UK needs to decriminalise drugs to reduce crime


by Guest    
1:05 pm - August 21st 2010

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contribution by Sirena Bergman

One of the UK’s leading doctors made the news on Tuesday when he said that drugs should be decriminalised as a way to improve the current situation of illegal drug use in the UK.

This may have seemed like a radical idea, with conservatives and Conservatives all around the country preaching the dangers of having liberals in government, but the proposal has nothing to do with Sir Ian Gilmore’s advocacy of civil liberties; it comes from a realisation that few battles are won by building more prisons.

Sir Ian’s need to specify that he was “not suggesting giving out heroin” proves how narrow-minded this country is perceived as being in terms of how to tackle drug-related issues. Sir Ian went on to say that it should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal one.

But is British society really ready to make that leap? On the BBC News blog, readers were asked to give their opinion about the decriminalisation of drugs, and many of the replies were in favour of the idea, saying that decriminalisation “makes logical sense” and “will destroy the drugs industry”.

The media, however, is not so keen. The national press was all over this story, with some papers, including the Daily Mail, mistakenly claiming that Sir Ian suggested “legalising cocaine and heroin”, a very different concept to the decriminalisation of drugs, which doesn’t make drugs legal – simply removes criminal penalties for personal use.

But perhaps a new, “progressive” government will see beyond the pressure exerted by the media vultures, dribbling at the sight of some controversy to splash over their front pages, and focus on the issue at hand.

In attempting to tackle the drugs problem that this country suffers, it seems that Sir Ian has the only reasonable attitude – nothing will come of continuing the culture of prohibition and sensationalisation that caused the criminalisation and created a black market for heroin in the 1950s.

Surely if the UK wants to reduce the number of drug-related deaths – currently one of the highest in Europe – the first step we need to take is stop assuming that the threat of criminal prosecution is in any way helping to decrease the number of fatalities.

Criminalising mephedrone not only created a black market for the drug and caused individuals to bulk-buy just before the law was passed, but it also increased the danger of the drug, as illegal substances are often mixed with toxic chemicals which cause many of the drug-related deaths.

If the UK doesn’t radically change its attitude soon, we will continue to see drug-related problems rise as those in other countries that take a more liberal stance decrease.


Sirena blogs at: www.sirenabergman.blogspot.com

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Reader comments


1. the a&e charge nurse

You’ve identified the stumbling block correctly: the Fourth Estate, typified by the empire of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, will attempt to howl down any attempt at doing anything that they can claim is “soft on drugs”.

After the recent C4 “Our Drugs War”, I posted on the problem:

http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2010/08/laws-dont-work-8.html

There is one EU country that has decriminalised drug use, and that is Portugal. The sky over this country has not fallen in. There has been no influx of drug tourists. Society there has not suffered any kind of collapse. I looked at the example back in July last year:

http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2009/07/laws-dont-work-2.html

Will the new Government do anything, though? If Young Dave is prepared to U-Turn on milk for the under fives at short notice, what will happen when the Murdoch, Rothermere and Desmond press puts the burner under him?

The War on Drugs is the most pointless and arguably most expensive war in the history of humanity. The whole war was founded on nothing other than US social conservatives paranoid fears of ‘ drug-crazed ‘, ‘ sex-mad negroes ‘ who were coming to rape white women. Of course decriminalising drugs will be opposed by the Daily Mail because they are moralising puritans. Probably doing anything that the Daily Mail oppose is by definition good social policy but that is beside the point. The most dangerous opponents of decriminalisation are not the reactionaries but the vested interests who would prefer this farcical war to continue. A graphic illustration of how well the war is going in the US since Nixon ratcheted it up a gear.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_incarceration_timeline.gif

Say no to drugs. One day you might be in the tabloids over allegations concerning a black dominatrix and cocaine and who knows where you’ll end up. Chancellor of the Exchequer for instance

As us liberals at the ASI have been shouting for years.

BTW, here in Portugal, one reason there’s no drug tourism is the police will pick you up if you’re obviously not Portuguese and are clearly either buying or have taken drugs.

