Drugs Are Here To Stay - So Make Them Legal

Drugs Are Here To Stay - So Make Them Legal
Posted by FoM on September 03, 1999 at 21:23:55 PT
By James Delingpole
Source: Electronic Telegraph
COCAINE use is up, says the latest Home Office survey. No fewer than a quarter of British children have tried drugs by the age of 14, and more than half have done so by 15, claims a government-backed study of schools in northern England.
But if you find any of these statistics remotely surprising, it's time you woke up and smelt the coffee. Drugs are no longer a minority fad; they're part of the social fabric. And the only way of dealing with the problem is to accept a solution that we have rejected for far too long: we need to make all drugs totally legal.To legalise drugs would be to strike a blow for personal freedom against the ever-growing powers of the nanny state; it would reduce public spending on the apparatus of drugs enforcement (police, customs, prisons, the judiciary), while simultaneously boosting public revenues (via drugs taxation); it would deprive major criminals of their main source of income, while lessening the need of minor ones to mug, rob or burgle to fund their habits; it would reduce the health risks involved in taking drugs (fewer contaminants in the supply; no HIV-infected needles); and it would mark a responsible acknowledgement of a truth so frequently dodged by politicians: that drugs are here to stay and that the war against them is unwinnable.You may argue that drugs are an abhorrence in a civilised society; that they are physically dangerous, socially destructive and morally indefensible. But you don't need remotely to approve of drugs to support their legalisation. You merely have to recognise that the issue is not whether we should choose between a world of drugs or no drugs - that isn't an option - but whether we should make the best of an inescapable problem or exacerbate it.It is ironic, given our understanding of "Victorian values", that, in the golden age of Empire, Britain was awash with drugs of every description - all legal. The Queen herself was a user of opium and cannabis; and opium, morphine, cocaine and cannabis were easily available from pharmacists.But there were no hysterical demands to stamp out the "evil drugs menace". Drugs prohibition didn't arrive until the First World War and, even as late as 1971, morphine, heroin and cocaine were prescribable by doctors to "registered addicts".Today, the laws against drugs have never been more severe; yet drug "abuse" has never been more prevalent. In the past 20 years, heroin use has increased by between 10 and 100 times (in 1980, there were slightly more than 2,000 registered addicts; now there are an estimated 200,000 users). One fifth of the population has smoked cannabis.The popularity of "Rave culture" means that 500,000 ecstasy tablets are consumed every weekend, and that more than one million Britons have tried it. Cocaine use is rife in clubs and City wine bars alike; crack is the terror of our housing estates. LSD is the third most popular drug after marijuana and speed.You may not take drugs yourself, but you will certainly know someone who does - maybe your friends, your children, your grandchildren. By 15, 52 per cent of our children have experimented with drugs. Do you really believe that, as is currently the case, they should all be branded as criminals?Perhaps you do. But that still doesn't make you immune from the effect of our misguided prohibition laws. The illegality of drugs is what makes them so expensive and drives some users to crime to fund their habit. In 1995, it was estimated that 1.3 billion worth of property was stolen by heroin addicts alone. If heroin was available cheaply and legally, that wouldn't have been necessary.Never been mugged or burgled? Then think of the money you pay in taxes to keep criminals (about 30 per cent of whom are there for drugs-related offences) in prison: it costs more than 1 billion in police, probation and legal costs alone.Think, moreover, how much more the government would have to spend on hospitals, education and, yes, rehabilitating drug users, if it could tax drugs just like it does cigarettes and alcohol. Quite an obscene amount, actually. The annual British drugs trade is reckoned to be worth up to 20 billion: about 2.5 per cent of GDP. (Interpol estimates that the world illegal drugs business is worth an annual 350 billion; illegal drugs comprise eight per cent of all international trade, the same as the oil and arms industries.)Of course, any attempt to legalise drugs would not be without risks. But none is likely to be as great as prohibitionist cant would have you believe. So Britain would become the drugs capital of Europe? Perhaps, but in Holland, where cannabis is decriminalised, the incidence of use among young people is no higher than in Britain.So drugs use would increase drastically? Not according to surveys: the number of people who say they don't currently use drugs because they are illegal is about the same as the numbers of users who say that drugs wouldn't be worth taking if were legalised. So drugs can be deadly? Well, so can almost anything when indulged immoderately, from cigarettes and alcohol to cars and morris dancing.In any case, it seems to me that the benefits of legalising drugs would prove so manifest and widespread as greatly to offset any social costs that might accrue. Alcohol prohibition was a disaster. Drugs prohibition is, too.The biggest drugs criminals in this country are not the millions who use narcotics; they're the politicians who are in a position to turn one of our greatest social evils into one of our biggest social benefits, and yet would rather deny the obvious, bury their heads in the sand and "Just say No" to legalisation.Pubdate: September 4, 1999 Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 1999. 
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