Decriminalising drugs?

Lord Norton

Victoria Tower 1 008I mentioned I was going to raise a number of contentious issues and invite readers’ comments.  I have three issues in mind, each of which attracts strong feelings but which deserves being debated, if only for the purpose of rejection.  They are the sort of issues that are appropriate to debate in the Lords, in that we have the opportunity to raise topics outside the context of partisan debate and which may not necessarily be popular – but nonetheless deserve an airing.   The three issues are ones on which I would be interested to hear arguments on both sides.  Expressions of opinion are fine, but unlikely to be persuasive: it is the arguments I am interested in, especially any informed arguments not normally heard.  I don’t have an interest to declare in any of the issues.  My only interest is in determining what is in the public interest.

The three issues are those of drugs, divorce and prostitution.  I thought I would start with the issue of drugs, if for no other reason than that I see the Adam Smith Institute has published a pamphlet which, among other recommendations, argues the case for liberalising the law on drugs.  Is this a path we should be considering?  On the one hand, drugs have a devastating effect on the body, but then so does tobacco.  If we ban drugs, should we not also ban cigarettes.  If we permit cigarette smoking (other than in confined public spaces) should we not also do the same for drugs?  Perhaps more importantly from the perspective of the public good, would legalising drugs not serve to undermine or destroy the current evils associated with the drugs trade? 

In an ideal world (or at least in my ideal world), no one would smoke or take drugs.  However, we don’t live in an ideal world.  As a Conservative, I start from the perspective of the real.  What, then, should be done?  Should we follow Switzerland and treat drug taking as essentially a health issue?  Or should we leave things at they are, even possibly tightening the law?

43 comments for “Decriminalising drugs?

  1. Tony Woolf
    14/09/2009 at 4:15 pm

    In an ideal world, following the principles of individual freedom, there would not be legislation against drugs. In the real world, it is a question of what works. I have no doubt that allowing free use of drugs would cause harm, but the present situation causes huge amounts of harm. We need a dispassionate and scientific assessment of the effects of changing legislation. Alcohol use is associated with huge amounts of violent crime but we still accept that prohibition would be worse.
    One thing I am very dubious about, is the idea of decriminalising individual use while still making it a crime to supply. This will increase drug use without reducing the evil of drug funded criminal gangs.

  2. franksummers3ba
    14/09/2009 at 7:47 pm

    While I would not want to see the UK and the USA bound to exactly the same policy in some treaty that interfered with sovreignty I would think that a real path forward would be much more successful if there was some international aspect to the policy. Narcotrafficking is very global and international. Drug laws also form levers of current world policy.

    It seems to me that even if one advocates the decriminalization of drugs one need not advocate a policy as free as that of alcohol. Ibelieve that in the United States regulatory regimes in casinos are so rigorous that they would be a good place to locate drug rooms with medical oversight and high but not prohibitve taxes. Are their such regimes of some kind in Britain? I have no idea.

    I cetainly cannot advise what would be proper in the UK but I do have ideas which illustrate a proper international regime that would possibly be rational. I think such are gime should be comprehensive and restrictive.

    Drugs from countries which prohibit alcohol would be banned unless these countries opened restricted international hotel bars. A licensing regime like arms licensing would require only existing drug land be used and that all farmers produce a large supply of food. This would drop the supply of drugs. Cartels would be decriminalized if they cooperated with all aspects of their national and the international protocol and would run the licensed manufactories with state oversight. These manufactories would also create hemp clothing or poppy buns or other products which are not narcotic. They would also at least work with medical and science production interests.

    A regime like this might be more moral than other options. It might also be able to restore the balance between varied interests such as peasants, free markets, nation states and the rest. FARC, the Taliban and other forces are only infants compared to the forces our current solutions are going to create around the world in the future.

  3. CRAiG
    14/09/2009 at 8:57 pm

    In an ideal world there’d be no crime at all – and therefore no police needed, no prisons for criminals and Parliament merely debating rather than passing any legislation at all!

    Back in the real world, in the area of drugs, there seems even less sense to be made. To pose some questions –

    * Has the 20-year war on drugs worked?

    * Do fewer people take illegal substances then before?

    * Is alcohol less harmful than banned drugs?

    * How far do you take the term ‘drug’ anyway – should coffee and tea be regulated if they can be proven to cause harm?

    The answer to all these is a big fat ‘no’. I’d go so far as to say that the UK drug classification system is pretty useless in its current form. Items placed on it or moved inexorably towards Class A on the scale seem unaffected in terms of use. Outside this system, new alternatives are being designed, manufactured and then sold all the time.

    So rather than just assess the public policy/moral approach to illicit substances as an issue from the outset, I’d argue the best approach is to analyse the current legislative set-up and assess its effectiveness up against alternatives.

    I’d argue the current system’s effectiveness appears to fail dramatically on three major grounds – of cost (to the taxpayer), of public health (it doesn’t improve health, in fact it may harm), and of liberty (people should be able to do what they want to, without proven harm to others).

    As we’re not in an ideal world I’d like to know what other options there might be beyond blanket decriminalisation. Time for a new Royal Commission – or at least a hearty Lords debate?

  4. 14/09/2009 at 9:16 pm

    My Lord Norton,

    I published a comprehensive post—referencing a number of authorities on the subject—at The Kitchen (please excuse any… er… colloquialisms—such is my online persona).

    Everything that you need to know—from the point of view of morality, economy and useage—is in that post.

    DK

  5. Senex
    14/09/2009 at 9:37 pm

    Lord Norton: Not withstanding Lord Taylors blog:
    http://lordsoftheblog.net/2008/12/01/sink-skunk/
    what are you asking for in addition to this?

    “In an ideal world (or at least in my ideal world), no one would smoke or take drugs.”

    I smoke on occasion but regularly make people fume. I have on occasion been known to partake of a RedBull or even a glass of Coca-Cola.

    I think it is not so much the drug as the quantity taken or legally allowed that is important. It seems we do not prescribe dosage in drug legislation apart from alcohol.

