminalise a wide spread activity? The campaign's launch letter states that;
"In 2001 Portugal decriminalised the possession of all drugs and, despite sensationalist predictions to the contrary, this has led to a decrease in the number of young people using illicit drugs, an overall reduction in the number of people using drugs problematically, fewer drug related deaths, and an increase in people accessing treatment voluntarily, things we would all like to see happen in the UK. Whilst there are other factors to take into account, it is clear from the Portuguese experience, and from other jurisdictions, that the decriminalisation of drug possession and use does not lead to an increase in drug use or related harms."

The complete decriminalisation of drugs would bring drug use into the open, allowing users to seek help when they need it, allowing public information to be actually useful rather than censorious crap, ensuring that those drugs in circulation are safe and well regulated and cutting out organised crime from this lucrative industry.

It may even begin to allow the "did not inhalers" in our political establishment to be a little more honest about their own drug histories and make stunning admissions like "I used to smoke weed because I enjoyed it." Wouldn't that be a thing?


dwight towers said...

The Onion has the headline for every occasion, and this is no exception - "Drugs Win Drugs War",189/

Buenosam said...

It's a nice idea in theory... but can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to have to apologise to all the people we've pointlessly jailed for drug offenses over the last few decades?

Jim Jepps said...

Apparently the writers of the Wire are having their say too - excellent stuff.

Anonymous said...

I twitt it. My twitter on name Alexander Belluchi. You can comment this post there too.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I retwit it on my Twiiter
Bob Peters, CA