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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Who's winning the drugs war?
Being tough on drugs is a refrain from all major political parties, but which one has the policies most likely to reduce drugs crime and get users off the hard drugs like cocaine and heroin?
Labour has launched a 10-year anti drugs strategy, appointed a drugs tsar and introduced tougher sentences for dealers.
The Conservatives are consulting about their controversial policy of fixed penalties for all drugs offences. Critics claimed that would give a criminal record to first time cannabis users.
The Liberal Democrats want a wider debate on drugs and have called for a Royal Commission on cannabis use. They say both the government and the Conservatives are behind public opinion on the issue of drugs.
What do you think is the answer to the drugs problem? Is zero tolerance the answer or should drugs like cannabis be made legal? Are politicians generally out of step with the public mood on this contentious issue?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The drugs problem is primarily a foreign policy issue. There is too much supply abroad and too many opportunities to bring it into this country. If the price was astronomical then people would be less tempted to try it.
Paul R, UK
People talk about legalising "soft drugs" like cannabis. Where does it stop? The only reason the government would do this is to improve crime statistics. I say get tougher, treat the users and the dealers for what they are: trash. Lock them up and throw away the key and make this world a better place.
Judging from the very many intelligent views put forward here, it would seem the majority of the general public are far more advanced than the politicians. The so-called war on drugs (in reality, a war on personal freedom) has been an unmitigated disaster with an inevitable end result - an explosion of drug use and massive profits for organised crime. Views expressed in your forum by Rob Nelson or politicians such as Jack Straw or Ann Widdicombe represent the irrational, paranoid, knee-jerk extreme. As much as they would like to look down on someone who chooses to take particular substances as "trash, who should be locked up", I cannot help but wonder how they would feel if the government of the day took an extreme view with other dangerous narcotics such as alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.
Switzerland, Holland and Germany have now decriminalised cannabis use. Have they subsequently become anarchic states full of crime-ridden addicts? I think not, although I have heard that the dealers are having a hard time.
My friend's son died because of drugs. However, one major problem that is never mentioned is the reason that farmers in some countries grow the plants that produce these dreadful substances. Often it is because of unjust international trade rules, and it is the only way they can make a living. The economies of some third world countries would collapse without drugs income.
Pete Bowler, Knutsford, England
End the Drugs War, end the problem.
I believe we can look to the Middle East and many Asian countries on this matter. The law is not tough enough. How is it there is very little drugs abuse, in Saudi Arabia for example. Bringing back capital punishment would solve half of this country's crime problems, not to mention drugs.
Does anyone bother to find out the truth about drugs today? Cannabis should be legalized as soon as possible because of its many possibilities. It has been used throughout the past as a source of paper, clothes, rope/netting, and food and also for its medicinal properties. Do you know anyone who suffers from cancer, MS, Aids or even migraine? These people could be treated with cannabis. In my opinion the prohibition of cannabis is inhumane and stupid. I wish people would bother to find out about cannabis before dismissing it as evil or harmful.
Kellie, West Yorkshire
I am happy to abide by the laws of the land where my actions affect others but I will never accept that I don't have the right to put what ever I like into my body in the privacy of my own home. I'm for totally legalising all drugs. It would guarantee their quality and it would put the dealers out of business overnight. However I don't think I would be happy paying tax on them.
Drugs should never be a legal issue. Dependency is a medical problem and should be treated as such. All drugs should be legal and available to anyone who wants them. For example, if heroin were available from GPs we would be able to keep people on heroin at a cost of just a few pounds per day. Heroin (diamorphine) is available to doctors at around £1.33 per 'hit'. Many long-term addicts are paying up to £20 per hit for very bad quality heroin. Most addicts have to turn to crime to fund a habit that costs them up to £200 per day. Purity is a big problem with street drugs, and unknown strength is often a factor in overdose cases.
Mark T, Rural UK
The only group of people who would benefit from maintaining current drugs law are the criminals. There are a lot of very powerful and smart people within this group. MI5 and the like are probably in favour of such prohibition so unfortunately I don't think the public will find out for a while. Still it might make some interesting history one day!
Politicians are frightened people who care most about garnering popular support, not proposing sensible policies.
On the matter of drugs, judicious legalization would contribute to a fall in crime and decriminalize the innocent and harmless activity of tens of thousands. The Liberal Democrats are closest to recognizing this.
Drugs is one issue where all the political parties should put aside their differences and unite in the war against the illegal drugs trade which devastates so many families throughout the United Kingdom.
Phillip Porteous, Cumbria
The war against drugs was lost in 1967. Anti-drug efforts continue, not because of concerns for our health but because some of these drugs represent a counterculture. The establishment has waged a pitiful, indeed dangerous, propaganda offensive for over 30 years. People know that the authorities lie about the dangers of soft drugs and thus fail to heed the more accurate warnings about harder drugs.