    Ref: Red Bull’s New Cola: A Kick from Cocaine?
    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1900849,00.html
    Coca-Cola; Use of stimulants in formula; Coca — Cocaine
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coca-Cola
    Stimulant compounds in energy drinks
    http://www.evira.fi/portal/en/food/information_on_food/energy_drinks/stimulant_compounds_in_energy_drinks/

  6. Kyle Mulholland
    14/09/2009 at 9:40 pm

    The Adam Smith Institute, much like Mr Smith himself, does not use its moral compass to form its ideas. Taking drugs is a deliberate, flagrant, immoral act and those who partake in such actions should be severely punished. One role of government is to protect the individual’s liberty, but another is to protect the individual from themselves and others. If we allow society to decline to such an extent that heroin is freely available to anyone who wishes to take it, I cannot imagine what kind of anarchy we shall have in Britain.

    I can’t imagine what a young child’s upbringing is like when their parents are constantly stupefied by this ‘harmless’ drug we call cannabis. Smoking, though physically harmful, does not set one’s mind into a state of terminal decline. Similarly, there is no such thing as ‘moderation’ when we talk about illegal drug-taking, so a comparison with alcohol (which when consumed ‘in moderation’ can be a social lubricant as much as a relaxant and is generally good for a cohesive society) would also be facile.

    As I say that, the current approach to drugs does not seem to be working and we do punish both drug-takers and drug-dealers. The archetypal example of a country which punishes it harshly is Singapore, where I believe 20 or so people were hanged in one year for possessing amounts which could be considered large enough to be for sale rather than personal use. That’s around half the number that the United States executes in total every year, in a much larger nation, so I am not sure their strict punishments can be called a sufficient deterrent either.

    But I wonder if ‘rehabilitation’ actually works in a large number of cases. I read a story recently of a ‘pro-wrestler’ (sort of a form of acting where one performs one’s own stunts at great risk) who, despite having been sacked from his lucrative job several years ago for the precise offence, continued to take drugs even after having been rehired by the owner and was suspended, put into rehabilitation and brought back after the suspension. He later left the job, which was reported to be on a £400,000 contract with merchandise deals far exceeding that and was arrested just the other day for having various prescription and other dangerous drugs at his home in huge quantities.

    I have no answer to the problem. From a moral perspective, legalization of all drugs really does stink. But I wonder, would it decrease use? If so, maybe we should look at it.

    • 15/09/2009 at 2:53 pm

      I take issue with your assertion “there is no such thing as ‘moderation’ when we talk about illegal drug-taking”. I know a few people who hold down respectable jobs but enjoy the occasional spliff at the weekends. This doesn’t seem too different from responsible social drinking in my eyes?

      While the effects of drugs can be very negative on the person (and potentially those around them) where does the moral value judgement on the act of consuming a narcotic come from? Is a weekend spliff smoker less moral than a weekend binge drinker?

      • Kyle Mulholland
        15/09/2009 at 5:31 pm

        Assuming that they do ‘nothing else’ (i.e. this is purely a moral test) then yes, the weekend spliff smoker is worse because he obviously does not believe in the rule of law.

      • B
        17/09/2009 at 3:36 pm

        Arguably, the weekend smoker is committed to the principle that the rule of law must have some justification that underwrites it. Given that no respectable medical authority, much less anyone familiar with the drug, would claim that it is liable to “set one’s mind into a state of terminal decline”. And given that most studies show that casual cannabis users, by and large, engage in responsible use, there is very little justification for the current prohibition. One ought not respect law, as such, but only well crafted law that serves a useful social purpose.

        Now we could have a debate about the evils of cannabis, but that would require you to actually articulate the moral principle that underwrites your claim that drug use is a “deliberate, flagrant, immoral act and those who partake in such actions should be severely punished”. Perhaps something Kantian would do the trick here, but even that is a moral philosophy that is arguably deficient in many particular cases.

  7. Tim
    14/09/2009 at 9:42 pm

    I believe there is a big difference between legalising drugs, and drugs being legal.

    Drugs being legal has the benefits of the ability to monitor, tax, and advise on usage, and being able to monitor drug quality.

    However legalising drugs WILL send the message that drugs aren’t as bad as once thought – however erroneous that message might be. This I fear will lead to an increase in usage (at least in the short term, until the effects of this message wear off) unless the legalisation is implemented with extreme care, control and communication.

    Maybe a steady trickle of legalisation, drowned out by a steady torrent of informative communication is the route.

  8. Nicole Daryl
    14/09/2009 at 9:45 pm

    I do not believe the legalization of narcotics. Did it work for California? Has the illegal drug trade of Marijuana gotten better over the years? In my experience, the drug wars have gotten worse in Mexico.I am a young American, I can truly and sadly vouch that most of the people that I know in my age group in America are users of Marijuana (habitually or recreational). It has now become an attitude of “it’s natural”. The sad amount of men and women I see parading around at happy hour with their endless pints, yelling something provocative at me as I walk by trying to get home is absurd. Not even to bring in the fact that I have to walk through clouds of cigarette smoke, which makes me sick. Are United Kingdom tax payers paying for the ill-health of people who jeopardize their own health? The drug-users, the chain smokers, the obese, the alcoholics? The most ridiculous thing I have ever heard was actually from an old roommate, who I might add smokes a pack of cigarettes per day. She said, “I do not use laundry detergent that is not natural or free of chemicals because why would I want to put those chemicals on my skin and in my body.” hmmm..

  9. Jonathan Hogg
    14/09/2009 at 9:51 pm

    Decriminalising drugs while still having the supply illegal doesn’t make any sense as it just increases the value of the product for the suppliers while still keeping them outside the legal and tax systems.

    It should be obvious to anyone that the “war on drugs” has been lost. Drugs are cheaper and more easily available than they have ever been. We have wasted an enormous amount of taxpayers money and allowed criminal drug gangs to blight entire countries. It’s time to abandon prohibition.

    I would take issue with one of your statements though: drugs do not “have a devastating effect on the body”; the misuse of drugs does. The same goes for alcohol and, as you noted, tobacco. In fact, sensibly taken, most illegal drugs are far from dangerous. Misuse of drugs is clearly a public health issue and taxation issue (since they should obviously be taxed according to the severity of the public health cost).

    The least worse choice is to fully legalise drugs. People are going to continue to take them whatever you do. The question is just whether you want to continue to allow the trade to be run by criminals and fund the cleaning up of the mess out of general, instead of targeted, taxation?

