OPINION - Forget making them legal, we need a war on drugs

·2-min read
 (Daniel Hambury / Evening Standard)
(Daniel Hambury / Evening Standard)

The Government’s promise in its new 10-year drugs strategy of expanded police enforcement against criminal gangs responsible for supplying illicit substances is, of course, unsurprising for a Conservative administration which wants to be seen to be strong on law and order.

It’s obvious that while drugs remain illegal and the cause of so much crime — with the Home Office saying for example that half of murders are linked to drugs — that police action is a necessity.

What’s most interesting though is the desire of ministers to change attitudes to drug taking among the large numbers who currently consume illegal substances without pausing to consider the suffering that’s caused by getting what they’re taking to them in the first place.

That’s because enforcement alone will never work if the demand, and the accompanying lucrative profit, remains to the extent it does today, giving such a big incentive to criminals to carry on.

Ministers promise potential passport or driving licence confiscation to focus the minds of those caught using drugs.

How often this will happen remains to be seen, but the intention behind the public relations blitz against so-called “lifestyle” drug takers is to make users think more about the consequences of their habit and adopt a more socially responsible attitude by leaving drugs behind. That’s sensible enough, but it’s how effectively the Government manages to helps people to achieve this that will determine whether the strategy succeeds.

Record-breaking investment in treatment and diversion is promised. How well this is delivered won’t attract headlines like raids on organised crime gangs, but could undermine the latter’s business model equally effectively.

Some critics argue that more far-reaching changes ranging from decriminalisation to legalisation should be implemented.

Their arguments dwell on claims about tax revenues that could be generated from a regulated drug trade. But they fail to address realities such as the huge criminal market in illicit tobacco, even though the substance itself is legal, or the point that demand would inevitably remain for cheaper, stronger and more drugs than could ever be dispensed via any authorised route, as well as the obvious risks of continuing harm to health.

Do you think drugs should be decriminalised? Let us know in the comments below.

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