Probably no single Government policy – including ill-conceived adventures overseas and the crazy racking up of national debt – has had a more detrimental impact on the fabric of our country than the effective prohibition placed on drugs by the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971.
Now no-one is sensibly arguing that a life of drug abuse is necessarily a lifestyle choice for everyone. But it is perfectly possible to make a lucid decision to become a drug user and live out a useful existence. Or it would be if this stupid, mendacious law didn’t exist.
This act’s first damaging facet was that it criminalised people who chose this route.
Because drug users can find themselves with a criminal record, it thus becomes exponentially harder for them to acquire a job. In today’s continuing climate of fear about hiring criminals, increasing numbers of jobs are being closed to people with any kind of criminal record. Good job getting that teaching job with your conviction for getting caught having a cheeky spliff at university – let alone several convictions for possessing heroin.
In the aggregate, this means that drug users have less access to jobs than the general population and thus find themselves with a habit to sustain and very often not enough money to do so. You don’t have to be a great believer in social engineering to see that that is going to mean, almost inevitably, that these people will turn to crime.
Thus begins a terminal spiral of greater criminality, even fewer opportunities, less legitimate things to do to fill the time, more drug use and ever greater criminality. And because we all like to spend as little money as possible on criminals (unless it’s to buy new birching rods and ducking stools) money for rehabilitation or treatment is thin on the ground.
The ‘moral right’ have taken this in a spirit of classic confirmation bias: “Drug users are criminals therefore we should come down ever harder on them.” They talk of “sending messages” to people about drug use through the law as if the law was a kind of Very Serious marketing tool. Hence, entirely sensible, scientifically based conclusions, are slapped down by the Government on the basis of fear that the Daily Mail will accuse them of being ‘soft’. What a very mature attitude to making policy.
As for the supply itself? Well we know that alcohol is a mind-altering substance that can cause terrific mental, physical and social damage. But because it is legal we can, however imperfectly, make sure that the alcohol is safe and meets standards of production and isn’t adulterated with, say, industrial alcohol or horse piss. We can properly investigate the reasons that some people become addicted. We can offer more effective treatments for those who suffer. There’s a whole range of policy options open to us – and we can debate it in a more sensible fashion. Alcoholics can still function as part of society while they try to tackle their problem.
For drugs? Well you get spat on and hated for being a user by shrill, uptight people with an axe to grind. You are forced to buy products that can be cut with anything from fertiliser to baking powder. You certainly have no legal redress if you buy some coke that’s been laced with ephedrine and causes you a heart attack or a bout of severe paranoia.
Secondly, because drug production and distribution exists outside the law, the unscrupulous drug dealer is already knowingly going down a criminal path. He faces competition from other criminals. Does he go to court to sort out the ownership of his ‘turf’? Does he step up his marketing campaign? Well, duh.
Knife crime, gang warfare, shootings, people-trafficking, thievery, muggings… all of these are inextricably bound up with the prohibition of drugs. Drugs are a massively profitable exercise and attract people who have little or no scruple about how they go about business. Take drugs into a legally defined arena, tax them, regulate them and control their distribution properly and you put these guys out of business overnight.
Also, drugs will be a hell of a lot less sexy if you have to get them from prescription or Boots instead of from a pasty looking thin dude with his trackie bottoms tucked into his socks.
But hey – why am I telling you this? You know it. Shit – the Government probably knows it. And yet (as in every other sphere in which they operate) party spite, political fear, intellectual cowardice and moral hypocrisy colour their decisions. It’s time we got realistic, made some preparations and lifted the madness of drug prohibition.
Oh yeah – and do the same for prostitution FFS.