The tragedy of drug prohibition


The sudden (yet not entirely unexpected) death of singer Amy Winehouse last month adds fuel to the fire of debate regarding the Government's treatment of drugs and drug-taking. The media focus on and wide public knowledge of celebrities indulging in drug use only serves to remind us that anti-drug laws have had little to no moderating effecting on people's behaviour. Away from the seemingly untouchable lives of the rich and famous the criminalisation of drugs appears only to worsen the social realities of drug users and has offered little in the way of practical help.

This failure isn't going unnoticed either. Liberal Democrat Party members are expected to back a motion to legalise cannabis and decriminalise drug use at their party conference in Birmingham next month. The motion, quite rightly, states that there is "increasing evidence that the UK's drug policy is not only ineffective and not cost effective but actually harmful, impacting particularly severely on the poor and marginalised."

Prohibition means that police, rather than medical professionals, are put in charge of dealing with drug users, be they recreational or habitual. As a result users are punished not treated, costing the government an estimated £2.6 billion a year (according to action group Addaction) in "criminal procedural costs" alone, and marking even occasional users with criminal records that damage their employability and consequentially tarnish the UK economy. Whilst drug offences may be seemingly part and parcel of the music industry the social and economical cost to us mere humans is enormous.

Since Amy's death her father, Mitch Winehouse, has met with the Commons Home Affairs Committee to highlight the gaps in addiction services offered by the NHS. While this is an issue that certainly needs addressing it seems the government are unwilling to look at the crux of the escalating problem. Decriminalisation would free the government from the massive economic burden of trying and imprisoning users as well as undermine the culture of crime that the drug trade perpetuates.

So, while some may see Winehouse's death as a wake up call for the Government to pursue a more aggressive tact with drug users and pushers, instead her demise should be seen as another nail in the coffin of the government's drug prohibition policies. Yes, rehabilitation methods need to be greater pursued, but this seems like an uphill battle whilst drug users are still condemned by the Government and society as morally-corrupted criminals.