In Favour Of The Legalisation Of Prohibited Drugs

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Recent polls suggest that the American electorate is more socially conservative than ever before[i]. Perhaps triggered by the countries massive debt crisis or possibly the crushing unemployment that is currently leaving thousands of voters disillusioned with the Obama administration, many opinion polls show the GOP ahead[ii] . However, this recent wave of traditional thought has not extended to drug policy. Two states have recently legalised marijuana with a further twenty-three passing decriminalisation laws. The US is well on the way to outright legalisation of cannabis in all states and the stage is set for further laws to be passed in the near future with respect to other drugs. Closer to home, Portugal and Czech Republic have seen to pass laws that legalise not only cannabis, but all drugs. [iii]

However, things are different this side of the pond. David Cameron has steadfastly refused to discuss the topic of drug legalisation[iv], despite mounting pressure from a pro legalisation public and a former police chief calling for the legalisation of all hard drugs[v].

When discussing the legalisation of drugs, a cornerstone argument justifying such a viewpoint should be one of harm-prevention via regulation. On 28th September this year, a 26 year old man died in Manchester after taking a ‘bad’ batch of ecstasy tablets. Ecstasy tablets are taken mainly for the effects of the active ingredient, MDMA. In a pure form, this amphetamine compound has been shown to be a potentially safe chemical, with doctors using it to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and other neurological disorders. As it currently stand, those who want to use drugs in a recreational manner must at best rely on unreliable testing kits that may not uncover damaging chemicals in drugs, or at worst trust the assurances of unscrupulous back street dealers who have little or no incentive to communicate the true quality of their product. It seems illogical not to aim for a safer scenario; that being whereby the government produces chemicals such as MDMA in a safe and controlled manner. They would then go on to distribute them from regulated outlets.

Some may argue that this approach would cause an increase in the number of people experimenting and using currently illicit drugs. Yet two points must be considered: firstly, there is little evidence to suggest that this will hold true; polls indicate that few non-drug takers are put off drugs by their illegality. Secondly, I ask this of any person who is unsure of legalisation: would you rather drug takers take regulated and controlled substances that have been approved by scientific evidence or random assortments of various dangerous chemicals that can be found on the streets today? Perhaps only those holding the most staunchly anti-drugs view would agree with the slightly callous latter alternative.

Although the monetary benefits of legalisations should come as an absolute second behind the health concerns, a country where drugs are legalised and regulated is one where a large amount of revenue could be generated for the government. If the same high level of taxation that is applied to cigarettes and alcohol was also given to drugs, it could prove to be a large money-making venture for the government. For obvious reasons, the exact number of pounds spent per year by people in the UK on drugs is unknown and likely to remain that way. However, what is known is that the UK spends around £3bn a year [vi] fighting the illegal drug trade; money that would be saved and could be reinvested into socially beneficial policies, if legalisation were implemented.

The benefits of drug legalisation could also be felt abroad, as well as at home. Ongoing wars between Mexican and South American cartels in Central America result in the deaths of tens of thousands of people every year. The conflict, centered on cocaine that is eventually exported to the USA and Europe, has cost the USA alone nearly $100bn over the past four years. Alternatively, looking at the potential consequences from a more humanitarian perspective, legalisation would vastly improve the lives of the many thousands of Central Americans whose lives are blighted by the trickle-down effects of cocaine being illegal in this country.

Maybe it is worth remembering also, that it was the Richard Nixon who first initiated the war on recreational drugs. In hindsight, many policies by the infamous republican have been shown to not stand the test of time. Hopefully then, the UK and whoever succeeds David Cameron as our next leader, will do the right and sensible thing for the country and end the hugely expensive, harm-promoting and generally illogical war on drugs, and instead opt for legislation that decriminalises previously illegal narcotics.


Written by Sam Morris, edited by Simon Renwick