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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January 2005, 22:04 GMT
Drugs legalisation: 'when, not if'
By Danny Kushlick
Director, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

As the government's war against drugs continues, two personal and opposing accounts argue the case for and against legalisation.

Danny Kushlick sets out his views below.

Danny Kushlick
Danny Kushlick: deregulation spawns violence and corruption
The chances are that most of us will live to see drugs prohibition replaced with a system of regulation and control.

By 2020, if Transform's timeline is right, the criminal market will have been forced to relinquish its control of the drug trade and government regulation will be the norm.

Users will no longer "score" from unregulated dealers.

Instead, they will buy their drugs from specialist pharmacists or licensed retailers.

IF... DRUGS WERE LEGAL
BBC Two
Wednesday, 12 January, 2005
2100 GMT

Or those with a clinical need will obtain them via a prescription.

At its simplest, this is all legalisation, control and regulation will mean - shopping and visiting the doctor.

It is simply a question of transferring the policy paradigm of management to currently illegal drugs.

Cut the drama

One of the problems for those wanting to dramatise a world where currently illegal drugs are legal is the distinct lack of drama involved.

Drug prohibition, in collision with vast numbers of users, creates a situation where drama underlies the entire business.

By abrogating responsibility for the trade through the failure to prohibit it, the market is gifted to organised criminals and unregulated dealers.

The UK drug market is valued at 6.6 bn.

The global market could be as much as 100bn, dwarfed only by the trade in oil and arms.

THE ALTERNATIVE VIEW
David Raynes
Legalisation could only bring more total harm from drugs
David Raynes

The consequent deregulation of the market at the international level spawns violence, corruption and political and economic destabilisation - witness Afghanistan, Latin America, the Caribbean and south east Asia.

At a national level, our prisons are twice as full as they would be without prohibition, property crime is doubled, and the cost of prohibition-related crime is 16bn a year (more than the entire Home Office budget).

Your taxes - that the government spends on prohibition - actively make your environment a worse place in which to live.

And you are being duped into supporting a policy that makes drugs more dangerous and more chaotic.

Misery

At a community level prohibition-related street prostitution is endemic, street dealing and turf wars are the norm in larger cities, and prohibition is responsible for more than half of all burglaries, shoplifting, thefts from vehicles and robberies.

Drugs and their misuse are not responsible for this mayhem and misery.

Prohibition is.

(Note that there is no property crime related to fundraising to support a tobacco habit, even though users require up to 60 hits a day and tobacco withdrawal and abstinence are difficult to deal with).

Taking pills in a nightclub
Politics, not evidence, drives the war on drugs
Danny Kushlick

With regard to tobacco, gambling and drinking, both John Reid and Tessa Jowell have clearly stated recently that prohibition doesn't work.

A useful question to ask is: what are the successful commodity prohibitions of the last hundred years?

If you are struggling to remember any successful prohibitions, it may be because there are none.

Politics, not evidence, drives the war on drugs.

You may well ask why we persist with prohibition if there is no evidence that it is effective.

In short, the answer is politics - with a very big "p".

The war is not fought because it is effective; it is fought because it suits politicians to fight it.

US and UK domestic and foreign policy are now intimately intertwined with prohibition.

With regard to domestic policy, prohibition identifies convenient scapegoats and drug-war enemies to rally the electorate around.

Many law enforcement agencies have an investment in prohibition.

Prison builders, police, customs, CIA, MI5, and the FBI are funded to a great extent to fight the war on drugs.

Breaking point?

The drug war is also enormously useful to the US in continuing its adventures in foreign countries in which it has an interest - see Latin America, Afghanistan, the Middle East, south east Asia and the Caribbean.

Global prohibition is enforced through the UN (for which read US). It is supported by more than 150 UN member states, many of whom - including the UK - do not wish to fall foul of the US.

Prohibition will end when the enormously destructive consequences of its continued enforcement become too much for the system to bear, despite its attractive political benefits.

And all the evidence points to the fact that we are approaching that point.

Transform estimates that 15 years maximum is as much more prohibition as we can all stand.

When it goes we will wonder why we did not end it earlier, and our trust in our politicians will take yet another dive.

We can only hope that it happens sooner rather than later and that we can pass on a less melodramatic drug policy to our children.


Danny Kushlick was a contributor to BBC Two's If... Drugs Were Legal, broadcast on Wednesday, 12 January, 2005, at 2100 GMT.




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