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Tuesday 13 March 2012 - Issue 267


Tim Rose

With world experts stating that the “war on drugs” has failed, and a new drugs policy is being called for, Concrete asks:

Chris King

Should certain drugs be legalised?
In 2009 the Government’s Chief Drug Advisor Professor David Nutt published research that showed that alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than many illegal drugs, including LSD, ecstasy and cannabis. The Government promptly sacked him. This is one of the most extreme examples of the insanity of our present drugs policy, which is seemingly more dictated by media hysteria than actual scientific fact. hysteria contributes to our abnormally irrational drug laws, by making it politically untenable to talk sense on drugs, as Professor Nutt discovered. The global “war on drugs” causes far more harm than the actual drugs themselves, and has had little effect on actual drug use. This can be seen most vividly by the practical civil war going on in Mexico at present. More than 50,000 people have been killed since 2006, in fighting between The legalisation debate revolves, in this writer’s view, around cannabis. Few would be brave enough to, at least publicly, endorse the legalisation or even decriminalisation of a drug as addictive and lethal as heroin, to take one example. Back in 2009, an article in the Guardian claimed that the legalisation of certain drugs would save the British economy £14bn. The Economist supported this claim, stating: “prohibition has failed. Legalisation is the least bad solution”. This is a fallacy, and in a country of addiction, excess and a collective lack of control, an extremely dangerous one. Also, the cannabis debate is seemingly destined to remain forever unresolved. Every now and then it is raised, either enacted or defeated, then revoked, or never changed in the first place. This country has an almost inexplicable obsession with the legalisation debate. If cannabis remained illegal for the next ten years, it would not lead to the

“It is irrational to have tobacco and alcohol legal and not cannabis, when the harm they cause is possibly greater than most other drugs”
It is entirely irrational to have tobacco and alcohol legal and not other drugs such as cannabis, when the harm they cause is as great, if not greater, than nearly all other drugs. It has been shown that alcohol is at least twice as harmful to users as cannabis and five times more harmful to society. Although it is clearly recognised that drugs can be harmful in many ways, if the drugs are only affecting the individual drug user, it seems perverse in a liberal society to prevent people from using them. Drugs illegality is also the main cause of the majority of harm created by them, as rather than seeking treatment, addicts are often forced into crime and even prostitution in order to fund their addictions. Illegality forces otherwise law-abiding people into engaging with criminals who they would otherwise have no contact with. Legalising drugs would also work to increase their safety, as consumers would be able to know exactly what they were buying, and their purity could be ensured. Many critics suggest that legalising drugs would lead to an upsurge in their use. However, after examining those countries where this has occurred, the opposite is true. Holland, which has long had extremely liberal drug laws, actually has lower levels of drug use among the general population than the UK. The media is a major barrier to a rational drug policy, due to its insane over reporting of drug deaths and vilification of anyone prepared to speak out in favour of legalisation. Deaths from ecstasy are over reported to the extent that the perception of a highly dangerous drug is given, when, in fact serious harm is incredibly rare. A study of reporting of drug deaths in Scotland over a 10 year period showed that the media reported just one in every 250 deaths from paracetamol, but reported every death associated with ecstasy. This drug cartels and the government. None of this would have occurred if drugs were legal. The proceeds from drugs end up almost entirely in the hands of criminal gangs, who use them to fund other enterprises such as people trafficking and arms smuggling, creating a cycle of crime entirely resulting from the prohibition of drugs. The cost of fighting drugs every year in the UK is estimated to be anything between £1.5bn and £4bn. Given that the illegal drug trade is worth up to £8bn a year, surely at a time of economic austerity it makes far more sense for drugs to be regulated and taxed, rather than see this money end up in the hands of criminals. When other countries have far more liberal drug policies than our own, and are conversely much more successful at tackling drug addiction, it is clear we have been doing something wrong. It is time to get rational on drugs and end the madness of our failed drugs war.

“With Britain suffering from a pervasive and damaging binge drinking culture, now really is the wrong time to be discussing cannabis”
Indeed, statistics straight from Concrete’s drug survey show that almost 90% of students at UEA believe cannabis should be legalised. It would take a brave individual to try and counter such overwhelming popular opinion. So here goes. Legalisation of illegal drugs is not a blanket solution. It is an alternate means of coping with the problem of drug use. A concept which has worked in Portugal will probably not work in the United Kingdom, because the social pressures within the our borders are so different. In Britain, cannabis is one of those drugs you just “try”. Most people experiment with cannabis. Some go back, while others, for whatever reason, choose not to. There appears to be a collective lack of appreciation of the dangers of any illegal drugs, but particularly cannabis. Cannabis is almost seen as a “friendly” drug, a nice drug, whose effects are minimal, short term, and more than counteracted by the benefits the drug provides. ruination of society as we know it. Legalise it, and the practice of cannabis consumption will be legitimised, and at least indirectly, the effects of prolonged and/or irresponsible usage of the drug condoned. Britain needs to create an environment in which the legalisation of some drugs could be a progressive move towards a more pragmatic and liberal society. However, this environment does not currently exist, and social problems are so deep rooted in large swathes of the UK that legalisation will appear more like an invitation to drastically increase usage, not a subtle incentive to cut down or stop. There is certainly a belief in Britain that illegal drugs are something you “can’t do”, but also a rite of passage, almost. With the country suffering from a pervasive and damaging binge drinking culture, now seems the wrong time to be discussing the legalisation of cannabis. This is a drug which, after all, has the potential to supplant all other activities and interests (family, friends, a balanced social life and work) when regularly consumed. Legalisation would also remove the power of enforcement, a fact which, according to research from Robin Murray, a psychiatrist at Kings College London, could have terrible consequences: “the conclusion [from research] was that, if you took cannabis at age 18, you were about 60% more likely to go psychotic. But if you started by the time you were 15, then the risk was much greater, around 450%”. This is where the current system needs to be improved. It has to assume there will be illegal drug consumption, particularly of cannabis, beginning around the age of 15, and combat it here. Whether this requires a change of tact, style, or an improvement of facilities remains to be seen. What it does not need, however, is a blanket legalisation which, knowing the British government, will be rushed through, poorly-planned and ultimately unsatisfying to everyone.