  10. 14/09/2009 at 10:46 pm

    Using tobacco, and the fact that it is currently legal, as a yardstick is a red herring. If tobacco was discovered today, it would not be legal. It’s only for various political and social reasons that it’s still legal. Surely it’s far better to remove an anomaly by correcting the anomaly, rather than by changing everything else to match? Slowly the anomaly is being corrected as it becomes feasible to do so. How much money has this cost? How many initiatives and campaigns and restrictions have to be brought in to control a legal drug to prevent it having an impact on non-drug users and on the healthcare system? How much does this cost? Now multiply it by the number of drugs that would be legal if the law was changed.

    Also, do we really believe that if drugs became legal overnight, the drug-dealing criminals would say, “Oh, now drugs are legal, I’m going to give up being a criminal, earning thousands a week for minimal work, and earn minimum wage selling cannabis and cocaine from behind the counter in WHSmith”?

  11. Troika21
    14/09/2009 at 11:03 pm

    Lord Norton, you mention Switzerland, but Portugal has also done something similar to Tony Woolf’s last statement – allowing use while preventing supply, and it seems to have been effective, dispite his assertion of doom.

    Myself, I believe drugs should be treated in the same way as alcohol and tobacco are treated today, legal but with proper regulation and infomation on their dangers.

    Some are worse than others of course, in any proper classification of drugs booze tends to come somewhere near the middle, surely, anything below it can be legal?

    The basis of drug policy is nothing more than moral panic, if you’re going to allow people to smoke and drink, there can be no reason to ban any other drugs.

    Drugs destroy families, well so does booze.
    Drugs divert money from food, but cigarettes don’t?
    Drugs increase crime, but offenders from outside bars and clubs are filling our prisons.
    Drugs warp minds, nicotine addiction dosn’t count though.

    All it comes down to for me is what drugs we want to be socially acceptable.
    Story by way of example: I’m twenty-two, I have never smoked, never comsumed any drugs and [dramtic pause] I’m teetotal. This seems to bother people, if they don’t know about it, and find out, they seem to instruct me to take the beer or wine they offer,
    “But you can just have a drop” they say,
    yet, if I told them I took LSD or something, they would make tut-tut-ing sounds.

    Like I said; all it comes down to for me is what drugs we want to be socially acceptable.

  12. Jonathan Hogg
    15/09/2009 at 9:16 am

    Just below my earlier comment, another Jonathan wrote:

    > Also, do we really believe that if drugs became legal overnight, the drug-dealing criminals would say, “Oh, now drugs are legal, I’m going to give up being a criminal, earning thousands a week for minimal work, and earn minimum wage selling cannabis and cocaine from behind the counter in WHSmith”?

    This slightly misses the point. If drug supply is legalised then customers have the option of buying their drugs from a legal supplier. If one could buy cocaine in WH Smiths (though I suspect pharmacies would make more sense) from a known manufacturer, who has their product tested and controlled like a prescription drug, then one is less likely to want to buy cocaine of unknown purity from some shady bloke a friend of a friend knows. The point is not to convince criminal suppliers to go legal, but to allow legal suppliers to steal their business.

    This is why I’m against decriminalising drug use while keeping the supply criminal: it’s bad economics. I’m all for focusing on the public health issue of drug misuse, but why pay for it out of general taxation while continuing to allow dangerous criminal gangs to make huge untaxed profits?

    The current state of play just makes no sense to me. Particularly when you consider surveys show that over a 1/3rd of UK adults admit to having taken illegal drugs, which is about as many people voted Labour at the last general election. Why are we criminalising such a large proportion of the electorate?

  13. Croft
    15/09/2009 at 10:36 am

    Hmm,

    On any rational cost/benefit analysis the amount spent on the various wars on drugs (much as the term exasperates me) relative to the success of the objectives has to be deemed a failure. Pick any drug you like the the cost on the street has been falling consistently over the decades. So much so that we have reliable international organisations reporting from Afghanistan that opium is being stockpiled in the hope of pushing the price higher as it has dropped so low the profits have reduced dramatically.

    If the point of the drugs policy is preventing harm then it fails both in theoretical terms and in the real world. Street drugs unlike regulated drugs are mixed with other chemicals in varying quantities exposing users to risks from contamination and overdose that would otherwise be potentially avoidable. In terms of classification the present system pretends to measure damage/harm but its own expert advice refutes the banding (Note particularly the positions of some of the Class A drugs and alcohol/tobacco.) The effect of this is that the government knowingly misinforms users of risks destroying any credibility in the accuracy of the systems of government advice.

    Much as the government would like to pretend otherwise millions of people use/have used drugs recreationally and/or do so on the weekends in clubs and the like. Taking action against them unless they are involved in some other criminality is pointless, disproportionate and needlessly ruins lives by potentially giving people criminal records. Tackling those addicted and most likely to be using crime to fund their habit is more understandable but has it worked? The evidence on usage, availability, price and drug linked crime suggests not. I tend to favour a no questions asked system in some countries where medical grade drugs are available in shooting houses with clean needles and medical advice/assistance.

    The present system survives, I believe, not on the basis of measurable success but of the perceived humiliation and political damage of any admission of failure.

  14. clif e
    15/09/2009 at 11:59 am

    Apart from cannibis most drugs that is taken is not a natural product, they all have things added to them “cocaine, heroin, crack and the rest of them” if not they would be to strong for people to use, so those drugs should remain ellegal, cannibis should be legal, it is grown just like tobacco and is just another herb.

    • 15/09/2009 at 2:47 pm

      I’m afraid the drugs you mention are natural products, cocaine and crack derive from the Coca plant and heroin and morphine from the opium poppy. Even then it would be hard to say a purely artificial chemical like MDMA (“Ectasy”) is worse than a “natural” chemical like alcohol.

      • clif e
        15/09/2009 at 3:57 pm

        I did say they all the above drugs start off natural but had to have things added to them or they would be to dangerous for human use unlike cannibis

      • B
        18/09/2009 at 3:21 am

        Actually that isn’t true. Dried poppy all on its own is a potent narcotic and recreational drug in its own right. You might try googling a man named “Jim Hogshire” to see what has happened to a recent popularizer of the drug. It is a fascinating story.

        None of this is to say I am in favor of controls. (Indeed, dried poppy is virtually uncontrolled as it is and ought to remain so.) It is just to point out that the natural/synthetic distinction doesn’t track a distinction in potency or potential harm.

    • Matt
      23/09/2009 at 11:17 pm

      As Alex has pointed out, many of these drugs are derived from natural plant sources.

