Time to rewrite the rule book on UK's outdated drugs laws
Updated: Mar 25, 2019
The topic of UK drugs law reforms has reared it's head in the news again this week and it's a long time coming. This is an issue which I have been ranting about for some time (see my blog 'Is Blair on Drugs' from back in 2007 re: the inconsinstencies in UK drug legislation here). While I welcome the current debate and potential signs that there could be some changes to legislation similarly to the state level marijuana legalisation in the US; this doesn't go nearly far enough.
We don't need lengthy debate which may or may not result in the decriminalisation of small amounts of marijuana for medical or personal recreational use. We need to acknowledge that the current 'war on drugs' has failed, radical reform is needed and ultimately ALL drugs should be legalised.
Legislation should be there solely to protect people; we have too many laws. If you are causing no harm or loss to anyone else then how you choose to live you life should be down to your own personal freedom and choices. Any legislation beyond this is at best unnecessary and restrictive and at worst, as is the case with our current drugs legislation, directly damaging.
Currently in the UK the only legal recreational drugs are alcohol and tobacco. (Anyone who tries to give me their anti drugs speech wih a cigarette in one hand and a pint in the other needs to realise their hypocrisy.) Independent study by the Science and Technology committee rated ecstacy, lsd and cannabis (amoungst others) as less harmful in terms of physical and social harm and dependence than both alcohol and tobacco; with amphetamine and ketamine both being classified as safer than alcohol. So our current drugs laws actively direct the majority of people towards substances which are more harmful to them.
Now lets get away from the stereotypical image of the desparate junkie who has lost everything and is living on the streets mugging little old ladies to get his fix. While I acknowledge that such people obviously exist, in my personal experience this is far from the majority and not a typical picture. I know teachers, doctors and lawyers amoungst others who indulge in a variety of recreational drugs other than alcohol on their saturday evenings with little or no impact on their personal or professional lives. In fact this is a far more typical picture of UK drug users, backed up by research by Global Drug Survey, the world's largest independent drug-use data agency.
"One of the strongest underlying messages is that this group of drug users report as happy, healthy and educated, and feel at ease with their recreational consumption of a range of illicit substances from cannabis to ecstasy to cocaine. They are not in rehab, prison or in trouble with the law and do not take heroin or crack." Guardian Drugs Survey
So why are we criminalising these people ? Yes of course there are plenty of people with addictions and unhealthy drug problems, but we also have 1.6 million people in the UK suffering from eating disorders and no one is suggesting legislating food.
Many drugs related casualties are not caused by the drugs themselves but rather other substances they are mixed with and/or inconsistencies in strength of what they are taking. Legalising drugs and providing them through approved licensed vendors would remove such risks.
It is estimated that 11 million people in the UK have used illegal drugs so the current legislation is not preventing drug use. In fact it is forcing the otherwise law abiding citizens detailed above into a criminal world. Few people buying their substance of choice at the weekend will consider where that money is going or how their drugs are sourced. The child prostution rings they may be funding, people trafficking, murders and abuse on the other side of the globe will all be unknown to them; the legalising of drugs could remove the funding of these activities.
While we're talking about money, I don't really want to get into the capitalist arguments for legalisation (although there clearly is a strong case from that point of view aswell). There can be few that could argue that the money generated from drugs sales, especially in times of cuts and austerity measures, would be better fed into health and education than criminal activity.
Now while I am pro-personal choice and freedom, I want to explicitly say this is not about being pro-drugs. Speak to almost any drug user and I am sure they will tell you that they have had both good and bad experiences with drugs and would happily do without the bad ones. What we do need to do however is acknowledge that drugs exist and people take them regardless of their legal status whether we like it or not, so given this let us look at making the legislation we have work the way it should to protect people instead of causing further harm.