If there was one answer to the drugs problem, only one route then we would take it. It would be nonsense not to. The solution is not simple, however, and the means of achieving results on a grand scale rather than individually are not always that apparent. But what can be said is that, despite assurances to the contrary, the means we have adopted to date are not effective.
To steal and adapt a line from the Verve song, it’s the policy as well as the drugs that don’t work. It could be argued that by persisting in the way in which we are, we are very much in danger of falling foul of Einstein’s definition of insanity by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
The Home Affairs Select Committee explored some of the alternatives to the present policy by looking at those adopted by other countries. They drew on the experience of countries such as Portugal, the suggestion being that we may look at decriminalising certain drugs such as cannabis and thereby taking those who resort to such drugs out of the criminal sphere. The argument goes that it would perhaps then dissuade cannabis users from moving into other drugs which are perhaps more pernicious.
The questions raised in effect are: “Is that not just giving in?’ and “Where is the advantage to be gained?’ Of course we would not have the cost of policing that particular misuse but are we not simply consigning that activity to the basket that contains that other drug of choice, alcohol?
By aligning cannabis with alcohol, is it not a case of simply picking up the can, studying it and then kicking it further down the road and having to come back to it later?
It is also the case that this proposal does not address the problem of misuse of the harder drugs or indeed the problems associated with misuse on the community. We would still have the social and economic cost of those involved supplying and indeed paying for this abuse.
A more radical argument advanced is to go the whole hog. Forget all previous conceptions or misconceptions and decriminalise drug taking in its entirety. Crazy? Well, perhaps not. Think of the advantages. Drugs would be supplied on demand within a controlled environment, free of charge but with a view to treatment. Users would become patients not criminals; in need of medical intervention rather than a stint in a cell.
In these times of austerity, the first question of course would be: who pays? The money expended on policing the importation and large scale supply of drugs could be diverted. If there is no profit in the supply of drugs then there is no point in becoming involved in such enterprise.
By way of rider, for those who believe it would get rid of criminality it is not true. Those who make their fortunes at the top of the pyramid of drugs supply would simply move to another form of criminal activity. That is the criminal world. It existed before drugs became so lucrative and it will continue thereafter. It may, however, have an impact on the numbers involved.
There would also of course, lower down the scale, be monies freed from the policing of those who commit crime to feed their habit. The shoplifting, the burgling, the street robberies. They won’t disappear but will be dramatically reduced. Figures are not available and the mathematics may never have been successfully completed but anecdotally many who are committing such crimes are doing so to feed their habits.
There is the risk that to decriminalise the use of drugs as a whole may not work but it is something that has not been tried and it can do no worse, it is suggested, than the present policy. There may initially be large numbers of people seeking treatment but perhaps not stealing, robbing or prostituting themselves to get that which they need. In addition of course there would be no pushing of drugs, people peddling their wares encouraging misuse for their own advantage. That may keep people out of the drugs world. It also may be less of a “buzz’ to nip down to the local chemist or doctors to get drugs than in some shady back alley.
In summary, as was proposed at the outset, there is probably no one way to tackle the UK’s drug problem, but a radical re-think would not do any harm. The alternative is to remain on the throne, watching the waves lap round our feet.