      In fact the banning of naturally occurring drugs such as opium leads to greater use of more concentrated (and more dangerous) forms (in the case of opium, heroin) because they are more compact and easy to transport, as was demonstrated by the shift in consumption to hard spirits by American drinkers during prohibition, and by the increase in strength of cannabis that was widely reported a couple of years ago.

  15. 15/09/2009 at 1:35 pm

    As with many contentious issues the cat and the bag didn’t meet until tabloids were invented.

    Here, the term ‘drugs’ must be clarified. I note the mutterings of those that advocate drivers of vehicles under the influence of drugs should be penalised. How will the law determine this without acknowledging which drugs are safe to be used, and those that are not? The law accompanying the breath-test came under fire early on when a police officer arrested a driver because he could smell drink on the the driver’s breath; the driver was duly aquitted.

    Drugs are designed to have a “devastating effect”, mainly to make us feel better about our condition. Genuinely, it does not surprise me that so many people today are seeking prescription drugs for depression or, simply, to feel better. The question is whether the state believes a line must be drawn before substance abuse becomes detrimental solely to the user or to others affected by the user. The state is generally reactive and this gvt demonstrates the problems of being repeatedly proactive/prohibitionist.

    I am not clear whether the opponents of decriminalisation of currently banned substances are against the drugs themselves, or the addictive effects of drugs, or the effects a drug can have on a person, or the whole deal. As an outsider, the issues of classification appear to me to be motivated primarily by ideology rather than good science. Further, today’s ideology is inconsistent (as with tobacco and alcohol) and open for misinterpretation (in particular, taxation issues). Gvt must harmonise their attitudes towards drugs and make all available only by prescription, for example. Only then can they begin to take a hard look at other substance abuse such as with steroids and glue sniffing.

  16. 15/09/2009 at 2:41 pm

    Drugs policy around the world has been in stalemate for years. I’m not even entirely sure what the current policy objectives of the UK are, perhaps someone could enlighten me?

    To me the issue of recreational drugs is one that is concerned with public health and personal choices. The impact of criminalisation, all recreational drugs were once legal, has had negative effects across the board.

    What would happen if we took every heroin user in the country and supplied them with properly dosed pharmacological grade heroin and a residential place? The net effect of the economy would be positive because content addicts don’t go on crime sprees to fund their habit. The residential centres can then provide support to those addicts that want to quit and move on with their lives. Properly supervised even the addicts could make a positive economic impact. But the cry will go up “what about the children?”. Won’t treating addicts like humans with a medical condition simply tempt more to take up the habit when they see the cushy life addicts get? I doubt it, people don’t try drugs to become addicts. While a few people may see life in a medicated bubble as attractive I suspect bringing drug treatment into the open would discourage more potential users than it encourages.

    Criminal sanctions have failed in discouraging people from experimenting with illicit substances, indeed for some the very fact a suspect is illicit stimulates curiosity in it. By far the most effective preventative against drug use is education – it’s been shown to work with smoking (along with a heavy tax regime and social manipulation). From there on the choice to use drugs is one of informed personal choice and to honest not the concern of anyone else, lest of all the states. Once personal choice is the order of the day then so is personal responsibility and we can concentrate of those people who’s drug use is a problem for society rather than treating drug use itself as the problem.

    I suspect the only way we’ll ever move the debate forward is by having a Royal Commission with wide terms of reference that all the major parties can support.

  17. 15/09/2009 at 2:50 pm

    The question of drugs, like prostitution, is multi-layered. It is abundantly clear in both cases that the status quo, by most criteria, is a failure. We might start, then, by asking by what criteria we would measure success?

    We could start by stating that it is highly undesirably for anyone to be addicted to anything. It would appear desirable, then, to criminalise anyone attempting to induce persons unable to exercise consent, by virtue of age or impediment, from taking addictive substances outside extraordinary (eg medical) circumstances.

    That said, the population at large would seem to divide up into three groups: those that are addicted to various drugs; those that are not and do not appear at significant risk of so being; and those that are not and may be deemed as being at significant risk. The numbers in each group would vary from drug to drug.

    Sanctioning the provision of class A or B drugs to those already addicted to them, whether as part of a rehab program or not (I believe it should be the addict’s decision, indeed can only be the addict’s decision), has major advantages. It denies income to the criminal networks who currently supply the drugs; enables the purity of the drugs in question to be monitored; can reduce or eliminate cost to the addict, which in turn can result in a significant reduction of other crime (eg street soliciting, acquisitive crime) resorted to in order to raise the money required to pay for the drugs; and enables the addict to be regularly monitored.

    The drugs have to be administered, otherwise one simply adds more drugs into the black market. I would not argue for being able to buy a pack of heroin at Tescos.

    Disadvantages might be said to be cost (though there may be an overall cost benefit) and the signal it gives society that such drugs are, in certain circumstances, countenanced.

    One then targets appropriate public education drives at high risk groups.

    I shall leave the success of Al Capone and his contemporaries to testify over the wonders of prohibitionism on alcohol.

    I look forward with great pleasure, Lord N, to your forthcoming post on prostitution in the light of the forthcoming debate on the Policing and Crime Bill.

  18. Chris K
    15/09/2009 at 9:16 pm

    When looking at the effect of alcohol on behaviour and comparing it to the rather more benign effects of many illegal drugs, it begs the question “If alcohol had just been invented would it be legal?” Which is an interesting hypothetical question that crops up whenever the topic of drug control does. I think the answer is almost certainly “no”.

    If we went down the route of legalising drug use, and also allowed the establishment of licensed shops to sell the drugs, it would almost certainly cut gang and gun-related crime overnight. At least for as long as prices in licensed shops undercut those of drug dealers. We couldn’t have a state monopoly with minimum prices or the drug dealers and the related crime would return.
    However we would have to readdress our approach to drug dealers. Could the punishment for selling drugs without a licence be as harsh as it is for selling drugs when they’re illegal?

    Would there be an age restriction and could it be enforced? Kids can obtain alcohol easily enough, so if drugs were legalised we would probably find the same thing happening. (But then of course, it happens at present anyway). I think having any restriction may backfire in the same way that it is at present, namely by creating a market for illegal sale, which would cause related crime to reappear.
    I begrudge having to show ID to buy alcohol because I feel I have to prove that I’m not breaking the law (and of course having ID is not compulsory…yet). But I do feel hugely more uneasy at the prospect that children may be able to buy drugs than I do about them obtaining alcohol. Surely I shouldn’t?

