This is an area of Western government policy that is stupid beyond belief. Drugs are chemicals that alter the way the human mind works in a way that some people find pleasurable. Some of these drugs are addictive, some aren’t. They all have lesser or greater bad side effects. Some are legal, some aren’t. What is amazing is that some of the very worst are legal and far less harmful ones aren’t. Once again I will go through this point by point.
- Making drugs illegal is futile. All it does is to fill up our jails, criminalise normal people. clog up our criminal justice system and waste police time. The police hardly scratch the surface of drug usage.
- Illegal drug use is enormously widespread, it is amazing just how many people use them. It is a massive, criminalised, untaxed industry. However big you think it is you are almost certainly underestimating.
- A lot of people use illegal drugs precisely because they are illegal. It adds a frisson, an excitement to their use.
- The worst drugs, the ones that government could act against, are heroin, tobacco, crack cocaine and crystal meth. Anyone would need to be ignorant and stupid to use one of these. Education is needed here not criminalisation.
- Alcohol put over 900,000 people in Britain into hospital last year, it is the main cause of interpersonal violence, the costs to society are immense yet at no time in our lives are we properly taught how to use this drug. Amazingly this drug is legal whilst far less harmful drugs are illegal.
- Tobacco smoking is the very worst drug. It is a proven fact that, on average, smoking takes 25% off your life expectancy. It takes these years out of your middle age (the best years of your life) by ageing you prematurely. I held my father’s hand as he died from an aneurysm caused by smoking and have seen many friends die prematurely because of smoking. Mothers who smoke whilst pregnant are committing GBH against the innocent unborn child that is damaged physically and mentally by the drug. Smokers poison everyone around them when they smoke and the people they poison most are their friends and family. My wife is a paediatrician. She can tell which children come from smoking homes, where they are subject to secondhand smoke, just by looking at them. Do smokers realise that they do this damage to defenceless children?
- The tax on tobacco and alcohol are so high that it is usually easier and cheaper to buy illegal drugs.
- The biggest danger of using cannabis is the tobacco that it is usually mixed with. Pot heads, heavy cannabis users, tend to be less motivated in life but they don’t have the antisocial destructive tendencies of many alcohol users. Cannabis is a great drug that should not be criminalised.
- Ecstasy (only made illegal in the UK in 1977) is another great drug that is very widely used and which does not seem to do the harm of tobacco or alcohol.
- Cocaine is very widely used amongst all age groups and all social classes with little of the harm to society that alcohol causes. The main cocaine problem is the criminality of the huge industry behind it.
- What right does the government have to tell us which drugs we can and can’t use? It is none of their business. Criminalisation of most drugs is a relatively recent thing (mostly The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, thank you Ted Heath) and they weren’t doing that much harm before they were banned. Certainly nowhere near the immense damage that tobacco and alcohol do. Many human activities kill large number of their participants, BASE jumping, winter alpine climbing and rebreather diving for example, yet the government does not act to stop them. So why should it act against drugs?
- According to the WHO tobacco kills 5 million people a year worldwide. More than the combined total of AIDS, all wars and all other drugs put together. Yet cigarettes are openly sold in every corner shop and are widely used by children in their early teens.
- Because some recreational drugs are illegal there is no control over the quality sold, they can be mixed with all sorts of things. This is a huge problem and probably does more harm than the drugs themselves.
- By making certain drugs illegal the state misses out on many billions of pounds of potential tax.
- These days the state cannot keep up with the banning of new recreational drugs that are being created. These drugs provide a legal high but little is known of their side effects. It would be far better if the well understood drugs were legal.
- Many common substances act as drugs when taken in sufficient doses, especially herbs and spices. Like aniseed and nutmeg. So when is the government going to ban herbs and spices?
So what needs doing?
- All recreational drugs should be legalised. Even heroin, crack and crystal meth. Even tobacco, the very worst drug, should remain legalised, though under much tighter control.
- The production, sale and use of drugs needs to be controlled to guarantee quality and to collect taxes.
- All imprisoned drug “criminals” should be given their freedom immediately unless they committed other crimes.
- An authoritative list of drugs should be drawn up with their relative harms explained.
- Recreational drug education in schools should be massively ramped up from an early age. Kids should learn to handle drugs like alcohol and cannabis well before the age when they are likely to start using them. It is cheaper to pay for the education than it is to pay for the immense hospital bills caused by alcohol and tobacco.
- Tobacco smoking, because of its impact on innocent third parties, should be totally banned in public, in all vehicles, in front of children and whilst pregnant. Tobacco should only be sold, in plain packaging, in off licenses and only on proof of age. Under 18s should not be allowed in off licenses at all. Perhaps there should be a system where people need a licenses before they are allowed to use it.
As things stand if I want to try cocaine for my personal enjoyment and without harming anyone else I risk a 7 year jail sentence which is just totally absurd.
Please join CLEAR. We need intelligent, articulate people like you.
Great article Bruce. I’ve been passionate about this topic since I began learning the truth about prohibition after smoking cannabis for the first time a couple of years ago.
I agree with all the points you raised, especially in regards to eduction. But what can one do to be proactive about spreading the word? Any ideas would be appreciated.
thankyou for an incredibly sensible, intelligent and well put together piece.
the most sensible drug debate article i have read!
just a shame that the people that could implement these changes have their heads stuck in a place where they wont be able to read it!
I agree that recreational drugs should be legalized so that they can be properly controlled – and taxed – (as should prostitution).
This would take recreational drugs away from the pushers (criminals themselves) who target young people who they often go on to exploit.
Legalizing recreational drugs would undermine the huge cartels that export drugs at great human cost (ie. all the gangs across Central America who exist because of the recreational drugs we so need in the US)
I don’t use any drugs as I find too much to enjoy all around me and would not want my mind or vision blurred or enhanced. I do, however, drink moderately – so, maybe I am just as much a ‘drug’ user anyway!
Even food can kill if taken in excess – and it is; are we not seeing an pandemic in obesity and paying the cost in hospital admissions, mortality and gluttony related illnesses?
Good article Bruce but your suggestion of banning tobacco in public is slightly absurd. And quite un-libertarian. It shouldn’t be in plain packaging because that might actually lead to a problem that this article identifies with other drugs: the black market.