I, together with the majority of the public, want the lowest possible level of drug use and the least detrimental effect on all our lives by any policy aiming to achieve this. I find that a policy of prohibition fails to deliver reductions in drug use or supply, provides incentives for increased crime, profits for criminal endeavour and an environment of mistrust and ignorance that is socially and educationally counter-productive.
Legalisation provides a better policy to support, educate and reduce harm, to eliminate the motive for over half societys crime, to reduce the profits, power and danger of the criminal supply chain, to quality control the product and to exchange condemnation and persecution for compassion and understanding.
Dont be frightened by the word legalisation. It doesnt mean encourage, it doesnt mean approval, it certainly doesnt mean drug use would ever be compulsory. It is simply a word that describes a different policy, a different way of dealing with the drug problem.
Currently, in the United Kingdom, we use limited education coupled with prohibition and prosecution. It would be far better to use education coupled with tolerance, compassion and support. Prohibition isnt working and the problems for society are too important to ignore.
Legalisation would move funding from police station to treatment centre, take supply and profits from the criminal, reduce the motives for crime by up to a half and provide quality control of the drugs. Legalisation isnt new. From street bookmakers we legalised betting shops. From back-street abortions we legalised the health service. From the crime of buggery emerged understanding and legalisation of homosexual relationships and from what was the crime of suicide emerged compassion and support. In none of these cases would we now turn the clock back.
Legalisation is available in the field of drugs lets use it.
I have a real personal problem with de-criminalisation that goes beyond debating what is the most acceptable word. I support legalisation because I believe that prohibition causes too many problems and is ineffectual. De-criminalisation appears to be an acceptance of possession whilst leaving supply in the hands of criminals. To do so would earmark this country for a visit by every criminal organisation in the world heading for an accepted legal market but with a criminal monopoly on supply and profit.
That looks to me like the worst of both worlds. You have to legalise supply as well as possession. That means legalisation.
In the United Kingdom there are constitutional checks upon Government. In the criminal field the Home Affairs Select Comittee examines Government crime policies and their effectiveness. In 2002 they examined the effectiveness of the current policy in the field of controlled drugs and concluded that a change to 'legalisation' could not be recommended.
I can do no better than directly quote from their report which identifies the main arguments for and against legalisation. I invite you to come to your own conclusion on the evidence they themselves present. I would clearly come to a different conclusion to them on that same evidence. I will only predudice your reading in one way. I will identify in advance that almost the whole of the opposition case is made by the minister responsible for the current policy.
Report of the Home Affairs Select Committee - extract (for full report go here).
LEGALISATION AND REGULATION OF ALL DRUGS48. The proponents of the most radical change to the drugs laws are those who suggest that the prohibition of currently illicit substances has not worked and cannot work. They argue that, far from limiting the harm caused by drug use, it is prohibition itself which causes the greater part of that harm. The argument here is that illegality militates against safe, open use and creates a dangerous environment in which drug use, criminality and social exclusion become unnecessarily wedded together.
49. Perhaps the clearest statement of this stance came from Transformthe Campaign for an Effective Drugs Policy: "All the evidence shows that UK drug policy has been an unmitigated disaster. Drug-related crime, death, destruction of inner city communities, billions in wasted expenditure and the loss of political autonomy of developing countries are the price we have paid for global prohibition. Prohibition is a recipe for disaster. We would be hard pressed to find a system with a higher propensity to lead to crime, social exclusion, violence, prostitution and general misery...In Transform's view prohibition has caused or created many of the problems associated with the use and misuse of drugs...drugs prohibition effectively hands the trade over to organised crime and unregulated dealers. Government abrogates all responsibility for the management of the supply side of the market and chaos prevails".
50. The Angel Declaration, a manifesto for change of the drugs laws, uses similar arguments: "the UK prohibition of controlled substances, now embodied in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, has proved ineffective in the achievement of its objects, counter-productive in its side-effects, wasteful of public resources, destructive in its cultivation of criminality and commercial abuse, and inhumane in its operation. The Act no longer constitutes an appropriate form of social regulation, consistent with the UK's Human Rights commitments".