    So far I’ve ignored the harm that drugs do to the users themselves and concentrated on the effects of drug dealing on innocent people. This assumes we follow the principle that it is not the government’s job to protect people from their own stupidity, only to protect other people from it.
    So how would decriminalising drugs sit with existing laws on personal safety/wellbeing, such as those which criminalise not wearing a seat belt, crash helmet et al? Seems a minor point, but it highlights quite a big contradiction.

  19. tobedwithatrollope
    16/09/2009 at 2:38 am

    One of the considerations I seldom see in connection with the legalisation of currently illegal drugs is the amount of research and legislation that would be required to adjust certain standard safety laws.

    To take one example: marijuana can impair reaction time and judgement as much as alcohol can — so how would the government set the marijuana equivalent of the blood alcohol level that is used to press charges for drink-driving? Would there be similar standards set for appropriate levels of heroin or cocaine or other drugs? Before any talk of decriminalising drug legislation starts, I’d at least like to see at least a half-dozen well-designed and well-funded research studies that help to establish things like ‘acceptable’ maximum limits for operating vehicles and heavy machinery under the influence of marijuana or cocaine or the like.

    Then again, I’m not sure that I’d accept decriminalisation even with the maximum levels in place. It’s only in the past few decades that we’ve actually seen drink-driving regarded as a serious public threat, even though countless people have been killed or injured for life as a result of some unthinking person’s belief that he or she can drive perfectly well after having a few drinks. The laws against drink-driving aren’t enforced as strictly as I’d like, so why should I believe that they’ll be enforced for someone who decided it was okay to toke up or do a line and then get behind the wheel?

    • 16/09/2009 at 10:44 am

      I think it would be reasonably uncontroversial to set the limits at “>0” until any evidence set a safe level. To be fair our drinking limits are more historical accidents than anything else, if we were setting them today we would probably want to set them at >0 as well.

      • 16/09/2009 at 12:18 pm

        An alcohol limit of zero would be broken by eating a few slices of bread.

      • 16/09/2009 at 5:32 pm

        How many slices of bread are equivalent to a pint of beer? I take your point that an absolute zero baseline would be tricky to measure meaningfully. However there is plenty of research showing that blood alcohol levels below the legal limit still have a significant effect on driving ability.

  20. lordnorton
    16/09/2009 at 5:00 pm

    Thanks for some very stimulating responses. The reaction has surpassed my expectations. I read each comment as it came in, but rather than give a quick response, I plan to print out all the comments and reflect on them at greater length. In the meantime, I see that there is a relevant article in the New Scientist:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327251.100-better-world-legalise-drugs.html

  21. Albion Tourgee
    16/09/2009 at 7:48 pm

    Here’s a link to a very powerful history of the drug wars, showing how futile the prohibition policy has been in failing to prevent drug abuse, and how much harm has been caused by it. http://www.libertary.com/books/drug-crazy The book is available to read for free online and there’s a link if you need a printed copy. The author, Mike Gray, does a great job of exploring the sad history of this misadventure.

  22. 17/09/2009 at 10:10 am

    Hi. I posted at length about this topic at LawPundit in April as follows (the links are here not activated):

    USA Drug Policy Flawed : 2.3 Million in Jail or Prison : Limits of the Criminal Sanction : Portugal Leads Way to Legal Reform & Drug Decriminalization

    According to Eric E. Sterling, President of the non-profit Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and former counsel on anti-drug legislation to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, there are currently 2.3 million Americans in jails or prisons, many of them due to drug infractions:

    “We certainly need to imprison dangerous offenders – to protect us and to punish them. But we need to get a lot smarter about why we imprison and who we imprison. Remarkably, in the last thirty years, the largest increase in imprisonment has been due to prohibition drug policy.

    Even though drug enforcement leaders have warned for more than twenty years that “we can’t arrest our way out of the drug problem,” every year we arrest more people for drug offenses than the year before. Last year we arrested over 1.8 million Americans, more than three times the number arrested for all violent crimes combined. Now about one-quarter of those in prison are serving drug sentences. As the centerpiece of our anti-drug strategy, arrests and imprisonment have failed: high school seniors report that drugs are easier for them to get now than in the 1970s and 1980s.”

    Andrew Bosworth at PopulistAmerica.com in Incarceration Nation: The Rise of a Prison-Industrial Complex writes similarly:

    “Consider this disturbing fact: the United States now has the world’s highest incarceration rate outside of North Korea. Out of 1,000 people, more Americans are behind bars than anywhere in the world except in Kim Jong-Il’s Neo-Stalinist state. The US has a higher incarceration rate than China, Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe and Burma – countries American politicians often berate for their human rights violations.

    Well over two million Americans are behind bars. Let us agree that violent criminals and sex offenders should be in jail, but most Americans are not aware that over one million people spend year after year in prison for non-violent and petty offenses: small-time drug dealing, street hustling, prostitution, bouncing checks and even writing graffiti. Texas, with its boot-in-your-butt criminal justice system, is now attempting to incarcerate people who get drunk at bars – even if they are not disturbing the peace and intend to take a taxi home…

    Arguably, continuously lowering the bar for what it takes to be jailed threatens the liberty of all Americans. And having one million non-violent offenders in prison (often for absurdly long periods) makes it that much easier, in the near future, for the return of debtors’ prisons and dissident detention centers. This approach to locking up everyone possible undermines both the liberal emphasis on personal liberty and the conservative emphasis on small government.”

    Who out there in the American criminal justice system understands the basic wisdom found in Herbert Packer’s Limits of the Criminal Sanction? What lawmaker, government official, judge, prosecutor, or prison official in the United States has ever read Packer’s book – much less applied the inexorable legal policy conclusions demanded by it? (see Google Books, this PPT and Packer’s Two Models of the Criminal Process)

    Not every undesirable human action or activity in society is or should be subject to criminal punishments. There are other – more modern – means available to deal with socially undesirable behavior.

    Indeed, the primitive idea of jails or prisons as legal solutions for societal problems has been around for millennia. But such jails and prisons, except as a deserved punishment of and/or an effective deterrent of violent and dangerous criminals, are by their very nature as outdated in modern law as the now discredited blood-letting is in modern medicine, which was an accepted medical practice worldwide from the earliest times of humanity down to the late 19th century, a flawed medical practice which surely cost America’s first President, George Washington, his life (we quote from the Wikipedia):

    “Bloodletting was also popular in the young United States of America…. George Washington asked to be bled heavily after he developed a throat infection from weather exposure. Almost 4 pounds (1.7 litres) of blood was withdrawn … contributing to his death in 1799.”

