Common Error No. 84

84. "We must bring in tougher laws and sentences against drug dealers and users."

drugs1.jpgWe tried that. We already know it does not work. Each new dramatic case, each tragic death, each new set of statistics brings on the tabloid editorials. More laws, tougher laws, better enforcement. We tried this last time and the time before. Anyone who suggests that we might try a different approach meets a hail of press vilification, with tearfully bereaved parents demanding that the evil men who led Johnny or Jill astray be locked up, or perhaps executed.

Narcotics are evil, and sensible people should not go down that road. However, they are out there, and young people will be exposed to them. To some their very illegality adds the spice of defiance, giving them an allure that conceals some of their tawdriness.

By criminalizing them we turn them into a profitable industry. Because there are risks of criminal penalties, the price is high, and the rewards of dealing are raised. This leads to a steady supply. Because illegality increases the price, some people turn to crime to fund their habit. Violent street crime and burglary are heavily reinforced by the drug trade, as is embezzlement and fraud. Desperate people take desperate measures.

Police crackdowns sometimes temporarily curtail the supply, raising the price and the profitability of the trade even further. The different solution is to make drugs freely available to be consumed on the premises at high street clinics in towns and cities. They could be under medical supervision, and users might have to agree to medical assessment and perhaps have to view information videos about the health hazards which addicts face. No-one would want to consume recreational drugs like Ecstasy, cocaine or cannabis under such conditions, but these might be legalized generally.

Such a policy would break the link between narcotics and crime, guarantee the safe quality of drugs, and bring their addiction within manageable limits.