51. Other witnesses have pointed to the failure of alcohol prohibition in the USA in the 1920s, making an analogy with today's prohibition of drugs. Mr Nick Davies of The Guardian told the Committee: "what drug becomes safer, in terms of health or social damage, if you make it illegal?... Look at what happened when they prohibited alcohol. Did that make people safer to have their alcohol brewed by gangsters using methylated spirits which made them blind? Did it help that there was an explosion of organised crime? Did they reduce alcohol harm by prohibition? No."
52. The alternative proposed is the legalisation and regulation of all controlled drugs. Transform suggest that there are various distribution mechanisms, already used for the controlled supply of legal substances such as alcohol, tobacco and medicines, through which such a retail system could operate, including over the counter sales, licensed sales, pharmacy sales and prescription through a doctor. The various mechanisms offer different degrees of restriction of availability, and different drugs could be sold in different ways.
53. It is argued that making currently illegal drugs available in this manner would not preclude the provision of vigorous health education campaigns aimed at discouraging use of any mind-altering substance. Sanctions on the age of legal consumers would be enforced as they are for the sale of alcohol and tobacco. The marketing of all drugs with potential for harm, including alcohol and tobacco, would be strictly forbidden.
54. We have heard a range of arguments for such a system, encompassing philosophical and practical considerations. Liberty's submission to the Committee laid out the philosophical reasons for this being desirable: "as part of a free, democratic society individuals should be able to make and carry out informed decisions as to their conduct, free of state interference, or in particular the criminal law, unless there are pressing social reasons otherwise. Liberty is of the view that the decision by an individual to take drugs is such a decision and comes within the ambit of personal autonomy and private life. John Stuart Mill argued that the state has no right to intervene to prevent individuals from harming themselves, if no harm was thereby done to the rest of society. 'Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.' Such fundamental rights are recognised by government, both in allowing individuals to partake of certain dangerous activities, for example drinking, extreme sports, and also in international treaties".
55. Dr Colin Brewer, Medical Director of the Stapleford Centre, put the argument to us in rather blunter terms: "Until 1916 you could intoxicate yourself with whatever you liked. You could go to hell in your own handcart, but at least the law did not interfere. Personally I feel rather strongly we should go back to that set of Victorian values".
56. On practical grounds, the argument has been made to us that a system of controlled availability of drugs would allow the Government to exert a much greater degree of control over the way in which substances are used, than is currently possible. Transform put it in this way: "drugs should be legalised because they are dangerous not because they are safe". A legal system would, it is argued, allow the Government to regulate and guarantee the quality and dosages of drugs supplied, and to make available the safest equipment to administer the drug, all of which could be buttressed with health advice. Legalisation might take away some of the stigma of drug use, encouraging more drug addicts to seek treatment. Mr Fulton Gillespie, whose son died of a heroin overdose, said to us: "how can we regulate supply if we are not in charge of the power station? We have to take control away from criminals and place it back where it belongs, with us".
57. It is also argued that it would be easier to deter new users through truthful education policies if the laws on drugs were consistent with those on alcohol and tobacco, just as health education in the recent past has had a positive impact on prevalence of tobacco smoking. Even if legalisation did result in an increase in experimental drug use, we have been told, higher prevalence would be a small price to pay for all the other associated benefits of a legal and regulated market, as use does not necessarily lead to problematic use. As many addicts also fund themselves through small-scale dealing, it is argued that, with the expense of a habit removed, this pressure to recruit new users would be removed, with a positive impact on prevalence rates.
58. A legal supply system, it is argued, would take away a massive source of income for the organised criminals currently supplying the drugs market, and hence reduce organised crime. The legalisers argue that, while it is no doubt true that an illegal market could not be completely eliminated, it is logical to assume that it could be reduced significantly by the existence of a legal market, hence making the funding of organised crime more difficult, at least in the short-term.
59. It is also argued that legalisation and regulation of drugs would reduce crime committed by addicts to fund a drug addiction, as addicts could buy their supply relatively cheaply from licensed retailers. Dr Brewer commented: "many people who find themselves...dependent on heroin and therefore having to do frightful things in order to raise enough money to buy it, would either not need to commit crime or would commit far fewer crimes, like impoverished alcoholic patients".