    We were reminded of the similar backward state of contemporary American law by the April 26, 2009 TIME article of Maia Szalavitz on Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work? (referring to an article by Glenn Greenwald at the Cato Institute), where the answer to that question in the title is a clear, resounding, “YES, drug decriminalization has worked in Portugal”.

    Szalavitz quotes Glenn Greenwald, writing at the Cato Institute:

    “Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”

    What sensible legal policy did Portugal adopt?

    Going to the original article at the Cato Institute, Glenn Greenwald writes in Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies :

    “On July 1, 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Under the new legal framework, all drugs were “decriminalized,” not “legalized.” Thus, drug possession for personal use and drug usage itself are still legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm. Drug trafficking continues to be prosecuted as a criminal offense….

    The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.” [emphasis added]

    We are particularly gratified to read this result, because the Portuguese solution is the solution advocated 40 years ago by our mentor at Stanford Law School, the late Professor John Kaplan – famed for his legal brilliance from his days at Harvard, a former prosecutor who was a conservative at heart – who in the late 1960’s was selected as a member of a top-notch advisory committee of law professors to advise the California state legislature on a revision of the California criminal (penal) code.

    Kaplan’s drug research at that time led the professorial advisory committee to recommend the decriminalization of marijuana in California to the California legislature – with the result, if memory serves correctly, that some if not all of the entire advisory committee was released from its duties by the legislature and replaced by other law professors whose political views were more in line with what the California legislature wanted to hear. I know of this only be hearsay and can not vouch for the exact details.

    In any case, Kaplan responded to this experience with his book, Marijuana: The New Prohibition, which I had the honor and pleasure to edit while still a student, and in which Kaplan was of the opinion that drugs such as marijuana should be “decriminalized” – it was his major recommendation in this field of law. Drug abuse, as Herbert Packer – for whom I was also a student assistant at Stanford Law School – would have predicted by the principles in his book on the limits of the criminal sanction, simply does not lend itself well to control by criminal punishments.

    Eric E. Sterling, J.D., President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in his Drug Policy Bibliography and Websites lists Kaplan’s book as follows:

    “John Kaplan, Marijuana – The New Prohibition, Pocket Books, New York, 1971, 402 pp. A
    classic. Stanford law professor John Kaplan demolished the factual foundation for marijuana
    prohibition when originally published in 1970. Throughly documented.”

    Talcott Bates M.D. wrote in his book review of Marijuana: The New Prohibition:

    “Professor Kaplan was appointed in 1966 by the California Senate to a committee to revise the California Penal Code, last completely revised in 1872. By chance he was assigned the drug laws, about which he felt he had no knowledge or experience except that which he had acquired as a one-time prosecutor as Assistant United States Attorney. It became apparent at once that the key drug problem in California was the treatment of marijuana. Not until the treatment of marijuana was intelligently handled would progress in the broader area of drug abuse be possible.

    Marijuana: The New Prohibition reviews the history of marijuana, how in 1937, four years after Prohibition ended, Congress outlawed the sale, possession, and use of marijuana. Professor Kaplan points out that the measure of the wisdom of any law is the measure of its total social
    and financial costs and the benefits that derive from this outlay. This book is an attempt to measure the costs of the criminalization of marijuana and concludes that the costs far outweigh the benefits.”

    It is not without reason, as written at ProhibitionCosts.Org, that in the year 2005, three Nobel laureates in economics and more than 500 distinguished economists advocated “replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation similar to that used for alcoholic beverages [which] would produce combined savings and tax revenues of between $10 billion and $14 billion per year….”

    In terms of drug possession and abuse, as I wrote previously elsewhere about John Kaplan’s book:

    “John Kaplan’s
    Marijuana — The New Prohibition

    John’s book on the drug laws resulted from his membership on a professorial advisory committee to the California state legislature. John was quite conservative in his views and had in fact served as a public prosecutor of crimes, but his committee recommended a liberal stance toward marijuana – regarding its criminalization to be a legislative mistake.

    John’s view was that the legislature should concentrate more on workable laws regarding hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine, which were the major dangers. Too much emphasis was going toward marijuana – where young people were easily being caught in the act of smoking – and too little effort was being placed on going after hard drug makers and dealers, where arrests were much harder for the authorities to obtain.

    As the result of the objective committee report, however, the committee was fired by the California legislature and a new committee was formed, ostensibly with members whose views were more in line with what the legislature subjectively wanted to hear, whether it fit the facts or not. In his book, John predicted that the criminalization of marijuana would not work – it did not work – and that, on the contrary, the marijuana laws would strengthen the hard drug dealers as suppliers – which in fact happened, leading many people to take stronger drugs. The drug abuse mess that exists today throughout much of America is partially the result of this very erroneous drug law policy, having concentrated on marijuana and not enough on the truly dangerous substances.

    See: Marijuana — The New Prohibition
    by John Kaplan
    Publisher: Ty Crowell Co; 1st Edition (June 1970)”

    The State of California and the other states of the United States ignored Kaplan’s recommendations and the results are now in, 40 years later. They do not speak well for the wisdom of past or current legislation on drug laws or their enforcement. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) :

    “In 2006, 25 million Americans age 12 and older had abused marijuana at least once in the year prior to being surveyed. Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health; http://www.samhsa.gov/. The NIDA-funded 2007 Monitoring the Future Study showed that 10.3% of 8th graders, 24.6% of 10th graders, and 31.7% of 12th graders had abused marijuana at least once in the year prior to being surveyed. Source: Monitoring the Future http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/. ”

    The case for decriminalization and for a more intelligent approach to drug possession and abuse is clearly apparent.

    Generally, in terms of all petty and needlessly “criminalized” legal infractions, there are great legislative and judicial opportunities out there to adopt sensible criminal laws, to get people out of jails and prisons who should not be there, and to help to integrate people into normal life rather than tossing them stupidly into jails and prisons, where little progress in development is possible for most. Quite the contrary, people are thrown together with hardened criminals, to their detriment. In most non-violent crimes, especially petty infractions, jail and/or prison should be the LAST option, not the first.

