28/11/2003

Big Conversation @ 4:39 pm

The government today launched their Big Conversation an initiative to try and engage people more in the political process (or at least to be seen to be doing so) by basically asking people what they thing the governments policies should be and in what direction the country should move in.

Feeling in a soapbox mood I’ve decided to write on one of my pet arguments the legalisation of all drugs, their open availability on prescription from ALL doctors and the decriminalisation of possession. A few of you who have heard me talk about this will know the basics of this argument.

There is a crisis in this countries drugs policy which has been precipitated by a number of issues:
1. The ?deregulation? of the drugs market through prohibition
2. The increase in use of prohibited drugs
3. The high price of prohibited drugs
4. The exposure to scrutiny of UK drug policy through the application of performance indicators
5. Government unwillingness to terminate prohibition in light of changes in external conditions

I would like to suggest that the control and regulation of currently prohibited drugs through legal methods is the only way of reducing the harms associated with high levels of drug use.

A few statistics…
This year an estimated 2.5million people in this country will take an illegal substance.

An estimated 500,000 of those are class A drug users.

About 250,000 of those are considered `problem` users who fund their addiction through crime.

Home office statistics show that 50% of crime is commited by drug addicts related wheras 80% of all burglary/theft is drugs is commited by drug addicts.

The medical associations of every western country consider addiction to be an illness – and as such addicts should be treated and not criminalised.

In 1970 there were 1000 registered heroin addicts in the UK. By 2000 this had risen to an estimated 250 000. When demand reaches this level prohibition?s effects become overwhelmingly negative. Resources are spent on criminal justice measures rather than treatment, leading to illness and death for thousands every year.

The majority of the health effects due to drug uses are due not to the drugs themselves but to how the drug is taken and what the drugs is taken with. For example the majority of deaths and hospitalisations arising from ecstasy use are due to dehydration / mixing with alcohol and over heating. With intravenous drugs use there are the inherent risks of HIV/AIDS. Add to that the fact that many drugs are cut with substances which can themselves be harmful drugs could be cut with any old crap a dealer had sitting about the house, from baking soda to rat poison and we easily see that No substance is made safe by putting its manufacture and distribution in the hands of criminal gangs – which would automatically suggest that the manufacture of drugs should be controlled by the pharmaceutical industry and not clandestine labs throughout the world.

What should the aims of an effective drug policy be?

1. To increase regulation and control of the drugs trade

2. To reduce drug related ill health

3. To reduce drug related crime

4. To extend provision of honest and effective drug education and information

5. To maximise effectiveness of drug-related expenditure and taxation of drug trade

6. To protect civil rights of drug users and non-users

7. To encourage inclusion of civil society in drug policy formation

What benefits could removal of current legilistation have?

Firstly, the health impacts are many fold – drug users would be able to trust the quality and dosage they were recieving, by puting it under prescription users are already on the first step to getting help in overcoming their addiction (i.e. actually having contact with helthcare providers) thirdly you eliminate the risks of needle sharing, fourthly users can be eductated in the safe taking of the drug. All in all these would improve the quality of life of all addicts and drug users.

Secondly, the social and legal impacts. If 50% of crime is due to addicts trying to fund their addiction then by putting drugs on precription then you could concievable see up to 50% reduction in crime (they don’t have to mug or rob to get the money for their dose as a standard prescription fee would cover it) – although this is unlikely this could be attainable. The government would then be able to take the money used to maintain the prohibition of drugs to fund rehabilitation programmes (it costs £3000 per addict with a 1 in 3 success rate). Dealers would automatically be freezed out of the market (which does raise the question of what an unemployed Drug Dealer does?) – and which would mean an automatic reduction in new addicts (as there would be fewer dealers introducing new users).

To sumarise I would like to quote the Transform Drug Policy Institute

What are the benefits and costs for producer countries of moving to a legalised system?

Benefits:

? Organised crime leaves trade

? Government controls trade

? Expenditure spent on fighting the war freed up for more creative purposes

? Creation of regulatory body for drugs

? The removal of prohibition enables countries such as Colombia to legitimately grow and trade in coca. No more fumigation and alternative crop efforts.

? Production of coca is taxed and regulated by Colombian authorities no longer at the mercy of interference by US under the auspices of the drug war.

? Cartels pay tax and become entrepreneurs or leave the business,

? Employment rights for farmers

? ?Traffickers? become traders and pay tax

? No more drug money going to paramilitary forces.

? More stable economy and government

? Money freed for treatment

? Colombians rejoin international community

? Environmental damage reduced

? Human rights adhered to

Benefits to UK:

? Revenue raised

? Responsibility for drugs strategy will continue to be overseen by HMT but their role becomes managerial.

? Legalisation means that customs and excise change their role to regulators and the Treasury charges tax and excise on previously illegal drugs, thereby raising revenue. A legalised system ought to raise more than it spends. HMT determines price of retailed drugs. Pharmaceutical price regulation scheme determines price of prescribed drugs.

? ?Dealers? become retailers and pay tax

? Drugs are retailed from licensed premises with an age limit

? Drugs are sold with ingredients list, health warning and safe use info

? More treatment and education as money is freed up

? Prisons empty, court time freed up, police time freed

? Property crime, robberies and prostitution committed to support habit all but disappear

? Drug deaths decrease

? Drug-related corruption disappears

? Young people increase faith in ?The System?

? Human rights respected

? Street dealing and turf wars disappear

? Community safety increases ? inner cities transformed

? Goverment can address causes of problematic drug use and crime

? Civil society involvement in drug policy formation

Costs to Producer countries:

? Re-arrangement of economy

? Invasion of multi-nationals ? farmers priced out of the market

Costs to UK:
? Prevalence of use may increase

Historically government policy formation around drugs has been driven by politics rather than science, a trend that continues today. I believe taht has to change is we are to tackle drugs effectively.

Much of information found in this post is derived from BBC, Gaurdian, United Nations,
Home Office and Transform Drug Policy Institute

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