Legalising Drugs Will Save Lives 

Legalising Drugs Will Save Lives 
Posted by CN Staff on August 25, 2002 at 14:17:01 PT
By Danny Kushlick 
Source: Observer UK
A couple of weeks ago I got a call from Dave Hoskins. His son died a couple of years ago after taking ecstasy. After his son's death, Dave embarked on a publicity campaign in his town that involved standing outside clubs with a poster sized picture of his son, warning against the dangers of drugs. He had also teamed up with Paul Betts - father of Leah who had also died after taking E. It would be an understatement to say that legalisation was not his preferred option for controlling drugs.
He had rung to speak to me after seeing the evidence session to the Home Affairs Committee (HAC) inquiry into UK drug policy, in which my colleagues and I had argued for the legalisation, control and regulation of drugs. As a result of seeing our evidence Dave had decided to back our calls for legalisation. This is an astonishing turnaround for a man who has undergone the horror of the experience of the death of his child. Until his son's death from a heroin overdose, Fulton Gillespie was a student of the "hang 'em and flog 'em" school of drug policy. He now believes that a legalised system of heroin distribution might have saved his son's life.Mary Smith is a founder of Knowle West Against Drugs (KWADS). KWADS was one of the first community-led mothers against drugs groups to be set up in the UK. It is now one of the premier street drug agencies in Bristol. Mary's son was a problematic heroin user and a major pain in the arse for his mum and the community in which they lived. For years I debated the merits of legalisation with Mary while she pointed out the error of my ways. She recently announced that she was now supporting legalisation as the most sensible way of dealing with drugs in her community.I have nothing but respect for the way that these individuals have come around, overcoming their hurt, anger and grief to take on a position of pragmatic harm reduction. It is their willingness to accept the reality of drug use and misuse that underlies their respective positions. The fantasists On the other side Professor Susan Greenfield, Melanie Phillips, Peter Hitchens and Clare Gerada (spokesperson for the Royal College of GPs) appear to inhabit a fantasy world where young people can be persuaded to spend their hours playing hoopla and tinkering with the mechanisms of their fob watches. Professor Greenfield asked in last week's Observer "Do we really want a drug culture lifestyle in the UK?" My dear professor, we already have one. And it cannot be stopped. Although cannabis is at the more benign end of this culture, it cannot be denied that cannabis can be used dangerously. And, yes professor, it does "make you see the world in a different way" and does literally "leave its mark on how our neurons are wired up". That is why people smoke it. And this is exactly why we must control and regulate its production and distribution. No drug is made safer left in the hands of organised criminals and unregulated dealers. Those of us calling for legalisation, control and regulation wish to see the criminal elements removed from the business and the end of the deregulation of the production and distribution of powerful psychoactive drugs. Cannabis (and indeed all drugs) must be legalised not because it is safe, but precisely because it is potentially dangerous.It's prohibition what done itProfessor Greenfield spuriously asserts that the argument for legalising drugs is analagous to legalising mugging or burglary. Both these activities have a direct negative effect on other people. Stealing other people's property is a substantively different activity than rewiring one's neurons and does not warrant comparison. Those who argue that drugs cause crime forget that it is the very policy of prohibition (not the use of the drugs themselves) that creates illegal drug markets and the property crime committed by problematic users. In his evidence to the HAC, Terry Byrne of Customs and Excise (C&E) gave the biggest clue as to why prohibition creates the very problems it is intended to solve. When asked if the efforts of C&E affected the price and availability of drugs at street level, he replied: "Prices are as low as they have ever been. There is no sign that the overall attack on the supply side is reducing availability or increasing the price." However, he did counter this with this comment on how C&E affects prices at wholesale level: "The price of a kilo of cocaine in South America is £1000. It should cost about £1500 by the time it reaches the UK, but it actually costs £30 000." Herein lies a significant problem at the heart of prohibition - the thirty-fold increase in value of this illegally traded commodity. This may be a useful performance indicator for officials at Customs and Excise but the effects of this price hike are monumentally destructive. When combined with a huge level of demand, it makes the trade so lucrative