At Last, a Way Out of Our Drugs Shame

  At Last, a Way Out of Our Drugs Shame

Posted by CN Staff on May 23, 2002 at 10:44:54 PT
By Simon Jenkins 
Source: Evening Standard 

It is time to get tough on drugs. This means getting real. The 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act has failed. London is suffering a plague of heroin and a killing field of crack cocaine. The collapse of the Taliban has replenished Afghan opium supplies and made European heroin the cheapest on record. Consumption is unregulated by law. The police have given up. Children are dying. I served on the Runciman Committee on the 1971 Act two years ago. Its conclusions are confirmed in every detail by yesterday's report of the Commons Home Affairs Committee. 
The Act and its "war on drugs" have been a catastrophe. The estimated number of addicts in Britain has risen a hundred-fold to 250,000. Three million Britons spend £7 billion a year on illegal substances. The market is beyond realistic control. My first job as a reporter on this paper was to cover the heroin queue outside the Piccadilly Boots. It was a sad assignment. Two dozen bedraggled addicts waited for the stroke of midnight and a new prescription date. They all had to register. Counsellors made an effort to help them, which some accepted. Numbers were controlled. Shortly afterwards, the 1971 Act was passed and the queue vanished. When politicians express concern at the "heroin menace", I laugh. Go to that same Piccadilly street, I say. See what you have achieved in 30 years of legislative incompetence. The 1971 Act effectively decontrolled drug supply. The market was left wide open to organised crime. The average age for becoming an addict has fallen to a shocking 15 years. A quarter of young people claim to know where to find needles. Tony Blair's drug czar, Keith Hellawell, declared that cannabis, Ecstasy and heroin were all equally bad, leaving cannabis dealers to sell smokeable heroin to children as "the same, only better". This stance, backed by Jack Straw as Home Secretary, was criminally negligent. Two years ago the Government set itself a target of cutting " drug availability and cosumption" by 25 per cent and increasing treatment by 55 per cent. In fact, consumption is rising and treatment is declining. Treatment is three times cheaper than prison and 10 times more curative. Yet the Social Services Secretary, Alastair Darling, is closing down treatment centres for failing his draconian "red-tape" inspections. Meanwhile, drug-related crime fills 40 per cent of jail cells, 60 per cent in the case of women. As for the police and Customs, seizures make no difference to supply. Busts are merely an occupational hazard of this hugely profitable trade. The market is booming as never before. The only hope is that offered by the Commons report. Heroin supply must be renationalised and consumption of heroin, methadone and diamorphine pres cribed and controlled. Those afflicted must be helped and those who prey on them must be driven out of business. This will be difficult. Local "shooting galleries" will be opposed by drugs gangsters - and their political guardians. With a legacy of 250,000 addicts nationwide, the programme will be expensive. Yet it will be cheap at the price, possibly cutting acquisitive crime by 40 per cent. On other drugs, the MPs suggest downgrading classification. They are right, for what that is worth. Ministers and committees have been arguing for years over classes of drugs. It has made no difference. Mr Blunkett said yesterday that he disagreed with the committee and would not change Ecstasy from Class A to class B. It might send "the wrong message". I wonder how many angels Mr Blunkett thinks are on the head of a pin. He should go to a London club any night of the week and see what effect his messages have. Heroin should be a Class A drug, Ecstasy should be Class B or C and cannabis Class C. Everyone, including Mr Blunkett, knows this. Nobody thinks Ecstasy is as dangerous as heroin. To pretend otherwise makes classification absurd. It leaves kids on the streets to assess the relative harm of drugs on their own. Most, but not all, know how dangerous drugs can be. Either way, Mr Blunkett's messages and classifications are no help. They are stupid. Drugs are as much a part of London's youth culture as cigarettes and alcohol. Cigarettes and alcohol are legal and regulated by law. Drugs are illegal and unregulated by law. Millions of young people do not consume drugs, but that is because they dislike them or see them as harmful, not because they are illegal. The biggest danger is that, on entering the market for cannabis and Ecstasy, they encounter high-pressure salesmanship of hard drugs. This "market integration" is what terrifies every parent. Mr Blunkett and his law are doing nothing at all to counter it. Indeed, the law promotes market integration. Legal control is the only path out of this madness. Every country is suffering from drugs, but none handles them more ineptly than Britain. A new study, Heroin Century by Rom Carnwath and Ian Smith (Routledge), points out that properly administered heroin is a cleaner and more useful narcotic than most. Its menace lies chiefly in its illegality, boosting demand and dangerously adulterating supply. The same goes for other drugs less harmful to young people. None is harmless and all are in need of regulation. The law must operate. Distribution must be taxed, licensed and controlled. Harm must be treated. Only then can traffickers and crack houses be curbed with any hope of success. Those who want to retain the present law are the defeatists, the softiesondrugs. They have had 30 years to try prohibition. They have failed. They have become the allies of traffickers and dealers, careless of the health of the young. They have lost the argument. It is time to get tough on drugs. Source: London Evening Standard (UK)Author: Simon JenkinsPublished: May 23, 2002Copyright: 2002 Associated Newspapers Ltd.Contact: letters Articles & Web Sites:DrugScope Uncovered: Observer Special't Preach, Teach Marijuana Penalties, UK Legislators Say Move Away from Retribution Signal New Era in Drugs War

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Comment #2 posted by SirReal on May 23, 2002 at 14:26:59 PT
Simon says...
Simon got his dander up on this one eh?I get the feelin the wall is coming down soon...I hope.Can't wait to send all the drug warriors off cryin and wetting their pants, worried that they will be tried for treason...
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Comment #1 posted by schmeff on May 23, 2002 at 12:40:04 PT

Simon Says...
Whoa! SIMON!!!!We must comply, Simon sez...
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