The decriminalisation is for the natives, not the visitors. Precisely to discourage drug tourism of course.

I understand the qualifications of “what an illegal drug is” but I don’t know how you legalise it.

Decriminalisation (ie turning a blind eye) is not a serious option. It means that government tolerates the sale of contaminated goods that may be injurious to the consumer. The 1860 and 1872 acts on adulterated food and drugs should be our reference points.

It is easy to project decriminalisation of cannabis. Resin is the product of pressing leafs or stems; “herbs” are leafs in a natural state. Ditto for mushrooms, dried or fresh. For those two, we can turn a blind eye.

We cannot do the same thing for “white powder” drugs. If you turn a blind eye to coke dealers, the snorter will be snuffing random shit up his/her nose.

Decriminalisation of “white powder” drugs is the most stupid option unless you believe that consumers should buy random shit.

“We cannot do the same thing for “white powder” drugs. If you turn a blind eye to coke dealers, the snorter will be snuffing random shit up his/her nose.”

What, you think this isn’t happening now?

Street coke is what, 8% pure or something?

@5, as I’m no fan of the Adam Smith Institute, a museum of outdated economic ideas which has fraudulently appropriated the name of the founder of economics, I suspect that we are coming at the issue from very different starting points.

My observations are made from the POV of pragmatism and realism (we have a status quo that does not work, and it may be useful to move to one that does). The difference may be not unlike Milton Friedman’s summing up of how he and Ken Galbraith both found themselves opposing the Vietnam war.

And I hope you continue to enjoy the benefits of EU membership, although my contact in Lisbon tells me it’s been frying hot on the Algarve these last few weeks.

“the Adam Smith Institute, a museum of outdated economic ideas which has fraudulently appropriated the name of the founder of economics”

That is an excellent description and one I will pilfer from you to use again.

10. Charlieman

@7. Tim Worstall:

Your observations are correct. Your mates who snuff a bit are not criminals, merely fools.

@ 8….

“My observations are made from the POV of pragmatism and realism (we have a status quo that does not work, and it may be useful to move to one that does).”

That is, exactly, our point. We accept that, at times, illegality is indeed the way to go. We’re all in favour of murder being illegal for example. But to us the test of whether something should be illegal, regulated, whatever, are always from the point of realism and pragmatism.

Does the “War on Drugs” work? No, let’s stop it then. Does the London congestion charge work? Excellent, let’s have it then….as we argued for decade before it came in.

I personally am more extreme (I regard it as a violation of human rights that an individual cannot ingest whatever drug it is that they wish to) but that’s not ASI policy, that’s me.

As to the EU allowing me to live in Portugal….try looking at the port shelf in the offie next time you’re there. You’ll note that many English have been living here long before there was even the idea for an EU.

@ 9….Not even we attempt to claim that every idea we’ve ever come up with was a great one. But the congestion charge, higher personal tax limits so the working poor no longer pay income tax, decriminalisation of drugs….some of them even you would agree with.

@ 10….I’ve no mates who sniff a bit…sharing an evening with someone who wibbles after drinking too much is bad enough. Not prepared to put up with the cokeheads.

12. Peter Cole

The trouble is there can never be a rational argument about drugs.
Every time freeing up legalisation is mentioned, a poor mother is brought explain what happened to their offspring due to drugs. The same argument could be used against alcohol.
My own view is that the real problem with drugs is the criminal element and activities involved in the trade.
Surely legalisation would decrease this activity.
As for the war on drugs, it is no different than the war on terror.
Fighting abstract concepts with no obtainable aims or objectives

13. Peter Cole

Also Tim W
What is wibbling ?
Is it a public school thing ?
Also with the ASI work, isn’t it time you got a real job.

How about decriminalising possession, penalising distributing for profit, and coming down like a ton of bricks on anyone distributing contaminated product? Surely that would be far better at tackling the health issues for most people?

@ 13

“Also with the ASI work, isn’t it time you got a real job.”