that it becomes a magnet for organised crime. The UN estimates the value of the global trade at $400 billion a year (8% of international trade). The Home Office estimate for the UK is £6.6 billion. The amount of money involved is now so vast that no law enforcement agency can possibly halt the trade. The massive premium added by Terry Byrne and his colleagues leads to the high price of heroin and cocaine at street level is what fuels half all shoplifting, burglary, vehicle crime and theft.Withdrawing from prohibitionOur addiction to prohibition is based on a fantasy world in which our children can be kept safe from drug-related harm: through the UN Drug Control Programme's activities to stop Afghan farmers growing heroin, by talking up the dangers of cannabis, by locking up dealers and by showing pictures of dead young men and women.Our children are not made safer as a consequence of prohibition; they are in fact in much more danger. From Bogata to Brixton prohibition is killing and causing untold misery to countless millions. The fantasy of successful prohibition must end in order that we can see and engage with the reality of drug use in the twenty-first century. Embracing a prohibition-free lifestyleLegalisation is not a cure-all, however. Drug users young and old will still die as a result of using drugs and there will always be a small illegal market. We have a stark choice: accept the reality of drugs in an adult fashion and manage the drugs market, or deny it and abrogate control to unregulated dealers and gangsters. Legalisation will produce a massive reduction in the problems surrounding drug use and create a context for an evidence-based analysis of what works in drug policy. The debate is being held back at present by a well-intentioned but misguided group of people who prefer the false safety of their fantasy (a world protected by prohibition) to facing up to the very real dangers of a society where illegal drugs are freely available with no controls at all. There is nothing more dangerous than social policy built on escapist desires. It is never too late to relinquish the hold that prohibition has and embrace a prohibition-free lifestyle.Danny Kushlick is director of Transform -- -- the campaign for effective drug policy.Note: Parents at the sharp end of drugs tragedies have taken a courageous stand against laws that harm, argues a leading campaigner for legalisation in response to Susan Greenfield's Observer commentary.Drugs Uncovered: Observer Special : Observer, The (UK)Author: Danny KushlickPublished: Sunday, August 25, 2002 Copyright: 2002 The ObserverContact: letters Articles & Web Sites:Drugs Uncovered: Observer Special's the Cannabis Ban that is Dangerous Real Danger of Cannabis
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on August 26, 2002 at 08:50:51 PT:
How much is fantasy...and how much is
just plain meanness?This isn't a rhetorical question. Many of you who've been here for some time know I like to speculate as to the mental origins of prohibitionism. When distilled down to it's purest form, prohibitionism is nothing but minority control of the majority. People who practice this particular form of behavior are called authoritarians.Definition of authoritarian:·thor·i·tar·i·an  Pronunciation Key (-thôr-târ-n, -thr-, ô-thôr-, ô-thr-)
1.) Characterized by or favoring absolute obedience to authority, as against individual freedom: an authoritarian regime. 
2.) Of, relating to, or expecting unquestioning obedience. See Synonyms at dictatorial.Such people get angry if they tell you not to 'put beans in your ears' and you do so. The harmlessness or harmfulness of the activity has little to do with anything; the fact that tobacco and alcohol are still legal despite their demonstrated short and long term lethality is proof of this. It's the perception that you must unquestioningly adhere to their rules, no matter how irrational - and they get angry with you if you don't - which is the real motivation behind much of the public expression of displeasure they make.Their private thoughts concerning what should be done with such people as those who 'defy' them occasionally leak out. Such as Billy Bennett's fond wish to behead us, or Darryl Gate's wet-dream of taking us out, Saigon Tet-of-1968 police chief style, and summarily execute us with a bullet to the head.As I mentioned before, this is the action of a minority. A minority who views themselves as being the only 'authority' on illicit substances and as such, are the only ones able to deal with the problem...which has been made much worse by their actions. The author has been way too kindly towards the hard core zealots that have caused so much societal damage with their ostensibly good intentions. That some of these people who previously had bought the anti propaganda 'hook, line and sinker' are now turning away from anti organizations means that hope for change is even greater now than before.A pity they aren't more vocal...
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