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26/07/2007 00:00:00

UK: The drugs strategies don't work



---
Prohibition has failed, just as it did with alcohol.

Almost anybody who takes a sustained, unprejudiced look at the current
drugs laws eventually reaches the conclusion that they are hopelessly
unfit for purpose. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 must be one of the least
effective pieces of legislation ever enacted. At that time, there were
perhaps 10,000 problematic drug users in the UK; now there are nearly
300,000.

The Downing Street Strategy Unit concluded that "government
interventions against the drugs business are a cost of business rather
than a substantive threat to the industry's viability". In April, an
academic paper for the UK Drug Policy Commission warned that imprisoning
drug offenders for long periods was not cost-effective. In March, a
Royal Society of Arts commission - which included a recovering addict, a
senior police officer, a drug treatment specialist and a Telegraph
journalist - decided that "drugs policy should, like our policy on
alcohol and tobacco, seek to regulate use and prevent harm rather than
to prohibit use altogether". The authors would deny it, but the logic of
these reports is that cannabis, cocaine, Ecstasy, heroin and the rest
should be legalised.

The harm the various drugs do is irrelevant. Their prohibition has
failed, just as prohibition of alcohol once failed in America. Calls for
politicians to "get tough" are, as the RSA observes, "meretricious,
vapid and out of date". Since 1995, the numbers imprisoned for drug
offences have risen by 111 per cent and the average length of their
sentences by 29 per cent. A different approach, based on regulation,
offers a chance to reduce the harm done by drugs, and at lower cost. Yet
politicians just fiddle with the classifications of substances, moving
them up or down the rankings as though they were running a hotel guide.
So Gordon Brown has asked the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to look
again at the classification of cannabis, which, scientists report, is
probably more dangerous than generally thought when it was downgraded
three years ago. The result is another parade of politicians coming
forward to confess to youthful cannabis use which, oddly, none of them
enjoyed at all.

Cannabis is an example of the nonsenses created by the 1971 act's
simplistic classification system. Stronger types of cannabis are now on
sale, we are told, and research shows a link with schizophrenia.

This is like saying Chablis should be banned because cognac is much
stronger and because some people become alcoholics, with dire effects on
themselves, their families and society. All drugs, legal and illegal
(including gambling and pornography), vary in their effects according to
how strong or pure they are, who takes them, and where, when and how
they take them. The classification system cannot allow for this and is,
in any case, full of anomalies. Coca leaves are in class A, alongside
crack cocaine, even though the drug in its raw state is largely
harmless. Ecstasy is also in class A, though it causes 25 deaths a year
against 652 for heroin, which is taken far less widely.

Magic mushrooms, another class A drug, do nothing more than make
eccentrics more eccentric. If we are trying to send "messages" to young
people about the dangers of drugs, as press and politicians claim, we do
it in a pretty confusing way. Many who try one class A drug without ill
effects may well conclude they can all be taken freely.

The RSA commission proposed scrapping the 1971 act and putting all
drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, within a single regulatory
framework. Some drugs in some forms might remain illegal but their
illegality would be placed in a coherent continuum, making some drugs
available to certain groups in controlled circumstances, as most
prescription drugs are, and others more freely available under licence,
as alcohol and tobacco are.

But as the Transform Drug Policy Foundation (www.tdpf.org.uk) says,
nobody should pretend that legalisation would solve "the drugs problem",
however it is conceived. Many - perhaps most - users handle drugs
without significant harm to themselves or others. Where drugs lead to
crime, addiction and family breakdown, they are nearly always associated
with wider social problems. The best way to wage war on drugs is to step
up the war against poverty.

http://www.newstatesman.com/200707260015


Source: http://www.ukcia.org/news/shownewsarticle.php?articleid=12738
Author: New Statesman via UKCIA

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