Thursday, 16 December 2010

Thanks Bob, maybe now we'll get an informed debate about drugs and prohibition

Every now and then a politician says something that opens up debate by breaking a taboo. Today, in his clunky, slightly ill-informed way Bob Ainsworth, a former Labour cabinet minister, did just that by says drugs should be legalised. Well nearly – what he actually said was that drugs should be medicalised which isn’t quite the same thing.

"I am not a libertarian. I don't believe that you should buy heroin on street corners and get yourself zonked out. But we have to treat this as a medical problem."

But what matters is that a politician actually broke ranks and challenged the dreadful – killing – orthodoxy about drugs.

“Prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit. We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children.”

Of course the reaction has been just as we might expect with current ministers and Bob Ainsworth’s ineffectual party leader condemning his for saying such a terrible thing. After all think of the children:

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said today that the legalisation of drugs would send out "the wrong message" to young people as he distanced himself from a Labour backbencher's calls for a "grown-up debate" on the issue.

So no grown-up debate from Red Ed then! However, the genie is out of the bottle – us politicians are able to speak out on the subject (rather than, as my father did, waiting until retiring to declare that drugs should be legalised). For what it’s worth here’s a few thoughts from me:

1. I see no good reason to keep drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy (plus mushrooms of course) illegal – millions of people use them (mostly without causing anyone any bother at all) and the drugs are produced here in the UK. I am happy to listen to contrary arguments but my feeling is that this single act of decriminalisation would have a hugely beneficial impact on crime and disorder

2. For drugs imported from other places – chiefly heroin and cocaine – there’s more of a problem since we would be bringing the drugs in from a place where growing and producing the substance is still illegal. Liberalisation can only work if it is co-ordinated internationally

3. The liberalisation agenda is not well served by the denormalisation of smoking and drinking – high levels of duty and distribution controls are creating new criminal enterprises

4. The medicalisation of drugs (and for that matter tobacco) is, in reality, only a marginal improvement on prohibition – probably right for heroin but not for less harmful drugs

5. I may be completely wrong – the only answer might be violent repression, the death penalty for possession and more intensive searches. My feeling however is that if that’s the answer we’re asking the wrong question

Whatever comes of the debate – the fact that we now might start to have one that isn’t conducted exclusively with the Daily Mail’s op ed page in mind is very welcome. I hope some other MPs jump off the “war on drugs” juggernaut and begin to examine how liberalisation might actually reduce the harm and damage drugs do to our communities.



Anonymous said...

Yes but when you read the comments ,for example on the Spectators coffee house run on this ,amazing how many people may believe stuff like LSD makes you eat your hand because you may regard it as an orange.
How many people have taken this because if that were true then the numbers of one handed people would be in six figure easily.
The demonisation leading to indoctrination of opinion is trully staggering.
I don't take illegal drugs ,however as an "evil smoker" and "evil drinker" I now question the logic of this.
Simply because there are far more drug users who do not commit crime than drug users who do.
ps for all you anti smoking troll types out there I do not follow non smoking "citizens" around blowing smoke in their faces at every available opportunity.

All prohibitionists are at the very least misguided.
At the very most bigoted.

SadButMadLad said...

Number 5 isn't the answer. It doesn't work in the Phillipines and other areas of Asia where drug criminals get the death penalty.

Singing is Easy said...

I said I disagreed with legalisation of drugs. I never said anything about decriminalisation. The difference is important. I don't think anyone should ever be prosecuted for possessing drugs - of any kind - for their own use. I have a huge problem though with drugs being freely available for people to buy. Whether you like it or not, we already have a huge public health problem particularly from alcohol, which is freely available: why make matters worse by making for example barbiturates as easy to obtain as vodka? Yes, it's inconsistent, but that is not an argument for changing the law. Making "Class A" drugs prescription-only is no answer - after all, Viagra is officially available only on prescription in this country. In short, decriminalise possession of drugs, but for goodness sake don't legalise them.