I have one thank you. Unlike many others in the wonk world, I went off and did something first. Without giving you the whole boring list of what I have done my day job is the wholesale distribution of weird and exotic metals. I’m actually, in what I do, *the* expert. Not “an” or “a” but the.

Of one specific metal I handle about 50% of the globe’s consumption each year.

Is that enough of a real job for you?

If a progressive government would legalise drugs, how come it wasn’t done in the 13 years before the 2010 election?

I have a distinct memory of making this argument some time ago on these comment threads and being shouted down for it. Oh well, better late than never I suppose.

@11, Thanks for setting out your position more completely. Appreciated.

I’m aware that we and the Portuguese go back a long way, at least as far as Philippa of Lancaster (the only woman represented on the Padrao dos Descobrimentos), but although I’m partial to the occasional snifter of port, my cellar is more likely to be limited to Minipreco own brand.

[Also, it's a sad postscript to how UK industry declined over the years, when you see photos of Lisbon and Porto in the late 60s, and realise how many British cars and buses are on the roads then - a lot]

On your comments on decriminalisation in Portugal, I do have concerns as to how the authorities manage to tell whether someone is obviously Portuguese. How do they readily differentiate between residents of Vila Real de Santo Antonio and residents of Ayamonte? Or between those living in Elvas and Badajoz?

Portugal and Spain share a long land border, they’re both in the Schengen area, yet AFAIK there is no significant problem with drug tourism.

“[Also, it's a sad postscript to how UK industry declined over the years, when you see photos of Lisbon and Porto in the late 60s, and realise how many British cars and buses are on the roads then - a lot]”

I think it was true that this was the largest export market for Rover right up until the final collapse….or maybe that might be only by head of population. Certainly you still see the later models around.

“On your comments on decriminalisation in Portugal, I do have concerns as to how the authorities manage to tell whether someone is obviously Portuguese.”

It’s obviously not as regulated as all that: but some obviously northern European smackhead won’t find it easy to operate here. Will simply be stopped and searched, generally hassled, repeatedly. Perhaps not entirely legal but the general reaction of the police on the street is that making sure that local drug addicts (or not addicts, simply triers) get their gear is one thing, that foreigners coming here to shoot up on the beach is entirely another.

I’ve not lived up near Lisbon for some years but I was told that in the barrio where most drug deals happen there’s police presence: to monitor/stop violence but to allow the trade to continue. But obviously foreigners wandering around looking as if they’re trying to score continually get stopped and hassled. As with cars with foreign plates.

20. the a&e charge nurse

[18] I think Spain has already decriminalised marijuana use while “drug use and possession for personal use do NOT constitute a criminal offence under Spanish law”.
http://www.drugpolicy.org/global/drugpolicyby/westerneurop/spain/

So I guess drugs alone is not be a major incentive for Spaniards to drop in on their sensible Portuguese neighbours?

The title of the post says it all.

When-oh-when will our “leaders” – many of whom have of course themselves taken drugs – come to their senses??

22. the a&e charge nurse

[21] “When-oh-when will our “leaders” – many of whom have of course themselves taken drugs – come to their senses??” – most still do, but apply a completely different mindset to mortality and morbidity associated with alcohol or cigarettes.

23. Charlieman

@19 Tim Worstall: “I think it was true that this was the largest export market for Rover right up until the final collapse…”

I worked in market research in the late 1980s and Rover were one of our customers. We didn’t have data for Portugal (total size of market was too small) but Rover bought data for Spain and France where they had a reasonable market share (3%). Rover had some good dealers in northern Spain and the hilly bits of France. Had Portugal been a large market by volume, Rover would have paid us to research the country. I’d therefore suggest that it was large market share not absolute numbers.

If you look around Lisbon, you’ll also note that the vintage trams are British, ditto postboxes, the analogue phone infrastructure, the old bits of the navy and that glorious Avro seaplane that flew across the Atlantic.

As Tim Fenton observed, all very sad and worthy of a separate debate.

@23, at the risk of erring into Geekspace, the four wheel trams you are likely to ride in Lisbon may have old bodywork – built by Carris at their workshops – but are new “under the floor”, or at least mid-1990s.

