Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Cross-post: Prohibition is a cowardly, immoral idiocy that we can not afford

This piece is by Ewan Hoyle, founder and head of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform and is cross-posted from his blog Ewan's Liberal Musings:

It's motion submission season for the Spring conferences and this year the conference committee will have the opportunity to allow conference to debate drug policy reform for the first time since 2002.

In the last decade the drug-related death rate has doubled in Scotland, while in countries like Switzerland and Portugal death rates have fallen by half since they had the bravery to adopt heroin prescription and decriminalisation policies respectively. It is perfectly reasonable to conclude that British reluctance to engage with drug policy has caused hundreds of the most vulnerable, desperate Scots to die.

A great many more Britons will have encountered illegal crack and heroin dealers, developed a habit, and descended into shameful lives of theft, prostitution or be dealing drugs themselves, creating more desperate addicts to steal from us and fill our prisons.

We can stop these people piling misery upon our communities. Were the government to control and regulate the production, distribution and sale of drugs, existing addicts could be managed in such a way that theft, prostitution and dealing would be entirely unnecessary. If problem drug users were treated medically rather than abandoned to wreak havoc, we could potentially reduce domestic burglary by 80% and virtually eliminate street prostitution. A well controlled market could come close to eliminating the illegal market for all drugs, greatly diminishing the chances of children and teenagers encountering anyone who might seek to profit from luring them into that lifestyle.

Far from "people who have kids going "Oh God no, anything but that" " (an assumption of Anita Anand on the daily politics), they should recognise that control and regulation is the best way to keep drugs out of the hands of children. Illegal dealers don't ask for proof of age. Control and regulation might require everyone buying drugs to have a licence to buy that drug and might allow systems to be put in place that allow drugs found in the possession of children to be traced back to their purchaser to aid in prosecution. In Switzerland heroin prescription has been credited with giving heroin the status of "loser drug". Controlling and regulating drugs should not be seen as consumption being approved. Rather legalising should hopefully remove the rebellion from drug use and establish it as a behaviour that responds to medical treatment, a behaviour which occurs as a result of unhappiness and is a symptom of failure.

It is true that control and regulation cannot happen until reform or rejection of the UN drugs conventions. This should not mean that we should not hold it as our aspiration. Decriminalisation may encourage people to seek treatment and may vastly reduce unsafe drug use and drug-related death in Portugal, but in Mexico, Colombia, the Caribbean and many other regions people are dying in their thousands because of the billions of pounds to be made from trafficking from and through these countries to meet Western demand. The only way to eliminate the illegal market is for states to control and regulate legal markets. Britain can be the first to announce this as their intention, and the Liberal Democrats can be the first party to gain considerable electoral success from holding it as policy.

If we do nothing to hasten reform, we are morally responsible for all the crimes and the prostitution that drug users engage in to fund their habits and all the distress that criminality causes in our communities. We need to take responsibility for the millions of pounds the Taliban are raising from the opium trade, money they are spending on the bullets and bombs that murder our troops and the innocent civilians of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Britain can grow our own poppies. We don't need to allow our addicts to be funding Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. We don't need our "recreational drug users" to be funding the criminal drug gangs that terrorise our own streets either.

There are no other policies that will reduce spending while improving public health, reducing crime, creating jobs, increasing freedom and undermining international criminal gangs and terrorists.

This is a stunningly beautiful policy flower breaking through the snow, patiently waiting for the party smart enough to pick it and present it to the people.

The nearly final draft of the motion can be found on the Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform blog. If you are an elected rep and wish to support the motion's submission or you wish to propose the motion to your local party or SAO, please e-mail me at


Ewan Hoyle said...

Thanks Mark.

I should probably say that the phrase "a behaviour which occurs as a result of unhappiness and is a symptom of failure." is not a judgement on all drug users, rather a perception of drug use that would help in reducing drug-related harm by reducing the number of people who experiment with drugs. Any lib dems who are interested can join debates on Lib Dem ACT and the Lib Dem Voice policy forum

Alex said...

As a liberal, I absolutely support this policy, but I also think that if the Lib Dems would go with it, it would be the big, controversial policy that would separate them in the public's eye from Labour and the Conservatives, and get the nation talking. They must do this.