What is Effective Drug Policy?Courtesy Transform - Working for an effective drug policy
Illegal drugs today are cheaper, purer and more available than ever before, making a mockery of the billions spent each year attempting to control them. Drugs misuse and associated problems of crime, illness and addiction, continue to rise and the UK now has the worst drug problem in Europe. It is clear that our attempts to prohibit drugs have been ineffective and indeed counterproductive.
Not surprisingly drugs are an emotive issue, with debate often dominated by scare mongering rather than common sense. With the growing crisis we are facing, the time has come to look beyond the "war on drugs" and implement a drug policy that is truly effective. Only by legalising drugs can we create the context for achieving this
An Effective Drug Policy would:
1) Regulate and control the drugs trade
Drug laws that seek to criminalise production, supply and use of drugs have never been successful in achieving their stated aims, however harshly they are enforced. The illegal market remains unregulated and out of our control.
There are a number of legal regulatory frameworks that exist for currently licensed drugs and medicines which allow control over production, price, quality, packaging and age of purchase. Given these legal options we must ask: Is there any benefit to giving monopoly control of this lucrative and dangerous market to organised crime and unregulated dealers?
2) Reduce drug related ill health
Many of the health problems associated with illegal drugs are made far worse by their prohibition. Unknown strength and purity, poor information, and under funded drug treatment all contribute to the dangers faced by drug users. Whilst rates of addiction, HIV and Hepatitis continue to rise, the demonising and alienation of drug users means many are afraid to seek help. Moving towards a health rather than criminal justice focus for drug policy would allow us to help those in need and make all drug use safer.
3) Reduce drug related crime
It is clear that the criminal drugs market - the direct consequence of prohibitionist laws - is the root of most of the crime associated with drugs. Unregulated dealers, gang violence and addicts committing property crime to fund their habits are just some of the problems attributable to the criminal market. Taking the trade out of the hands of criminals and putting it within a legal framework would help to eliminate the criminal market and its associated problems.
4) Maximise revenue and optimise expenditure
Government research shows that every pound spent on drug treatment saves three pounds on criminal justice expenditure. Moving money away from policing and punishment and into care and rehabilitation is both compassionate and effective.
The global illegal drugs market is worth pound;300 billion a year and rising - an astonishing 10% of international trade - by far the biggest earner for modern day Al Capones. A legally regulated market would keep profits within the legitimate economy and generate significant revenues for the treasury rather than for organised crime.
5) Extend the provision of honest and effective drugs education
Inadequate education is a major factor contributing to the dangers of drug use (legal and illegal). Taboos around illegal drugs in particular have meant most education programmes have been misleading and ineffective. An expansion of drugs information services combined with a more realistic and balanced approach could address these shortcomings.
6) Protect civil rights
For historical reasons some drugs are strictly prohibited whilst others are legally available. This illogical distinction criminalises millions in a way that is unjust and indiscriminate. Our basic rights to privacy and freedom of belief and practice are routinely infringed. In a modern society committed to civil rights we must accept all drug users have the same rights. With these rights come responsibilities, but when an individual's drug use is responsible and does not interfere with the rights of others, there is no justification for legal sanctions to be applied.
7) Deal with the underlying causes of drug misuse
The drug problem has historically been dealt with symptomatically with little attention paid to the underlying social problems that lead people to misuse drugs. Only by focusing on these underlying problems (unemployment, bad housing, lack of opportunity, poverty, physical and emotional abuse) can we hope to significantly reduce the number of drug misusers.
8) Encourage involvement of communities
The negative impacts of prohibitionist drug policy are felt most heavily in deprived communities, where the prevalence of drug misuse is highest. These same communities are also the most excluded from the decision making process, meaning policy rarely reflects their needs and aspirations. If we are serious about social inclusion we must allow people from all the affected communities, including drug users, a place at the policy making table.
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