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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January 2005, 22:05 GMT
Drugs legalisation 'not likely'
By David Raynes
National Drug Prevention Alliance

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

David Raynes sets out his views below.

David Raynes
David Raynes: the silent majority of parents worries about drugs
We must be careful about what we mean by "legalisation".

Very often those who argue for it are not precise.

Almost uniquely in the world, prescription of addictive drugs, to carefully controlled and suitable patients, has been a part of our drugs regime in the UK.

A little of that still happens but there is no great enthusiasm for more in the medical profession.

Wednesday, 12 January, 2005
2100 GMT

If we want substantially more heroin prescription, where do we get the doctors?

We are 2,000 short now and will be up to 10,000 short, according to one estimate.

What will it be from the NHS: heroin or new hips?

And what about crack cocaine - would that really ever become legal?

No. If we mean widespread availability, over the counter on something like the tobacco and alcohol model, with similar age restrictions, that is not going to happen.

Drugs tourism

The UK does not regulate the supply of drugs for so-called recreational use without reference to other states.

We are part of a community of more than 130 nations signed up to the United Nations conventions on drug misuse.

Danny Kushlick
Politics, not evidence, drives the war on drugs
Danny Kushlick

No country, alone, (as the Dutch have found to their cost) can operate a policy which is substantially more liberal than neighbours, without suffering from "drugs tourism" or, as in the Dutch situation, a larger pool of drugs-linked criminality, than it would otherwise have.

The current UK Government has emphatically stated that it does not wish for change in the UN conventions, and it is likely a Conservative Government would be no different.

As well as being careful about "legalisation" we also need to understand those other terms so deliberately used in the debate.

"Recreational use" is one, "prohibition" another.

Both these terms are used to "spin" the drugs issue to the wider public - to present all possible substances as of equal legitimacy to existing legal substances, and to misrepresent the regulation we have at present as akin to alcohol prohibition in the 1920s United States.

It is a contrived deceit.

Total harm

Most people accept that tobacco is harmful to everyone, through primary or secondary inhalation.

And alcohol, which has been part of UK culture for 1,000 and more years, is harmful to many.

Legalisation would be bound to legitimise experimentation in a way that is not legitimate now
David Raynes

Harm is really the issue.

But it is not just harm to the user. Think about the addict: harm to partners and children, social harm, lost productivity, drugged driving, health costs...

I would be for legalisation if I believed total harm would be less under such a system. But it could not be.

Currently the total size of the British illegal drug market is tiny when compared to the legal markets in tobacco and alcohol.

Legalisation could only narrow that gap with more total harm from drugs.

Despite this, there are advocates of legalisation.

But they represent nothing like the silent majority of parents who worry about getting their offspring to adulthood without them falling prey to drugs, legal or illegal, without death or their health damaged, without their academic or other potential ruined.

Just how would legalisation help those parents?


It would be bound to enlarge the market, bound to send signals about what is acceptable behaviour, and bound to make drug use an aspirational behaviour for youngsters excluded by age.

It would be bound to legitimise experimentation in a way that is not legitimate now.

Worst of all, it would reinforce the illegal market for those too young to qualify, those resistant to "registering" for a supply, or first-time users - precisely the most vulnerable groups.

Finally, there is the big lie that legalising drugs will take the criminality out of supply. What nonsense.

Illegal traders who pay no taxes of any sort can always undercut legitimate traders.

In a larger market, they will target those excluded by age, they will target poorer, more price-sensitive areas, they will produce something "a bit stronger".

They will sell counterfeit copies of legal supplies, trading in what look like legal goods being easier than trading in totally illegal goods.

What will the criminals do in this new situation and this larger potential market?

They will adapt, they will change their methods, and they will do what criminals and smugglers have done forever.

They will survive and make money out of misery.

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


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