I did not want to get into this debate again but in a recent post I was challenged to put the case for drugs to remain illegal. I delayed this as Gadget stuck her toe in the water on the same subject, although for some reason this did not attract the usual hysterical pro drugs legalisation brigade.
I have read extensively all the arguments for drug legalisation. They are largely weak and flawed. Firstly, the pro legalisation lobby need to come up with a cohesive strategy that sets out exactly what they want to achieve. What is meant by legalisation? Does it mean that there are no controls on drugs and anyone of any age can just buy them in Sainsbury's with their weekly shop? Does it mean that they are licensed in some way such as cigarettes or alcohol? Does it mean that we prescribe controlled drugs to addicts so they do not have to go out burgling and stealing every day? Does it mean that simple possession of a limited amount of drugs is not illegal or subject of non criminal process. Until there is a clear strategy and model the pro legalisation lobby will not be taken seriously.
In country's where drugs have allegedly been 'legalised' it usually means that possession of small amounts of drugs is not dealt with through the criminal justice system but may mean a mandatory referral to a drug clinic etc. This model has been hailed as a success in Portugal, where possession of small amounts of drugs are dealt with by way of mandatory referral to drug counsellors. Portugal had the highest use of heroin in Europe at the time and this reduced up until 2009, but if you delve a bit deeper there are other factors that account for the alleged benefits of legalisation. Portugal's affluence increased significantly during the early 2000's. Portugal had almost no rehabilitation in place when possession was legalised, but significant rehabilitation was introduced at the same time. Some academic studies point out that heroin use is cyclical and has natural peaks and troughs. This is because every decade the current batch of heroin users either die or reach such a low that they chose to use rehab. Heroin use in Portugal is rising again as the current cycle of rehabilitation and deaths has taken its course and the economy finds itself in recession again.
Mexico legalised drug possession two years ago. It may be too early to judge, but clearly this has had no effect on the drugs cartels murdering and butchering each other for their stake of the trade. I do understand that most of that trade is north of their border.
Holland has long been lauded by the pro drugs brigade as a society where a liberal attitude to drugs has brought benefits. Go and visit Amsterdam. There are seedy drug dealers crawling all over the city and equally seedy users looking for their next fix and the money to buy it. Property crime in Amsterdam is one of the highest in Europe. For example, there are 1.5 million bikes in Amsterdam and every year 600,000 are stolen.
To my knowledge, no country in the world has de-criminalised or licensed drug production, sale, distribution or supply. This is largely due to the fact that there is a United Nations mandate in place that states that all member countries must have legislation in place to make these activities a criminal offence.
I can understand the argument to supply existing addicts with drugs to prevent them turning to crime to feed their habit. This may make sense but there are risks attached to it. Supplying addicts with drugs will mean that unlawful dealers will work harder to maintain their market and recruit other customers to fill that gap. A strategy will need to be in place to deal with this which will undoubtedly mean further investment in prevention. I am a firm believer in consequences though and if anyone being supplied with state drugs sells them or has other drugs then it is straight off to prison.
I have heard all the arguments against regulating drugs including for the police; diminished public respect, alienation from youth, recruiting difficulties, increased workloads, budget pressures, corruption, injury and death. For society in general; reducing, gang violence, organised crime, property crime, HIV and Hep C, negating organised crime. For the user; state control on price, purity and safety of the product, controlling supply to minors, encouraging users to control or abstain from drug use.
I wanted to touch on a few of the myths that the pro legalisation lobby roll out and which, I believe, are total bunkum.
1. Prohibition of alcohol didn't work in America and drug prohibition does not work either. Prohibition was actually tried in a number of country's before the USA jumped on the bandwagon in 1920. Organised crime took over the supply and distribution of what was an already large and developed alcohol market. What seems to be ignored is the fact that alcohol had been in common use for hundreds of years and was used by the majority of the population. Prohibition was never going to work when alcohol consumption was endemic in society. With a few exceptions, drug use was the preserve of the affluent few until it was made illegal in the 1920's. Making drugs illegal did not mean that a large vacuum was created and it did not affect the general population. Most importantly, by making it illegal a strong message was delivered that drug use was harmful for you and society. Drugs are far more addictive and potentially harmful. The number of alcoholics as a percentage of alcohol users is tiny compared to drug addicts/users.
2. We are losing the war on drugs and we cannot afford to enforce drug laws and we are criminalising 'innocent' people and filling our prisons with drug offenders.
We are certainly not losing the war on drugs and in fact strong drug enforcement combined with rehabilitation has ensured that drug use has remained under control. Drug users have a false belief that more people are using drugs than in fact are. This is because users tend to associate with other users and non users avoid users. In fact only 7% of the British population regularly use cannabis and only 3% cocaine.
Using the same argument there is a better case to legalise all crime. Crime has been endemic in society since the evolution of man and that war is no closer to being won. It is criminalising and alienating far more people than drugs legislation. At age 25 almost one third of young men have criminal records. If we legalise criminal damage, shoplifting, assault, public order offences, drunk offences etc. etc. we can prevent criminalising almost all of society. The argument is ridiculous.
3. Drug legalisation will significantly reduce or eliminate organised crime and make drugs safer.
This is another complete fantasy. Organised criminals currently involved in drugs are not going to just disappear and become volunteer churchwardens because the state is supplying or allowing regulated drug supply. Organised criminals will fight for their market share and simply supply drugs at cheaper prices, target new markets such as young people and, more worryingly, develop more and more new drugs with higher potency and effects. If you look at the current licensed alcohol and cigarette trades, organised crime has moved into it supplying duty free bootlegged goods at cheaper prices but also supplying fake beer and wine largely produced in China and the Far East. The pro legalisation lobby then argue that we don't tax drugs and make them so cheap that the criminal suppliers cannot undercut them. There is some evidence that legalisation does not affect use but supply and price does. Cheap readily available drugs will cause an increase in users and all the costs to society that that brings.
In my view the risks of a liberal experiment of lawful drug supply by way of regulation coupled with lawful possession far outweigh any potential benefits. Liberalisation of possession in countries such as Portugal and Holland has done little to address drugs and crime. The Swedish model of strict enforcement with investment in prevention and treatment works better. Legalisation to an extent that the state is in competition with unlawful suppliers brings genuine risks of significant increases in users and addicts and the damage and cost to society that this will bring. Once you end up with a significant percentage of the population using drugs going back will be very difficult, if not impossible, as was prohibition. Most importantly, making drugs unlawful delivers a strong message to society that, like other crimes, drugs are bad for the user and society and should remain criminal offences.
The opinions and views expressed here are mine, and mine alone. They do not necessarily reflect the policies and views of the Utopian Police Force nor the City of Utopia.
The stories I tell here are all true but my purpose is not technical accuracy. My purpose is to illustrate the nature of policing in an educational and entertaining way.
I have tried to respect the privacy of the citizens of the city and to relate specific facts without identifying individuals. I believe I succeed in this but if you do recognize yourself and believe others will too, please contact me and I shall rectify it.