Thursday, 5 January 2012

How We Lost The war On Drugs

Few things polarise public opinion as much as those substances listed under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.  Forty years into a war that we show no sign of winning, one might be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that prohibition isn’t working.  And yet pointing out this fact remains professional suicide for politician and police officer alike.  Calls for decriminalising or, most heinous of all, legalising certain drugs produce an inevitable knee jerk reaction.  But the salient fact remains that we are dealing with the fundamental market principle of supply and demand.  Drugs are cheaper and more freely available than at any time in the last forty years due to an increase in users.  Having failed to cut off the Black Market supply the logical option is surely to seek to reduce the demand.  Products for which there is limited or no demand disappear.  If you need further evidence of this just look at the amount of brands that have disappeared from our high streets over the last four years.
No substance is safer when manufactured and controlled by the Black Market.  I’m a product of the world as it is, not how I would like it to be.  The reality in the UK, Europe and the US is that there are millions of recreational drug users and labelling them as stupid or misguided doesn’t change that fact.
Many of the health issues associated with heroin addiction arise through adulteration of the product.  In its pure form heroin is less harmful to the human body than alcohol or, more importantly, methadone.  What a heroin addict needs is heroin and, in my opinion, it is far better to prescribe them that than another equally addictive substance.
While the above would help to reduce property crime, it is relatively pointless without some means of rehabilitation.  Weaning someone off a drug like heroin is all well and good, but dropping them back into the same environment they came from without support or the prospect of a job or means to build a future accomplishes little.  Rehab should be about integrating individuals back into society in order to contribute and develop self-worth.  The Swiss have been running trials with prescribed heroin for a number of years now, some of which involved cooperation with employers who allowed addicts to go for their morning fix before attending work as part of a programme to reduce their dependency.  It should be added that the injections took place in clinical environments deliberately chosen to remove any sense of ritual from the process.
While the above would help reduce some of the current problems the key to a radical rethink on drugs policy is decriminalisation of some substances and the legalisations of others.  The money saved and correspondingly raised through taxes would be sufficient to finance any amount of rehabilitation and education programmes.  Contrary to what some might think, I don’t want to see children popping down to Boots for smack.  But I’ll tell you this, I’ve never known a dealer ask for proof of age.
The truth the moral majority finds so unpalatable is that problem drug users are a minority when placed against the recreational user.  Due to the increasing divide between rich and poor in the UK there are thousands stuck either in low paid jobs or without even the prospect of work who can be forgiven for feeling the need for a little something to numb the pain.  A fact that is unlikely to change while an increasing number of children leave primary education without the fundamental ability to read or perform basic numeracy, or while we slowly slip back into a system where the right to higher education is based on wealth rather than ability.
Call me a left of centre liberal dreamer, but I happen to believe that in an industrialised nation such as ours every child should have the right to a decent standard of education and healthcare.  That affordable and good quality housing should be available to all according to their needs, particularly for the young starting out in life.
How, particularly in these dark days of recession, is this to be paid for?  Let me see, perhaps replacing Trident isn’t such a priority.  Perhaps maintaining troops in Afghanistan isn’t really making us safe in our beds at night from the bogeyman of terrorism.  Perhaps decriminalising drugs and spending the money currently used to limit supply on improving health and education might be of some help.
As alcohol, tobacco and trans fats have long proved, people like their pleasures, however bad for them they may be.  All you can do is educate them to the risks and ensure they have as clean a product as possible.  Far as I’m concerned, it’s up to the individual what he or she puts in their body.  As Aleister Crowley famously remarked, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”  Gerald Gardener, perhaps wisely, modified it for the Wiccan Rede as, “An’ it harm none, do what ye will.”  The latter of which surely includes harming yourself.


  1. Drug use among teens and young adults has never been a good thing. And for many years people thought this abusive behavior with drugs would only continue to get worse with the new generations. It is good news to hear that in Britain recently released charts and statistics about drug use have dropped, and continues to drop each year. Positive ad campaigns which address young adults about the dangers of drug use, have been around for a very long time, and it is good to see that there presence might actual have an effect on these young people. Keeping them aware that drugs are very bad for them, and that there are better and more beneficial things to do in life. Either way, drugs have been around for a very long time, and do not seem to be going anywhere. Since drug use rates are going down, all people can do is continue to push for more decline in the near future.
    Ric Gene

  2. You know what they say - there are lies, damned lies and then there are statistics.
    I haven't seen much evidence to suggest drug use is declining among the young.
    Personally, I don't draw any distinction between someone taking a couple of pills or downing ten pints of lager. Both are bad for you if taken to excess. Use of any substance to blot of reality will lead to problems regardless of legal status.