If I look at the Tories, especially Miss Widdecombe I think she sums up the direction that they are going towards. Basically, let's lock up all those that don't follow the laws that we stand for. Any sensible politician will avoid the topic of cannabis, because it does less harm than alcohol. People who get drunk tend to be less tolerant and become violent, whereas people who smoke cannabis are more tolerant and peaceful. But I guess tolerance is not something that the Tories are big on. I hope like Ted Heath that they suffer a really big defeat: maybe they will then vote for a more sensible leader.
Drugs is a totally uncontrollable problem and I've got an excellent answer - legalise marijuana, stop the dealers and sort out the economy in this country all in one easy move! The easiest place to buy soft drugs is at school.
The so called "menace of drugs" is a farce. From a medical viewpoint, tobacco is far worse than the majority of illegal drugs. From a social viewpoint, far more people die from smoking tobacco than from either ecstasy or cannabis (about 300,000 from smoking in the last 3 years; about 50 from ecstasy). When are the politicians going to stop being hypocrites and make tobacco illegal. It poisons our children and gives them numerous diseases. Oh wait, what about the tax? Darn!
James, London, UK
The two leading parties need to accept that there will be recreational drug use no matter what policies they adopt. It is their aim to reduce it, but in some cases, like cannabis, it may be worth exploring alternatives beyond the current party line, and decriminalising or legalising. At least then they can control the quality. Tougher sentences will make no difference. Prison as a punishment does not work, and the fact that reported drug use has increased signifies a change in public opinion. Blair wants a second chance - here's an issue he can make a real difference on.
If cannabis is considered a gateway drug by Keith Halliwell, maybe he should ask himself why? I can tell him that it is only because it remains illegal and therefore forces regular users to inevitably come into contact with dealers of other harder drugs. When will the politicians wake up and stop criminalizing millions of young people who use recreational drugs like cannabis and ecstasy?
Start off with the decriminalisation of cannabis. Give licences to approved dealers to open shops. Close down the knife/machete/gun wielding pimp/dealers who take over the flats of vulnerable people on our estates and terrorise the local community.
Why don't we legalise the lot? if your preamble is to be believed, crime would be reduced by a third!!!
Matt, Wakefield, England
Surely people like William Hague and Tony Blair should know the answer to such questions, but they obviously spend too much time fighting over the PM post to worry and actually get something done about such problems. Please tell them to sort it out!
I've just thought of another benefit of legalisation - it could generate lots of business for those local chemists that everyone is so worried about with the collapse of drug price maintenance.
Although I strongly discourage anyone from taking all drugs, barring alcohol, how can any government legitimise interfering in the private sphere? What possible harm can someone taking ecstasy (for example) in their own home have on someone else? Legalise drugs, sell them through chemists, eradicate the dealers overnight and spent the money wasted on the drug war on better policing.
When will we as a society grow up? It makes no sense imprisoning people for doing what they want. As a society we should educate people about the possible dangers of drugs abuse, and allow them to decide what goes into their bodies. The main problem with drugs today is that those hooked on drugs commit crime to fund their habit. If legalised, the price would instantly come down tenfold. An addict with a £4 a day habit does not need to commit crime to fund it. Money that is being spent on drugs should be redirected into the health service and education.
Paddy Ryan, Leeds
It is a profoundly naive policy to dictate that there will be zero tolerance for drug use. We are going to increase drinking hours, yet the harmful effects of alcohol are well known - rightly so, as I believe the drinking laws in this country need to change. Why is it that politicians can't admit that a war against drugs will never be won? Too many people are using drugs recreationally/medically throughout the country.
In California by popular vote the first two times a person is convicted of drug use or minor possession they will be sent to drug treatment! I don't know what the "drug war" is doing to your courts, jails, prisons and levels of police services but here up to two thirds of jail inmates and state prisoners are in for mostly petty drug offences. The courts are clogged up with these cases and police are spending inordinate amounts of money and time. The people of California woke up to this expense with a common sense alternative.
Can we include in this war, the war on alcohol? Why is it okay to wean our children onto this drug with "alco-pop" drinks. We should class it as "drug-pushing" and not be so surprised when the crime figures go up with the same rate of sales of this drug.
Dave Jenkins, London
What is of more concern to the general public, the use of drugs or the crime related to the drug industry? I suggest that it is the latter. From burglaries and muggings by individuals seeking enough money for the next 'fix', to the organised drug suppliers, this is a multi-billion pound industry. The obvious solution is to legalise the drugs and remove the supplier profit incentive. We should have learned this lesson from prohibition in America. Unfortunately, this legalisation would have to be worldwide to be effective, and there is no way this would ever be agreed upon, but perhaps some of our politicians should have the guts to try.
The answers are obvious. The dealers are winning the "war on drugs", and zero tolerance can't work. Look at America, or talk to any police officer. Most politicians and the media are wildly out of touch. But does ANY government have the steel to open this up to a proper debate? I doubt it.
