The tide is turning against strict drug laws


2:01 pm - December 11th 2012

by Tim Fenton    


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Last week, following some consultation and much enquiry, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee recommended there be a Royal Commission to consider alternatives to the current drug laws in the UK, including decriminalisation of use and even legalising substances that are presently illegal.

Moreover, as the Guardian reported,

the MPs say Home Office and health ministers should be sent to Portugal to examine its system of replacing criminal penalties for drug use with a new emphasis on treatment. They say the Portuguese example clearly reduced public concern about drug use and was backed by all political parties and the police.

Note though that Portugal has not legalised any previously illegal drugs, but moved the emphasis from punishment to treatment together with informing and persuading users.

But the results from more than a decade of decriminalisation have been emphatic: the number of users has been halved, and drug related diseases and overdoses have also been reduced.

The prediction that Portugal would become a centre for drug tourism has been disproved. Of those infected with HIV, the proportion has shrunk from over 50% before decriminalisation to around 20% today.

The number of new HIV cases has gone from around 3,000 a year to less than 2,000. There has been an apparent decline in deaths among street users, too.

This time even the Daily Mail softened its coverage, although they insist on also reporting those who talk of “opening the floodgates” and telling apocalyptic tales of what cannabis can do to the brain while ignoring Portugese example.

Of course, the Mail just has to give the pundit slot on this one to Melanie Phillips, who ascribes a rise in homicides in Portugal to drugs (the numbers are not attributed to any one cause, or number of causes). Then there is a screaming denunciation of Russell Brand, because he gave evidence to the Commons committee.

It does not seem to occur to Mad Mel that a reformed drug addict is an ideal person to comment on the present law, its enforcement, and the treatment offered to those criminalised. Instead, all those who favour decriminalisation are dismissed as being of dubious character.

But her ever more desperate ranting shows that the tide is turning against her.

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About the author
Tim is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He blogs more frequently at Zelo Street
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Crime

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Reader comments


“The prediction that Portugal would become a centre for drug tourism has been disproved.”

I’d be a little careful about that point. You’re right: but there’s a good reason for it. Whether or not the police give you any hassle depends rather on what you look like. Look Portuguese and no hassle. Look too obviously like a drug tourist and you’ll get lots of it.

3. Stuart Rodger

Although I think decriminalisation of personal possession of all drugs constitutes progress, I don’t think it goes far enough – it still leaves some of the worst aspects of prohibition intact.

First, the production and sale of drugs in the black market – where they become drastically more dangerous. It is well acknowledged that heroin – in it’s pure, medical form – is not harmful to the body: it is the adulterants, extreme addictive ness, and injection technique which cause the harm. Crack has didn’t exist in the US until 1984, a few years after Reagan intensified drug law enforcement: empirical evidence of the iron law of prohibition.

Secondly, you will still get the violence generated from turf wars and law enforcement. Because drug cartels can’t appeal to the law to protect their property rights, they protect them themselves. And because the market is solid and ineradicable, the harder the law enforcement, the higher the violence – something which has been demonstrated so tragically in Mexico.

But certainly, the sea is shifting on drugs policy… And that can only be a good thing.

4. Chaise Guevara

Sadly not turning all that fast, given Cameron’s rejection of the findings.

I agree with Stuart @3. Also worth mentioning that legalising narcotics, as opposed to either the current system or decriminalisation, would change them from being a big national expense to a big source of revenue.

> Home Office and health ministers should be sent to Portugal

I disagree; it’s not nearly far enough away.

It’s rather telling that Melanie Philips finds fault with Brand for the following:

And insofar as he had a message, it was, of course, that we needed to stop regarding drug addiction as a judicial and criminal issue and develop instead ‘more compassionate, altruistic, loving attitudes’ towards drug users.

How dreadful that we should be more compassionate, altruistic and loving. God forbid!

She really is hideous, isn’t she?

As for her alleged facts, clearly she didn’t take into account http://fullfact.org/factchecks/Portugal_decriminalisation_drugs_effects-3276
or
http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2012/12/10/portuguese-drug-policy-alex-stevens/

MM: the federal court accepted that HSBC’s offence was not having strict enough controls, rather than condoning laundering. Like if someone installed malware on your PC because you were an incompetent idiot, and then used the infected computer for nefarious purposes (I also have no idea where your blether about terrorism comes from: the offences were related to the lack of controls in Mexico, and to the bank helping Americans to do business with legitimate nation states against which their government has petty squabbles – Cuba, Iran, etc)

8. Chaise Guevara

@ 6 UKLiberty

“How dreadful that we should be more compassionate, altruistic and loving. God forbid!”

YOMANK


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