Should we legalize all drugs?

29 Mar

It seems likely that those who are going to end up regularly taking drugs are going to do so irrespective of the legality of it. Similarly, those that are going to dabble and move on are going to do so, whatever the legal position. It would be impossible to deny that ready availability is hardly an issue now, when the drugs are illegal: that position won’t change if the prohibition ceases. It is the push towards the murky side of the street to obtain the drugs that would no longer be required.

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I have decided not to write about the proposed amendment to Section 41 (proposed by the Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, a previous Solicitor-General) on the unshakable basis that her proposal is neither logical, nor fair, nor compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Frankly, it smacks of batty attention-seeking.

Instead I was wondering, as I pottered along the road into Southampton this morning, about our longstanding position, as a nation, on recreational or “street drugs.” I should make it clear that I am writing as one who does not and has not taken recreational drugs, for a variety of reasons. I should also make it clear that, as the father of teen and ‘tween’ children, I hope fervently that they follow me down the square route of a dope-free adulthood.

I do, however, understand the pressures that compel some to seek narcotic solace and the peer pressures that can lead many to develop habits that, objectively, they would not have chosen to live beneath. I am also aware that swathes of society take drugs of one sort or another as and when they chose to, enjoy the experiences, and see no ill-effects in themselves for so doing.

Two facts, of which I am as sure as I can be, present themselves: no governing party that is even marginally interested in being seen as anti-crime will ever legalize street drugs because to do so is to commit electoral seppuku; and paradoxically, to legalize all drugs for personal consumption might be the most powerful step in reducing crime that any government had taken in a century. I expect that there is not one single person involved in the criminal justice system who does not see the link between shoplifting and drugs, between burglary and drugs, between prostitution, with all its consequent assaults and sexual assaults, and drugs. It is possible that to legalize drugs might be to remove the links between using drugs and the other areas of crime.

The reasoning goes like this: If Heroin, Crack, MDMA etc were all legal, there would be no need to buy furtively, to use furtively. If a simple repeat prescription could get a user his daily fix, I suspect that most would choose free, safe Heroin in a sterile needle on prescription to the addled, potentially fatal fix from a dealer, through a shared needle in a dirty shooting gallery, on flick that must be settled later at a significant personal cost, or, as set out above, paid for through recently committed petty crime (or worse.)

This is not to suggest that we should hand out deal-wraps at the kindergarten gates: after all, as a society we have a pretty good system of regulating the availability of two of the three major legal intoxicants, alcohol and tobacco (access to refined sugar is currently unregulated) and perhaps it would be possible to model the new drugs framework upon a mixture of the system in place for alcohol, and the system in place for prescription drugs, bearing in mind the need to reflect the various idiosyncrasies in the use and effects of the different substances.

I expect that the rate of crime through intoxication might rise, but that is by no means certain. For me, and I am sure this is true of most people, the reason that I don’t take heroin is not that possession of it is unlawful. It is that I have no desire at all to become addicted to it, don’t want the sensations attributed to taking it, have a fear of the whole mechanism of taking it. If legalized, I would no more take up Crack recreationally than I would Russian roulette.

It seems likely that those who are going to end up regularly taking drugs are going to do so irrespective of the legality of it. Similarly, those that are going to dabble and move on are going to do so, whatever the legal position. It would be impossible to deny that ready availability is hardly an issue now, when the drugs are illegal: that position won’t change if the prohibition ceases. It is the push towards the murky side of the street to obtain the drugs that would no longer be required.

One significant societal change in the event of legalization would be that, where drugs are available on prescription at no or at very low cost, the profit in dealing drugs would evaporate in an instant. I do not believe that the mafias ascribed various nationalities are immersed in the supply of illegal drugs out of political, religious or any other conviction: they are involved because it is a way of making a lot of money, quickly. To remove that quick, exponential return might be to spell ruin to those organizations founded upon it. Again, I am sure that some would be able to diversify and continue to blight society, but some would end up unable to find sufficient avenues for profit and might shrivel up. Indeed, I strongly suspect that a national taxation scheme tailored towards the socio-economic circumstances of each user group could be a godsend to a hard-pressed Treasury.

In conclusion, whilst I fervently believe that all recreational drug-taking comes at a personal cost, and that this cost is unlikely ever to change, I am struck that to legalize all drugs might be to take a powerful step forwards in the fight against all crime. I am sure that there might be powerful counter-arguments that have not occurred to me, and I am sure that it will be a cold day in hell before an elected government took so much as a single step towards legalization, but I think it is a shame that we can’t even have the conversation.

Edward Elton

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