A heavyweight new report from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation (released this week) has called for the regulated legalization of all narcotic drugs. Under their plans, cannabis and opium would become freely available from licensed, membership-based coffee shops, while cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines would be available to licensed users from pharmacies. This is an eminently sensible idea.
The Home Office, however, has reacted with a predictable display of willful stupidity. A spokesman told the BBC: “[We have] no intention of either decriminalising or legalising currently controlled drugs… Drugs are controlled for good reason — they are harmful to health. Their control protects individuals and the public from the harms caused by their misuse."
What they clearly don’t realize is that prohibition is not ‘drug control’. In fact, it almost the complete opposite: prohibition means putting drugs in the hands of gangsters and forfeiting any control whatsoever. It means huge profits for criminals, who turn inner city areas into gang-warfare zones. It means the destabilization of drug-producing countries like Columbia. And it means no reliable information on strength or quality for drug users, leading to overdoses and poisoning.
Of course, it also means thousands of drug addicts turning to crime to fund their habit. The government’s own figures suggest that 80 percent of UK crime is drug related, at a cost of some £15-20bn a year. This, again, is directly related to prohibition – around 90 percent of the street price of drugs represents an ‘illegality premium’. Few alcoholics, by contrast, are driven to a life of crime.
Ultimately, the fact that even high security prisons are awash with illegal drugs should make it pretty obvious – even to politicians – that prohibition can never succeed in its stated aims in a free society, and that the only way to minimize the harm associated with drugs is to take them away from the gangs and bring them into the legitimate marketplace. Transform’s report is a welcome contribution to this debate.
I discussed this issue on BBC Radio Leeds yesterday lunchtime. Click here if you want to listen, and fast-forward to 0:36:32.