Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Problem of Prohibition

The fundamental problem with prohibition is that it is based on the assumption that, given sufficient policing, the sale of all illegal drugs within a country can be stopped.

This assumption is incorrect. Billions of dollars have gone into attempting to prevent the sale of illegal drugs in the UK and the USA over the past 30 years, and yet illegal drugs can still be bought easily.

Regardless of whether you believe that imbibing cocaine, marijuana, or alcohol for recreational purposes is morally correct, it has to be admitted that prohibition has not effectively solved the various social problems associated with drugs.

It's just a pen!

Prohibition may well have had negative consequences, like the rise of organised crime, and the waste of billions of dollars of US and UK taxpayer's money.

By legalising drugs like cannabis, heroin, and cocaine this money would no longer be going to waste, addicts would be encouraged to come forward and be rehabilitated, criminals and terrorists would no longer be in control of the supply of drugs, and the money made through the sale of the drugs would go to the state and be spent as directed by the democratically-elected representatives or the people, rather than the aforementioned terrorists and gangsters.

Then there is the problem that people draw a line between tobacco/alcohol and heroin/cannabis.

This artificial distinction is based more on the vested interests of politicians than on any real judgement on the relative health-problems associated with both sets of drugs.

Many politicians believe that any attempt made to legalise drugs would be attacked by tabloid newspapers and they would lose votes because of it.

I agree with the suggestion of Dr Nick Maurice in his letter in response to Julian Critchley's excellent article on the subject:

For those of us who have been at the forefront of helping people with drug problems for many years (in my case, as a GP and founder and first chairman of Druglink, the Swindon drugs advisory service), we feel desperate that after 20 years of campaigning, there is no political change.

There have to be two major pieces of work. The first is a clear and respected academic social and medical study of the causal effect of prohibition on drug-related crime and its impact and cost, and on the morbidity and mortality of drug users.

This study should be commissioned and "owned" by politicians from all political parties. We cannot, and should not, depend on anecdote to change people's minds, and I have many, including deaths of four young people in my practice over a six-year span caused ultimately by the prohibition of drug use.

Second, based on that research, those cross-party politicians have to be persuaded to collaborate over a drugs policy, using all the advice they can get from front-line workers and users, and make that a policy they can all sign up to, rather than kowtowing to the right-wing press to ensure they get into power at the next election.

It is essential that real, empirical evidence is assembled that reflects the reality of the War on Drugs.

[image from Lindsey Spirit on flickr]

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