Colombia is considering decriminalising Ecstasy as a way of aiding its ongoing war on drugs. This week Big Debate asks, should the UK decriminalise drugs to gain control over its drug culture?
NO: Melissa McDonald
Although its aims have pressing importance and seek to put drug-use and trafficking in a state of decline, proposals such as the Justice Minister’s, Ruth Stella Correa, to eradicate the ban on cannabis and cocaine seem to be an insubstantial solution.
It is estimated that: ‘over 2 million’ people in the UK smoke cannabis, nearly ‘half a million’ take ecstasy or MDMA every weekend, more than ‘one million’ regularly use cocaine, and around ‘half a million’ are heroin addicts. If drugs were to be legalized and consequently perceived as a product of consumerism, companies would begin to make voluminous profit through tax and business backings. For example, Richard Branson wishes to make cannabis legalized; a man who owns the chain of prestigious Virgin businesses, such as Virgin Atlantic Airways, and is the ‘fourth richest man in the UK’. If drugs become legal, their advertisement will increase and here an issue of morality rises. Companies would begin to see drugs as a product to be sold; although there would be warnings about excessive consumption and regulations on the amounts consumed, would this really make a difference? Tobacco companies promote the hazardous effects of smoking – people still smoke. Alcohol companies state how many units are an acceptable amount – people still binge. Undoubtedly, this would be the same correlation for drug-use.
A study by Lee Robins of Washington University, showed that veterans of war used heroin regularly whilst in Southeast Asia, however on return most relinquished the habit due to its reduced availability and the ‘sanctions’ on its usage being ‘more pronounced’. The abolition of laws on drugs will not result in the dissolution of addiction, criminality or violence, and it is wishful thinking to assume so. People will still import and export drugs to make money and provide to those that can’t afford the high prices if legalized, or to those who want a higher dosage than permitted. If drugs such as LSD were legalized, (which could be queried as a result of legalizing some drugs and not others), there would certainly be a limit on how much would be put onto one ‘tab’. Consumers of this drug may be more inclined to want to make that decision for themselves.
The abuse of drugs will continue to persist as for many it is a coping mechanism. The only prominent change that will be made is that sentences for taking substances will be decreased, which does need to happen, but seems pointless as a way to engage with the issues that are supposedly being addressed. If anything, money should be aimed at an endeavour to house more rehabilitation centres with a smaller or free charge for those that are in need of help.
Debates on age restrictions would also be a foundation for controversial judgements. Drugs are a matter of disposition. Some individuals can take drugs and it has little impact upon their lives and state of mind. In these cases there is no crisis, and the legalization of drugs appears a valid solution to the unremitting ”war on drugs”. However we must not generalize like this. Absolute pandemonium will erupt in an already fragmented society, if an ecstasy pill legally sold kills an innocent person, or if cannabis legally sold triggers a predisposed psychosis. We have already witnessed the harmful effects of alcohol being legal, and although it may be argued that some drugs are less damaging, legalization will not stop this war.
YES: Alice Smart
With 2.8 million adults said to have used some kind of illegal substance in 2010, the UK must deal with its drug problem. But little is being achieved with the constant rhetoric of a ‘war on drugs.’ While it’s right that the government attempts to crackdown on those organisations using drug money to fund terrorism, we could make real progress by taking the drugs of the black market altogether, and bring the supply under control through decriminalisation.
If the sale of some drugs was legalised and distributed under controlled circumstances, criminals would have a much harder time raising the stupendous funds they receive now. A blanket ban on drugs has only kept them under the radar, causing untold collateral damage. Decriminalisation would reverse this, creating a legal industry into an open and regulated market. No longer will unaccountable drug dealers have exclusive control of supply and sale. Many commentators have been quick to point out that decriminalisation won’t lead to an increase in consumption. A six-year study of Britain’s drug laws by leading scientists, police officers, academics and experts has concluded that decriminalisation should be introduced without the fear that half the population will leave work, draw the curtains and get high.
Decriminalisation brings the potential to make the industry significantly safer. We know that in places like Portugal, drugs can now be taken in specific locations in a controlled environment. Basic age limits could be introduced to replace current arrangements where dealers are generally willing to sell to anyone who can pay up. Safety is not only relevant in relation to the volatile culture of drugs. Safety could also be impacted in reducing of infection and disease. The unregulated nature of drug culture means the drugs themselves could be and are cut with any amount of other substances. Certainly decriminalising drugs would enable better surveillance.
Admittedly alcohol and tobacco have vast costs in lives and money for the UK. However, the fact that statistics about the health impacts of these legal drugs can be accurately acquired and analysed surely in an advantage lost in the bur of illegal drug-use? In the end, there are always going to be some substances that are too harmful to be legalised. Heroin and cocaine are still far too dangerous to be seriously considered for legalisation. But there are other popular substances in circulation that are much safer in sensible quantities. The police know they won’t be able to arrest 2 million adults and health officials know that it won’t cost them anywhere near as much as treating the effects alcohol and cigarettes currently do. Let’s take the profits away from the criminals, the dangers away from the consumers and follow the example set by our international neighbours. It’s time to end the war on drugs.