Friday, 25 November 2011

10 Reasons to Legalise and Regulate Drugs

According to the United Nation’s World Drug Report, more than 180 million people worldwide take illegal drugs. This means over 3% of the global population are criminalised and stigmatised by the “War on Drugs”. A prohibitionist stance alone cannot tackle drug addiction and the associated economic and social consequences. Here a ten compelling reasons why we should legalise and regulate drugs.

Prohibition has failed 
The Wars on Drugs has failed. There has been an increase in violent crime, drug-related trade, street-level dealing and international insecurity. The policy has failed to reduce the availability of drugs, significantly deter people from taking drugs or impact on the profits and activities of underground organisations involved in the illicit drug trade. Governments – whilst squandering billions on counter-productive law-enforcement strategies – have generally failed to offer meaningful treatment and assistance to users and their communities. Prohibition has served to criminalise and marginalise millions of users and this inhibits their efforts to become productive members of society or gain access to employment and housing. As the Economist has argued, “legalisation would not only drive away the gangsters; it would transform drugs from a law-and-order problem into a public-health problem”.  Legalisation offers the opportunity to deal with addiction appropriately because users are not automatically criminalised.  

Regulation reduces crime
Prohibition has led to an increase in violent crime by allowing the illicit drug trade to remain lucrative for dealers, traffickers and producers. The UK government estimates that over 50% of property crime is committed by drug-users – but prohibition artificially inflates prices so legalisation would reduce costs and consumers would no longer have to steal to fund their habits. 

According to The Transform Drugs Policy Foundation (Transform), the legalisation and regulationof the drugs market would lead to “a dramatic reduction in crime at all levels from international organised crime to shoplifting”.  Gang violence and gun crime would reduce because “the largest single profit opportunity for organised crime would be greatly diminished”.  Legalisation would immediately remove a significant source of funding to gangs, criminals and corrupt regimes.

Legalisation does not increase the number of users
Evidence suggests that there is no correlation between the stringency of drugs laws and the frequency of drug-taking. According to 2001 figures, in the United States – which has harsh drug laws – over 36% of the adult population had used marijuana, whilst in the Netherlands – where cannabis is legal in licensed premises – the figure was only 17%. 

Increased taxation and investment in treatment, education and social spending
In 1989, Forbes magazine listed Colombian cocaine dealer Pablo Escobar as the seventh richest man on earth. According to the United Nations, international drug trade is worth $400 - $500 billion per year. A study by the University of York estimates the total cost of Class A drugs in England and Wales – including the cost of crime and direct government spending, unemployment benefit, legal costs, health expenditure and social services – as £15.4 billion per annum.  The money raised through the tax and regulation of drug trade – plus the billions saved on law-enforcement – could be used to educate people about the dangers of drug-taking, fund treatment and invest in social programmes, job creation and housing. 

Dangers of inconsistent potency and adulterants
Drugs are often cut with additives such as glass, brick dust and talcum powder to increase the amount of product and maximise profit. The result is that purity and strength varies greatly making it difficult to determine a dosage. According to the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths, 4/5 of the 2,182 drug-related deaths in 2009 were a result of accidental overdose.  Government cannot monitor the cultivation, harvesting and distribution of products which are manufactured illegally, but legalisation would allow robust regulation and quality control mechanisms to ensure the safety of the product consumed.

Lack of education and support increases risk to public health 
Outside Sub-Saharan Africa, the injection of illicit drugs accounts for approximately one in three new cases of HIV. In Russia, where there are more than 1.8 million intravenous users, 37% are HIV-positive.  Robust information, advice and guidance on the risk of different drugs, safe injecting technique and the proper disposal of needles – along with an increased provision of sterile equipment – could greatly reduce the cost to public safety and allows governments to steer consumers to less harmful drugs.

Low level of risk in comparison to alcohol and tobacco 
Most illegal drugs are safer than alcohol and tobacco. According to the Office for National Statistics, 713 people in England and Wales died of heroin misuse in 2006. The figures for alcohol and tobacco – although a higher number of people consume these substances – were 6,627 and 86,500 respectively.   Last year, Wim van den Brink, Professor of Psychiatry and Addiction at the University of Amsterdam, told the British medical journal, Lancet, “drugs that are legal cause at least as much damage, if not more, than drugs that are illicit”.  Regulation – as well as controlling advertising and promotion – would increase the availability of sterile equipment and further reduce hazards.

Prohibition cannot keep pace with technological advances 
New synthetic psychoactive substances – or “legal highs” – are being created at the rate of more than one a week and this – facilitated by the internet – is leading to the growth and proliferation of an unregulated recreational drugs market. A case-in-point is mephedrone which enjoyed a surge in popularity before being banned in 2010. According to a report last year by Psychonaut, an EU-funded NGO that monitors drug-use, “in 2009 there were barely a few thousand references for online shops selling mephedrone and after just a few months there are now more than 144,000”

Transform believe that the changing dynamics of the drug market means that the government’s strategy of trying to ban each one is unsustainable. Steve Rolles of TDPF told the Guardian that “each time they ban one, another emerges. It seems to show a blindness to the basic market dynamic, effectively creating a void for backstreet chemists to create another product”. 

Drug production increases instability and threatens security  
In drug producer and transit countries – including Afghanistan, Jamaica, Pakistan and various Latin American countries – drug money has fuelled instability, violence and corruption. More than 34,000 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in the four years preceding 2011.  General Barry McCaffrey – former drug tsar under President Clinton – described the situation as a fundamental threat to US national security. Regulation is a prerequisite for a return to stability in producer countries and internationally where the illicit drug trade helps finance and foster international terrorism.

Drugs incite fear and make world’s poor suffer
Every year millions of people in the developing world suffering from cancer or AIDS are denied access to opiates for pain control due to global drug control aimed at non-medical use. According to the New York Times, in Sierra Leone, morphine can only be administered by a pharmacist or doctor – but there are only 100 doctors for every 54,000 people.  As a result, six of the richest countries – the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Britain and Australia – consume nearly 80% of the world’s morphine whilst poorer countries – where 80% of the world’s people live – consume only 6%. International prohibition means doctors fear addicting patients and governments fear drug crime – but a lack of understanding encouraged by sensationalism means the world’s poor suffer in pain. 

Legalisation should not be seen as endorsement that all drugs are safe. Instead, it is an opportunity to provide objective and profession information and guidance on drugs. Due to its association with crime, the idea of legalising drugs has become taboo – but now is the time to take a global perspective and consider policy renewal and the adoption of legalisation and regulation.

A version of this article was published in Tribune magazine


mdai said...
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ethicalblabbing said...

I totally agree with you. I strongly believe that legalising drugs would certainly decrease the number of users. It worked for Netherlands, why wouldn't it work for other countries? Then, prohibition never succeeded and will never succeed. The term 'forbidden' determines curiosity and the first impulse is to break the rules.
I really enjoyed reading your article. I expressed my views on drug legalising in more depth in my latest blog article.Feel free to visit and please, share your views!

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