‘The war on drugs’ has got to be one of the most pointless campaigns in history. And just like many other doomed battles, it’s based on questionable moral ‘certainties’.
Thankfully it’s finally looking like a few sensible people high up are willing to stick their necks out and state the obvious – this is one war that can’t be won. But there’s still a huge majority that believe (like South Park’s Mr Mackey) that drugs are bad. How long will it take them to work out that the war on drugs is so much worse?
This week the outgoing President of the Royal College of Physicians suggested that drug use be decriminalised. It bothers me that this suggestion is even vaguely controversial – the statistics to back it up are so persuasive that they read like propaganda (except that no self-respecting government would make them up).
For example, according to the Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF), the UK government estimates that dependent heroin and cocaine users are responsible for 54% of robberies, 70-80% of burglaries, 85% of shoplifting, and 95% of street prostitution.
The recent Channel 4 documentary ‘Our drugs war’ shocked me even more with the estimate that around 1% of the total supply to the UK is intercepted by police. I don’t normally complain about taxes but whatever the government is spending on the war on drugs (literally billions), it just isn’t worth it.
So why isn’t everyone screaming for decriminalisation? As Steven Rolles from TDPF explained in an article in the British Medical Journal, the debate is ‘driven more by populist politics and tabloid headlines than by rational analysis or public health principles’. Most people are convinced that drugs are bad. Let’s leave aside the complete contradiction that alcohol and nicotine are drugs, they’re bad (for you), but they’re legal. Even so this seems to be a pretty backwards argument. Drugs are bad because they’re illegal, not the other way round.
There is no serious argument against decriminalisation. It would be practically difficult, and a few more people might try drugs if they were legal. But both of these minor issues are dwarfed by the potential benefits – vast amounts of money saved in enforcement, vast amounts of money saved on healthcare, and, most importantly, vast numbers of lives saved.
Decriminalisation really would be a win-win (with the added bonus of annoying lots of Daily Mail readers). It’s the huge elephant in the room, but I’m hoping it’s getting so big that soon everyone will notice.