Political Promise

The flawed logic at the heart of drug policy

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2010 at 12:03 pm

By Charlotte Jee

With the headlines full of ideas and appraisals on the new governments’ policies, one policy has not yet received the scrutiny it deserves: the war on drugs.

It is safe to say that the war on drugs has failed. The Conservatives successfully managed to dodge the issue of drug policy in the run-up to the general election, perhaps because, in reality, there is very little difference between their approach and that of the former Labour government. But the voices calling for them to assess current UK policy on drugs are getting louder every day: it is untenable for the government to ignore this issue any longer.

If the government truly wish to eschew their predecessor’s legacy of forming drug policy based on 24 news, media hysteria and middle-England paranoia (remember the sacking of David Nutt?), they must be prepared to truly ‘think the unthinkable’ and consider the entire range of options available to them, including de-classification and regulation. Drug policy must be formed on a scientific basis if we are to tackle the evident widespread health and crime issues that the war on drugs has largely failed to address.

The facts are simple: there are roughly 9,000 alcohol-related deaths and 114,000 tobacco-related deaths every year in the UK- while ecstasy was implicated in 33 deaths in 2008 and cannabis was associated with 3. Overall, illegal drugs directly or indirectly caused 1,490 deaths in 2008- a number that seems enormous, until you compare it to the numbers of deaths caused by tobacco and alcohol.

4% of these deaths are caused by accidental poisoning- more often than not, I would argue, due to their lack of regulation and illegality. For example, it is not uncommon for drug dealers to add substances such washing powder or glass in order to increase bulk and weight – a situation that, under the present situation, the authorities can do nothing about.

The government has spent approximately £10 billion on the war on drugs- double the amount it has spent on the Iraq war. However the real, unknown (and untaxed) profit is reaped by criminal gangs- the main benefactors of the government’s current stance on drugs. A report authored by drugs reform charity Transform estimates that the government could save £14 billion a year (which, incidentally, is the same figure as the budget deficit) if they shifted towards evidence-based regulation rather than continuing the failing policy of stringent prohibition. If arguments about personal choice, crime, and public health are not enough to sway the government, surely some can see the madness in continuing to throw such enormous amounts of public money at a policy that has objectively failed.

Finally, but importantly, the government would do well to remember that several cabinet ministers (including PM David Cameron) have admitted that they have used cannabis, yet they continue to support stringent laws that would land others in jail for  up to five years for doing the same. This is the worst sort of hypocrisy, and it must end.

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