    But how likely is it that an entrenched unmoving American legal system will now take the intelligent path forward to reform its vastly outdated drug laws and to free its jail and prison populations of people who should not be there?

    Not very likely – unless the people in Congress and state legislatures suddenly get to be a lot smarter than we judge them to be.

    For more resources on this topic, see the Cato Institute’s Criminal Justice Reading List.

    – Andis Kaulins

  23. 17/09/2009 at 7:48 pm

    Sorry I’m late to the discussion. 😉

    I’m impressed by the responses to this question, and find myself in agreement with most of the voices here favouring decriminalisation. There are a few points no-one seems to have mentioned yet:

    Laws only work if people tempted to break them understand they are doing wrong. Attempting to change behaviour using unpopular laws not only fails in its aims, but inspires contempt for parliament and the rule of law in general.
    Prior to the seventies Britain had a fairly liberal drugs policy, this changed when US president Richard Nixon began the War on Drugs. We know the reason for starting it from the Nixon tapes, as an article by Gwynne Dyer (not yet online at time of writing) points out, it was due to Nixon’s belief that drugs were part of a Jewish plot. In Nixon’s own words:

    ‘You know, it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists.’

    Nixon does at least turn out to be an equal opportunities paranoid:

    ‘Dope? Do you think the Russians allow dope? Hell no. … You see, homosexuality, dope, uh, immorality in general: these are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing it. They’re trying to destroy us.’

    Here we have a 39-year war — with thousands dead and millions in jail — based on a false premise.

    Decriminalising drugs will not cause damage to the fabric of society; indeed Victorian Britain, some of the glory years of the empire, had little controls on drugs. Britain was the most powerful nation on earth at a time when any Briton could legally purchase opium, it didn’t destroy us then and wouldn’t now.

    Others have variously made points on the topics of prescription and ‘clean’ drugs, so I won’t repeat them here.

    • Senex
      20/09/2009 at 3:34 pm

      Liam: “Laws only work if people tempted to break them understand they are doing wrong.”

      There is philosophical truth in what you say.

      A criminal is not a felon until tried before a court of law. Up to that point the felon is suspected of a crime.

      When the felon is incarcerated the needs of the law have been fulfilled but from the felons perspective he is being punished for being caught.

      This is why parole boards must be satisfied that the felon is truly sorry for the crime they committed.

    • 29/09/2009 at 7:43 pm

      Well the above comment was nicely formatted with a numbered list (using <ol> tags) and quotations (using <blockquote> tags). But it seems blockquote tags still don’t have any styling on LoTB and wordpress.com doesn’t allow lists.

      Proper discussion without quotes and lists is difficult.

      I’ve had a look at the CSS of the site, in order to fix a couple of things that have been bothering me:

      1. to fix the smileys, so they don’t go to the left of the paragraph, or have padding/grey background/border, go to line 472 of the site’s CSS:

      #comments li div img {

      and change it to:

      #comments li div img.avatar {

      2. to add some basic styling to blockquote tags: add the contents of this file to the site CSS.

      It should be possible to edit the CSS for Lords of the Blog by going from the WordPress Dashboard page, to Appearance (on the left-hand menu), then Edit CSS.

      Firefox and Opera users can also get these fixes by loading the Lords of the Blog user stylesheet. Courtesy of yours truly. 🙂

  24. Thomas
    17/09/2009 at 11:06 pm

    Wow – so many comments already.

    I want to start with a few obvious observations. Drugs *are* a health problem. There is preciously little evidence that the current illegal status helps – it may deter a few, it may make drugs a bit more expensive, but it also makes life hard for people on drugs, and most of all it prevents them from getting help.

    But there is another cost associated with drugs being illegal: the financing of crime around drug production. With legal drugs, there would be no business in crime, but for illegal drugs there is a premium to be made in exchange for breaking the law. Our “war on terror” would be going a lot better with legalised drugs (not that you can really win against an abstract concept…).

    I am not for selling drugs freely (and I am strictly against commercials and promotions for alcohol, including any kind of discount), but they should be available as part of a “routine” medical treatment where appropriate.

  25. Jonathan Hogg
    18/09/2009 at 10:58 am

    Just to lighten things up, this discussion brought to mind a satirical headline from the Onion:

    War On String May Be Unwinnable, Says Cat General
    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/37503

  26. lordnorton
    23/09/2009 at 11:27 am

    Thanks to everyone for some excellent contributions. I think this has been one of the most rewarding posts I have done, eliciting thoughtful and constructive – and, indeed, persuasive – comments.

    As many of the contributions overlap, rather than do a commentary on each one, I thought it may be helpful if I summarise what I see as the key points.

    There appears to be a consensus that the present situation is a mess and largely untenable. CRAiG summarises the reasons why the present system fails: cost, public health and liberty. Croft also offers a powerful critique. Megalithicworld provides a detailed summation of the situation in the USA. He also touches upon a rather pertinent point, which is that sending someone to prison may not be the best way of ending drug abuse. Experience elsewhere (Portugal – mentioned by Troika21 and megalithicworld – and Switzerland), as well as some experiements in the UK, show what can be done through an alternative approach. What happens elsewhere tends to reinforce the point made by Thomas, namely that there may be a case for making drugs available as part of a routine medical treatment. I do, though, agree with franksummers3ba that the best way forward is through international agreement. I do not underestimate the sheer difficulty of achieving agreement, but it is clearly the only way ultimately that we can truly solve the problem.

    What, though, can we do in the UK? I take the point made by Kyle Mulholland: ‘From a moral perspective, legalization of all drugs really does stink. But I wonder, would it decrease use? If so, maybe we should look at it’. Tim fears that legalizing drugs may send out the wrong message and possibly lead to an increase in use, unless the legislation is implemented with extreme care, control and communication. ‘Maybe a steady trickle of legalisation, drowned out by a steady torrent of informative communication is the route’. This ties in with Alex Bennee’s point, which I endorse, that the most effective preventative against drug use is education. As he says, it has been shown to work with smoking (with some judicious or not so judicious use of the tax regime and social manipulation). Liam makes a not unrelated point, in that law by itself achieves little if there is not a recognition of wrong-doing. A number of respondents make the case that it should not just be drug use that is legalised, but that there should be some licensed outlets for its use: the comments of Jonathan Hogg and Alex Bennee are particularly pertinent here, as are those of Chris K., Croft and stephenpaterson. Here, I come back to my point about international agreement. Designated shops in Holland can sell cannabis, but the Dutch Government is now contemplating restricting purchase to Dutch nationals: apparently, the shops attract a large number of tourists.