60. Others took a different view. The Minister, Mr Ainsworth, told us that "it is often the case that those who advocate legalisation advocate it as a potential panacea for many of the costs that are imposed upon the criminal justice system, without necessarily looking at the downside". The Police Federation disagreed with the claim that legalisation would have a significant impact on organised crime: "This assumes that the powerful international drug cartels would simply fade away into the night. More likely scenarios are that they would fight to maintain their lucrative street trading".
61. Mr Ainsworth told us that the criminal market could never be entirely removed even within a legalised system, "unless you were prepared to sell it at a low price to almost anybody". He went on, "if you attempted to tax it, regulate the price, or prevented it getting into the hands of people whose hands you did not want it to get into then a secondary market would grow up around the legal market, and we would have some of the same problems of enforcement that we have now". Mr Nicholas Dorn of DrugScope pointed out that organised crime is not dependent on the drugs trade for its survival: "I do not think the enormous criminal conspiracy is going to collapse by the removal of drugs from it. If you look at your average UK drug trafficker or European-based drug trafficker, they are likely to be involved not exclusively in drugs trafficking but also in some other activities...We are not going to have a clean house and get rid of organised crime".
62. Opponents also argue that a rise in new users and in problematic use would cancel out any harm reduction gains of a legalised and regulated system. The speculation that the removal of illegality would encourage more new users and make it easier for new users to experiment with drugs has been the most widely-held objection to legalisation heard by the Committee. Mr Ainsworth told us: "I do not believe that heroin is as freely available to young people as it would be in the kind of regime you describe. I think it would be a lot more available".
63. Sue Killen, Director of the Anti-Drugs Unit at the Home Office, told us that illegality carries a deterrent effect, and Mr Geoff Ogden, Co-ordinator of the East Riding and Hull Drug Action Team, told the Committee: "The word on the street for a long time about cannabis is the youngsters think it is going to be legalised...so it is cool to use it". Mr Ainsworth told us that: "it is proven beyond all doubt that illegality discourages use; that legalisation would lead, to some degree, to an increase in use".
64. Data on the deterrent effect is scarce, but a MORI poll conducted for the Police Foundation's Independent Inquiry found that the main reason why people do not take drugs is personal choice rather than a fear of the consequences or the legal implications. 56% of people questioned said the main reason people do not take drugs is they simply do not want to; 51% cited fears for health; 50% fear of death and 46% fear of addiction. 30% of adults and 19% of children felt that people did not take drugs because they did not wish to break the law; 17% (12% of children) said they did not because they were afraid of being caught by the police.
65. We have listened carefully to the arguments. We acknowledge that there is force behind some of those advanced in favour of legalising and regulating. The criminal market might well be diminished (though not eliminated); likewise drug-related crime. Harm may well be reduced, although this would have to be balanced against an inevitable increase in the number of drug abusers if drugs were more widely and cheaply available. It is inevitable too that, however tightly the sale of drugs was regulated, there would be a significant leakage to under-age abusers, as there is already with cigarettes and alcohol. We do not agree with the contention that illegal drugs are already as widely available to under-age abusers as they would be under legalisation. We agree with those who say that legalisation would send the wrong message to the overwhelming majority of young people who do not take drugs. We also accept that a significant number of young peoplewe can argue about the numbersare deterred from drug abuse by the fact that drugs are illegal. Finally, we note that however forceful the arguments, no other country has yet been persuaded to legalise and regulate. Nor can we ever foresee a day when it would be possible to legalise a drug as dangerous as crack cocaine, which leads to violent and unpredictable behaviour.
66. While acknowledging that there may come a day when the balance may tip in favour of legalising and regulating some types of presently illegal drugs, we decline to recommend this drastic step.
Well, members of the jury .............. looking at the crime rate, the growing use of all drugs at a higher rate than most of Europe, the highest incarceration rate in western Europe, the incidence of firearm crime connected with drug supply, the increase in deaths ............ well ..................... has that day come?
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