The Global Commission on Drug Policy, which was launched last week, has an impressive roster of supporters and a very noble aim: to bring an end to the utterly pointless war on drugs. But there’s one thing that worries me, and that’s that much of the talk is about decriminalizing drugs, rather than legalizing them.
Now don’t get me wrong: decriminalization would be a step in the right direction. Why anyone should be punished – often at great public expense – for ingesting a particular substance is beyond me. Indeed, I’d go further: why should anyone be punished for peaceably selling a substance that someone wants to buy?
But mere decriminalization isn’t enough. It would still leave drug gangs making huge profits from the trade in narcotics. It would still mean users couldn’t be sure of the strength or purity of the drug they were consuming. It would still lead to the kind of shady street dealing that blights neighbourhoods and provokes violent turf wars. It wouldn’t eliminate the illegality premium that pushes drug prices so high that they drive addicts to commit crime and give gangs a powerful incentive to run around killing people.
By contrast, proper legalization would take the gangs and the violence out of the drug trade. It would give places like Mexico and Colombia the chance to become prosperous exporters rather than failing narco-states. It would take the thugs and the peddlers off the street corners, and stop junkies beating up grannies for spare change. If drugs could be produced, distributed and sold like alcohol, or even tobacco, the world would be a happier and more peaceful place.
I’m not saying legalization would usher in a utopia. Some people would ruin their lives and their families through addiction. Others would behave anti-socially when under the influence. Others still would experience severe reactions to drugs their systems couldn’t handle. It’s important that we acknowledge these truths. But it’s also important to remember that all that happens now, and much more besides. Prohibition only succeeds in making matters worse, and in drawing countless innocents into the crossfire.
It’s time to end the drug war. It’s time to legalize drugs.