Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Why the war on drugs can never be won

There was a great programme on Channel 4 last night "Our Drugs War", the first of a three part series by Angus Macqueen on why the war on drugs can never be won. Angus used to think that banning drugs was the best way but after having looked at the evidence he now says he was completely wrong.

In the first episode "Everyone's at it", he spoke to people in Edinburgh, cited recently by the UN as the drugs capital of the world and to other people including dealers, drug users and those involved in law enforcement. An astonishing statistic that was discussed is that only 1% of all the heroin that enters Scotland is seized by the authorities. The UN estimates that if the supply-side approach to tackling drugs is ever to work then that figure needs to be between 60% and 70%. A senior police officer interviewed baldly stated that they will never get anywhere near this figure. Angus pointed out that we would not accept this level of failure in any other part of law enforcement so why is it acceptable when it comes to drugs? It is surely the clearest indication that this "war" can never be won?

The programme also showed how the scale of the billions of pounds involved in the drugs trade allows corruption to take place within the drugs enforcement regime itself.

It was also heartening to see relatives of people who have died from drug related problems who fully understand that "banning" the substances does not make things better and indeed can actually make them worse. Some of these people who have had terrible tragedy afflict their lives and those of their loved ones are actively campaigning for the legalisation of drugs. It was very telling when the mother of a man who had died as a result of abuse of GBL/GHB said that when she wrote an article for a newspaper she had to fight very hard to prevent them from headlining the piece "Mother of drugs victim calls for ban" which was not what she was saying at all. But of course the media has pigeon-holes in which they like to put people and the mother of a drug addict who has died would be expected by them to instinctively be in favour of a ban. It is to her credit that she has not gone down this route but instead analysed the situation and come to a different decision that accords with the wider evidence. And it was great to see this being aired on a TV programme in prime time.

I am looking forward to the next two instalments next Monday 9th at 8pm and then on Monday 16th on Channel 4. You can watch yesterday's episode for now via 4od here.

You can also read an article in this week's Observer that Angus Macqueen wrote entitled "Why do we so wilfully cover up the failure of the war on drugs?".

1 comment:

Voter said...

One thing you did not mention is that making drugs illegal results in money going to disreputable people, not the kind of people you want to fund.

If drugs are available at the chemist, they can raise money through being taxed