Tuesday, 26 October 2010

To win the 'War on Drugs', we have to legalise them.

(This is a guest post written for Are You Reading?, check it out)

For this first post I've been asked to do, I settled on writing about something which I think both our respective parties are getting wrong, as is the country as a whole. Drugs.

One of the most annoying things to me is the way the prohibition of drugs is somehow lauded as a moral stand and the banisher of evil. It does the opposite, prohibition didn't work with alcohol, and it's certainly not working with drugs today. But bring this up, and somehow you've 'gone soft' and the whole country would turn into drug-crazed maniacs if you had your way. It's ridiculous.

Politics demands you're 'hard' on drugs. The evidence says that being hard on them is stupid and counter-productive.

Our idea of drugs is warped, and completely against what science tells us the truth is. We gleefully retell stories from when we were so drunk we ended up sleeping in a dog shelter but take a less harmful drug than alcohol and you could end up in jail. But my problem with drugs isn't that people don't understand the relative harms, it's that by banning them we're making the situation many, many times worse.

Did prohibition work in America in the 1920's with alcohol? Why do we think that banning other drugs will have a better outcome than it did back then? Prohibition these days has exactly the same problems as it did back then, only magnified because of being international.

We should be blunt, you can ban things all you want, the fact is people are going to be able to get hold of drugs. If I hadn't already realised that before now, a year at university certainly has made me. If someone like me who really has no interest in taking drugs knows how I could easily go about getting them, what does that say about who's winning the 'War on Drugs'?

I don't doubt that the people who defend this 'war' have their hearts in the right place, but when faced with the bare facts it really is hard to defend.

Drug gangs scar the face of communities right around the world, with ordinary people getting caught in the crossfire of turf wars. There is such an immense profit to be made that dealers can simply pay off anyone who might get in the way. The only thing they fear is legalisation, because then they'd be out of business. When something's legal, you have no need for shady gangs to get it for you illegally. In America it's been known for dealers to bribe politicians to appear excessively keen on prohibition precisely so that it wouldn't be legalised and they could stay in a job.

Then you have the issue with the quality. Contrary to what you might read in the Daily Mail, you are not going to die the second you take your first puff of a drug, so long as it's pure. And that's the key point. Drug's are much, much more dangerous when bought on the street than they should be because of all the extra shit that's mixed in with them to increase the quantities. With no legalisation, you have no regulation, and without regulation you have drugs which are far more deadly than they might otherwise be. Is a dealer really going to be overly concerned about your health?

I always worried that legalising drugs would lead to an explosion in drug use, but that's just not backed up by any real facts. Portugal decriminalised personal possession of all drugs in 2001 and there was no impact whatsoever on usage, in fact, there was a small decrease in usage amongst the young.

Imagine we could replicate that, but go further. People taking drugs wouldn't be criminals, but addicts who can ask for help. And being able to ask for help earlier would mean they were far easier, and cheaper, to treat. Drugs would be regulated, they would be kept pure and safe, with nothing dangerous mixed in, so many lives could be saved. And armed drug gangs would be out of a job. Nowhere would be left to peddle their imported goods and the turf wars that blight the streets would be over in one fell swoop.

We could have that, if only politicians would look at the facts, and not what the scaremongers would have you believe. When the last governments drugs advisor, David Nutt, said it was more dangerous to ride a horse than it was to take Ecstasy, he was simply stating scientific fact. Yet what did he get for looking at the evidence? He was sacked. Not one party in parliament complained, and that's a sad illustration of how little debate we have right now.

Talking about legalising drugs is taboo for senior people. It's a dangerous taboo, and one we need to break.

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