There will never be a sensible debate on drugs as long as the media and politicians remain terrified of alienating those ignorant of drug culture, who are in the majority. Politicians know that if pub-goers smoke dope instead of drinking, there would be practically no resulting violence - domestic or otherwise, less vandalism, less burglary and a huge reduction in other anti-social pastimes. But the very fact that the present government is promising to "reform" licensing laws while refusing to look at the drugs issue in a sensible light fills me with horror. It is depressing the way the media harp on about the admittedly tragic deaths caused by ecstasy while ignoring the deaths from alcohol and tobacco. The Liberal Democrats are the only party who have anything like a common sense approach to this issue.
Phil from the UK is spot on. We should remind ourselves that the war on drugs is really just a war on certain drugs.
The UK, Europe and, indeed, most of the world sensibly did not go along with the prohibition of alcohol in the last century. Why then are we attempting to prohibit drugs of similar or lesser toxicity than alcohol or tobacco in this century?
I have felt much safer in Amsterdam surrounded by cannabis smokers than in a pub with drunken yobs. A sensible approach would seem to be well overdue and so far only one party seems to be taking this subject realistically.
I smoke weed everyday and still have a job. Weed isn't a so-called gateway drug - I would have taken ecstasy and cocaine even if I had never smoked weed or cigarettes in my life. The very suggestion that this is what happens is a farce brought about from America. People are still taking drugs so get over it and deal with it.
Russ F, Bristol
The only mainline party talking sense is the Lib Dems. But even they have missed the crucial point, namely, what is a drug? As an ordained priest I believe all things in creation are good, as declared by God in Genesis 1. Good, I believe, includes social use of any plant, as well as medical. All drugs should be freely available without any fuss, and the money going through the chemists' tills should go to education and appropriate counselling where needed.
There should be no let-up on drugs. We also need to combat the conveyor belt that feeds drugs. Vandalism and intimidation on our estates. Criminal prosecution for parents who allow their children to run amuck..
Terry McAnish, Basingstoke England
Cannabis in my opinion does not affect health to a large enough degree to be criminalized. Yes, smoking anything is bad but smoking is a personal choice and generally law-abiding citizens who contribute to society should not be cast out for smoking a joint. How can you have one law for smoking a cigarette and another for a joint? Cannabis is smoked by people from all walks of life. If we were to prosecute every cannabis smoker we would make society suffer much more than if we didn't prosecute anybody.
As far as hard drugs are concerned I feel that they should be supplied by doctors in a clean form free of charge for people with addictions. This would lessen addicts' need to steal and pay the exorbitant prices the dealers command.
I think we should legalise the lot. Slap a tax on them and sell them on the open market. The tax revenues could be used to fund the NHS and as long as the prices set weren't out of reach, there would be a lot less incentive for junkies to commit crime to pay for their habits.
The war on drugs has been one of the most futile and destructive wars of the 20th century. It's basically a child of American alcohol prohibition which virtually created organised crime in the States.
It is also the product of a completely outdated kind of capitalist paternalism which forbids the proletariat anything that might impair their value as "units of production".
If politicians had the guts to face up to the biggest U-turn in the history of the century they'd have abandoned it twenty years ago.
Zero tolerance is definitely not the answer. Look at countries like Thailand where death is the ultimate penalty. This has not deterred anyone as statistics will reveal. People have used drugs since the beginning of time and will continue to do so indefinitely. Drugs are being used by various people for different reasons but it will be extremely foolish to imagine that draconian legislation will do anything to deter drug use. Society should take note of this fact and stop spending obscene amounts of money on drug enforcement that obviously is ineffective. Drug education should form part of our education system and the rest should be up to the indivdual. Cannabis should be legalised as it has been in various countries and taxed like tobacco to fund the drug education programme.
Heroin (diamorphine) has been used medically for years. That's how it got its name. Patients called it their 'heroine'. Cannabis will shortly be available in tablet form for medical use under supervision. Let's not confuse medical use of drugs with social use for which there should rightly be zero tolerance.
I have to say the Liberal Democrats seem to be the only party even looking in the right direction on the drug issues ,of course there should be a public debate. Politicians need to understand what drugs are about and what the real affects of them are on the people of England.
Steven Andrews, Greater Manchester
Until the early 1970's it was possible for an addict to obtain a free supply of heroin, cocaine or similar drugs from licensed doctors, on prescription. Because of a small problem with a couple of doctors and the unfortunate death of a few junkies, the powers that be decided to bring in the current disastrous legislation. A suggestion- continue to make the supply of certain drugs unlawful and punish pushers with automatic mandatory long jail sentences, and at the same time provide all addicts the hard drugs they desire so much. With no profit to be made the pushers should disappear, the existing addicts could be in time rehabilitated and the innocent public subjected to less crime.
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