The new bits are from suppliers like Skoda and Kiepe (sp?). Nothing British there any more, I’m afraid.

@19, I must have managed to avoid that part of Lisbon, then.

The contract to redo the trains on the Lisbon Cascais line went to British Rail even….must have been aboutr 2001 or 2002 I guess. Body work stayed, the underneath gubbins was all renewed.

Actually, the contract to recycle the copper/silver/cadmium scrap from that contract went to an Englsh company as well….maybe not so much company as likely lad who knew a lot about weird metals who used to drink with the BR engineers.

@25, the bodywork was rebuilt by EMEF at Entroncamento, and comprehensively too (new cabs, new seating, air con). That the electrical equipment was refurbished by a UK supplier is no surprise, as the original equipment was GEC.

It *was* 2001-2, as the work delayed the withdrawal of yet more Brits, a smaller number of trains built by long departed Cravens of Sheffield, until early 2003.

But I’m veering off into Geekspace once again.

Just heard on the radio that they are saying that the so called co-alition is going to release it’s drug policy next week which will include a stepping up of the so called war on drugs.

People on benefit will lose their benefits if they do not go drug free. In fact, they won’t even tolerate methadone. It will be a zero tolerance regime.
Don’t know if this is true, but I m so glad those nice Liberals are eating more of this shit.

28. Mark Alexander

I accept that the current drugs policies aren’t working, but I’m horrified by the idea of de-criminalisation. All laws are broken by some people. The point is to set out clearly what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. I think the test should be as follows; think of a small group of people surviving in a wilderness area or on an island. Would you really want anyone out of the labour pool because they devoted their lives to intoxication? In a high tech civilisation we can afford to have a few “passengers” who don’t contribute, but should we? Surely its part of our duty as citizens to turn up sober on Monday morning ready for work? 1950′s morality had obvious problems with sexism, homophobia etc but I think we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater and developed an anything goes culture. FYI I’m 39 and a member of the Liberal Democrats.

28. What you are saying does not compute. Most alcoholics and druggies work the same as anyone else, and there are plenty of feckless teetotallers who idle on benefits.

“People on benefit will lose their benefits if they do not go drug free. In fact, they won’t even tolerate methadone. It will be a zero tolerance regime.”

Naturally. Who wouldn’t want to go for the easy target that doesn’t come off very well when defending itself on television? Although, depressingly, it was first mooted by a so-called leftist administration: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11033139

Back on topic: the default status of drugs should be ‘legal’, purely based on personal liberties. The people who want something banned should have to come up with a solid reason for it, not the people who want it made legal.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    UK needs to decriminalise drugs to reduce crime http://bit.ly/bEpPZP

  2. Roxanne Ellis

    RT @libcon: UK needs to decriminalise drugs to reduce crime http://bit.ly/bEpPZP

  3. Sirena Bergman

    by me for Liberal Conspiracy 'UK needs to decriminalise drugs to reduce crime' http://bit.ly/9rb6XG

  4. LazarouMonkeyTerror

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  5. northlondonhippy

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  6. Kevin Ward

    UK needs to decriminalise drugs to reduce crime http://bit.ly/bEpPZP via @libcon) Unfortunately the right of the coalition will prevent this

  7. Mind In Flux

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  8. Carlie Ness

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  13. Pamela Heywood

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  22. Why oh why do we start wars against inanimate objects and abstract nouns? « Left Outside

    [...] oh why do we start wars against inanimate objects and abstract nouns? Further to Liberal Conspiracy‘s post on the need to decriminalise drugs, occasional commenter Richard W directed me towards [...]

  23. Is It Time To Make Drugs Legal? « The Mind Of An Atheist

    [...] UK needs to decriminalise drugs to reduce crime (liberalconspiracy.org) [...]

  24. Decriminalizing and legalizing drugs: a necessity | Human Stupidity: Irrationality, Self Deception

    [...] UK needs to decriminalise drugs to reduce crime (liberalconspiracy.org) [...]





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