    Though there is clearly dissatisfaction with the existing situation, there are problems with straightforward decriminalisation. Practical problems are raised by Chris K. and tobedwithatrollope. ladytizzy contends that ‘the issues of classification apear to me to be motivated primarily by ideology rather than good science’. Croft argues a similar point. The way forward, then, appears to be to pursue the good science. As Tony Woolf says, we need a dispassionate and scientific assessment of the effects of changing legislation. tobedwithatrollope would like to see at least half-a-dozen well-designed and well-funded research studies that help establish, for instance, acceptable maximum limits for operating vehicles and machinery. I tend to agree with CRAiG and Alex Bennee that the time has come for a Royal Commission, or something similar. At the moment, we tend to hide behind the ideology and appear to be rather desparate to avoid tackling the issue. A Royal Commission may be the way to address the issues – of the sort raised in the comments – and, at best, identify the way forward and, at least, ensure that the relevant material is drawn together and on the public record.

    I appreciate I may not have done justice to all the comments, but let me reiterate my thanks to everyone for contributing. I have learned a lot from the responses.

    • 24/11/2009 at 12:14 pm

      Your idea to have a Royal Commission is excellent and I hope it will be implemented.

      I read at StopTheDrugWar.org as follows from 3 days ago: “Professor David Nutt, the former head of Britain’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), who was fired late last month by Home Secretary Alan Johnson for criticizing the government’s drug policies as driven by politics instead of science, is now calling for a Royal Commission to study whether to decriminalize marijuana.”

      Thank you for the great summary of opinions.

      Please accept my apologies for having previously posted under the here irrelevant alias megalithicworld (my hobby) rather than lawpundit (my profession) – I am unable to reconstruct how that happened, but I seem to recall that one had to have a WordPress account to comment – which might explain it.

  27. Graham
    24/09/2009 at 12:54 am

    There have been a few references to the immorality of taking drugs in this discussion, and there’s no denying that successive governments have attempted to oversimplify the issue with this persistent reference to morality.

    From our body’s point of view, everything we consume is chemistry. What goes into our lungs, stomachs, veins is all fundamentally a blend of various compounds, and whether they got there from a dinner plate, off at tree, out of a teapot or a test tube makes no difference. Certainly, any number of the innocuous items from the food aisles of Tesco are as “unnatural” and synthesised as any cleaning product or recreational drug. There is no morality to what you consume, whether it’s chocolate or paracetamol.

    Many of today’s restricted drugs have had (or still have) respectable positions in any medic’s pharmacopeia (ketamine, amphetamines, MDMA, cocaine, etc.), but society still likes to draw a line between their (medical) use and (recreational) ‘abuse’. As if the pursuit of good feeling, whether it be through relaxation, stimulation, disinhibition, or anaesthesia, were in and of itself some kind of wickedness! Not even the Victorians went so far. It is perfectly acceptable (or at the very least, legal) to seek disinhibition with a glass of wine, or pleasure (akin to sex, apparently) through chocolate, increased libido through aphrodisiacs, or stimulation from caffeine – less so to seek relief in nicotine.

    It comes down to individual, private liberty. How we manipulate our own body’s chemistry should be our own business, and not the business of the state, so long as we harm no-one else. In this, I find it amusing that the Conservatives (usually in the front line against the nanny state) are so determined to tell us what we can and can’t do to ourselves. Really, it should be an issue of public health.

    In this, our outdated classification system does more harm than good. Teenagers introduced to recreational drugs can see that every weekend, thousands of people from all walks of life go out and take non-addictive drugs like ecstasy with no discernible ill effects, and return to work as normal on Monday. The government is shown to have exaggerated the danger of MDMA, brandishing the vastly atypical yet unmistakable tragedy of Leah Betts as a disincentive. If it’s so simple to see through this transparent lie, how are young people to be truthfully warned of the dangers of addictive substances like crack and heroin, which are in the same category as the relatively harmless e?

    There is a notion that if certain drugs were declassified, the nation would fall victim to narcotics, but surely that third of the population (mentioned above) who have tried drugs still hold down jobs and are productive members of society. Our middle class coke users still go to work and pay taxes and even have ‘normal’ families. The Greeks had it right, when they said, “nothing in excess”. Unfortunately, not everyone can hold to this, and their problems can blight their own lives, that of their families, and become burdensome to the state. Indeed, the greatest public health threat facing Britain at the moment is that of obesity, yet no-one suggests outlawing fatty foods – why should we be denied food which we all accept is inherently bad for us?

    Let me rephrase that: why should the sensible majority among us be denied the right to ingest substances that we know do us no good?
    It is simple. We should not.

  28. Zorro
    25/09/2009 at 2:50 pm

    Kyle Mulholland, Can I have some of what you’re smoking please, it’s obviously damned good stuff.

    Please explain what the difference is morally between drinking alcohol and smoking a spliff.

    Also please explain how the illegality of a drug precludes moderate consumption!

    Should be fun!

  29. ken smillie
    26/09/2009 at 9:52 am

    The ‘war on drugs’ is unnecessary, unaffordable and ultimately dramatically counter-productive.
    At source, the hypocrisy of prohibition and attempted elimination of traditional euphorics and stimulants, by an alien culture which supports the consumption of traditionally sanctioned alchohol, helps fuel production. The international trade provides a major source of terrorist finance around the world. At a local level, distribution provides substantial funds for criminal networks and links millions of users to those criminals with illegal transactions.
    Health is compromised because there is no state controlled quality control. The criminal distribution network has powerful incentives to contaminate their product with, often harmful, bulking agents. Official advice is ignored, even ridiculed as uninformed propaganda by often sophisticated and informed users.
    If legalised, drugs would provide an income for poor farmers, terrorists and criminals would no longer benefit from their distribution, governments would save a fortune in policing and court costs. Drugs sales could then be taxed at a similar level to alchohol and tobacco, which would fund treatment from those casualties who seek solace in abuse.
    Current prescription regimes control the use and dosage of the most hazardous substances, whose strength and purity are regulated. Perhaps a new regime would encourage more neutral research objectives in science and unleash the medical potential of some of these neglected ancient remedies. (I believe Queen Victoria was prescribed tincture of cannabis for labour?)
    What’s to argue about?

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