With the recent release of a government report highlighting that there is “no obvious” link between tough laws and levels of illegal drug use, there surely needs to be a change of direction in drugs policy. Since the dawn of the recreational drug revolution, governments across the world have attempted to curtail the distribution and consumption of a multitude of narcotics. As is becoming increasingly clear, the original goal of these policies – to stop people from consuming drugs – has comprehensively failed. Nowhere is the whiff of cannabis stronger than on numerous university campuses around Britain.
Instead, the government are spending millions every year combating the illicit drugs trade, an enterprise that – like bootleggers in Prohibition America – has arisen in response to demand. If current policies reflected scientific evidence rather than the outdated assumption that the threat of punishment is any form of deterrent, then these criminals would be significantly weakened. Indeed, it is the fact that drugs policy fails to respond to evidence that is so infuriating.
In 2009 Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson sacked Professor David Nutt, the Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), after the Professor was critical of the government’s decision to reclassify Cannabis from Class C to B. Nutt, with some legitimacy, accused ministers of politicising drugs policy by distorting the available evidence to suit their own agenda. At the time, Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne said, “What is the point of having independent scientific advice if as soon as you get some advice that you don’t like, you sack the person who has given it to you?”
Equally shocking was current Home Secretary Theresa May’s decision to ban the stimulant khat, which has mild stimulant effects and is popular amongst many African communities. The ACMD said in relation to khat that there was insufficient evidence to suggest that its consumption causes health problems. The end result of this policy is that minority communities from countries such as Somalia are being defined as criminals when all they are doing is consuming something that is part of their culture. As the ACMD points out, ‘there remains a demand for khat even in those countries where it is prohibited,’ making May’s decision all the more ridiculous.
The consequence of this policy will be that the sale and distribution of khat will transfer to the hands of criminals, who will use the revenue generated to expand their enterprise and move into other illicit operations. Imagine the billions of pounds saved every year from fighting drug related crime if a policy of decriminalisation and legalisation was implemented. A significant chunk of this saving could be transferred to educating children about the dangers and drawbacks of different drugs. An additional potential benefit would be the tax revenue generated from the sale of certain drugs which could provide the Treasury with much needed additional income. Undoubtedly, the time has come for an evidence-based approach to drugs policy, yet the blinkered politicians in Westminster will continue to dig their heels in as part of an effort to maintain and extend the nanny state.