April 30th, 2008

The Biggie

Posted in The Job - Comment by 200

I’ve been working up to this one for a while… if you want to read it you’ll probably need to make sure you take regular screen breaks & have also brought something to eat; I won’t be held responsible if you collapse through malnutrition by the end of it.

What’s the biggie? Well I guess it’s one of the biggies, should drugs be legalised?

Here goes…

Drugs have been used by humans for thousands of years. We know that alcohol was used 10,000 years ago. The Sumerians used opium 5,000 years BC, 1,000 years ago opium was in widespread use across China. Tobacco came to Europe in the 1490s. Cocaine was first isolated into its pure form in 1844. In 1885 the Royal Commission on Opium concluded that it was “more like liquor than a substance to be feared and abhorred”. Heroin was first synthesised in 1898 in Germany. Coco-Cola contained cocaine until it was replaced in 1903 by caffeine.

Drug use has long been part of many cultures and in many parts of the word such use of mind-altering drugs is still commonplace and legal in some societies, one only has to look at TV documentaries exploring tribal cultures.

Drugs were not illegal prior to the last 100 years or so.

The 1961 UN convention on drug prohibition was instrumental in 150 states criminalising the production, supply & use of a selection of psychoactive substances. When the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act came in, the UK had fewer than 5,000 problematic drug users. The figure now is between 280,000 and 500,000 (mostly heroin & cocaine), depending on where you get your figures, and the substance has been illegal while billions of pounds of money has been wasted in the attempts to cut drugs use through law enforcement.

The question really arises as to why current illegal drugs have been banned and why should they remain banned. The only reason I can see that drugs have been banned is because of the possible harmful effects on health. The current high crime levels are a recent phenomena and simply didn’t exist at the time when drugs were criminalised.

If it is purely for health reasons then why not ban other drugs such as tobacco and alcohol both of which have a far greater devastating effect on health and society than drugs ever have?

It is not the role of government or society to prevent self-harm by legislation, otherwise there would be strong arguments for banning tobacco, alcohol, sports, tea, coffee, e-numbers etc etc. Government must give us the tools to explore freedom of speech, choice and expression and the knowledge to do that safely and without harm to our fellow citizens.

The Problem

UN estimates that global trade in illegal drugs is $400 billion a year which represents 8% of all international trade. It is 3rd in global trade only to oil and arms.

UK Government estimates that the annual cost of drug-related crime is £16 billion.

Customs & Excise quote that a kilo of cocaine which would cost £1,000 in South America to buy should, under normal economic conditions cost about £1500 by the time it reaches the UK but in fact costs around £30,000. Estimates of the mark-up from production to market of between 2,000 and 3,000 per cent make it the most overvalued commodity on the planet. It is purely the illegality of the drug which pushes the price so high. These costs are hugely inflated as a direct result of the risk involved in production, delivery and supply.

A study by York University for the Government estimates that every drug addict in the country costs the taxpayer £35,455 – a total of £11.9billion. It said the annual cost for policing, courts and prison terms was £10.6billion. GP visits, emergency treatment and mental health treatments was put at £1.3billion and other social costs such as the loss to the economy from users not working at £63million. The report says that this is an underestimate and does not take into account any costs associated with recreational drugs users who are able to hold down a job whilst indulging their habit.
Other estimates put the amount of problem drugs users as half a million which would take the annual cost nearer to £17billion – that’s 17,000 million pounds!

Current info suggests that the average heroin addict needs between £50 and £100 per day to fund their habit, and that the vast majority of problem addicts have no income to fund their habit so must turn to crime.

Cocaine and heroin are not in themselves particularly valuable not in the same was that gold and diamonds are valuable. The only reason that they have any value is exclusively because their production, supply and use is illegal which artificially creates high monetary values for them.
Such is the power of the criminal element who have seen drugs as a good earner that in certain countries those who hold the balance of power are those that control the drug cartels. The gross domestic product of Mexico is something like £280billion, the drugs money which goes through that country is something between £70 and £200 billion. Drugs wars in countries like Mexico & Columbia are actually wars with tens of thousands killed in the last 20 years. The amount of corruption in countries like some of those in South America is incredible and reaches to the highest government levels, all because of the trade in illegal substances.

In contrast, tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs are all easily available and affordable. They are quite legal and it can be strongly argued are more of a menace to society than illegal drugs.
Because they are so freely available the levels of crime associated with them are completely different. There is very little property crime committed by alcohol abusers (most crime associated with alcohol is violent crime), there is almost no property crime associated with tobacco users. There are 1million prescribed drug ‘addicts’ and they do not commit crime in order to get their prescriptions.
The fact that a far smaller proportion of crack & heroin users commit far more crimes is down purely and solely to the fact that their drugs are prohibitively expensive because they are illegal.

Alcohol not only harms the person taking it, it frequently kills and maims others.

The US Dept of Health estimates that 100,000 Americans die of alcohol related problems per year, 450,000 die of tobacco related problems but only 10,000 die of drug related problems. So a drug which kills 10s of thousands of people a year and is responsible for misery for millions of people is tolerated yet cannabis, which on it’s own has not been shown to have killed anyone is completely banned.

Have a look at the following figures for the USA:

Deaths in the United States in a typical year are as follows:

  •  Tobacco kills about 390,000
  •  Alcohol kills about 80,000
  •  Workplace accidents kill 60,000
  •  Automobiles kill 40,000
  •  Cocaine kills about 2,200
  •  Heroin kills about 2,000
  •  Aspirin kills about 2,000
  •  Marijuana kills 0,000

There has never been a recorded death due to marijuana at any time in US history.

All illegal drugs combined kill about 4,500 people per year, or about one percent of the number killed by alcohol and tobacco.

Tobacco kills more people each year than all of the people killed by all of the illegal drugs in the last one hundred years.

And alcohol and tobacco are legal? Go figure!!

Whilst researching this ‘essay’ I came across the following quote which I find funny-strange yet quite apt to my own viewpoint:
Anheuser-Busch, brewers of Budweiser, hair-test employees to be sure that they are not using any drugs less dangerous than the one they make.”

There are something in the order of 1.7million people in US jails, 80 per cent are there for drug-related offences & 10million have been arrested for cannabis possession since 1965. Think of the cost.

Many thousands of people have a criminal record as a direct result of a policy which treats criminalisation of drugs on a lottery basis. If you happen to choose the one which is legal you’re OK despite the greater risks to yourself and the greater costs to society, whereas if you choose cannabis which causes far less problems you will get a criminal record and possibly a prison sentence despite otherwise good characters. I bet there are people reading this now who have smoked cannabis or have friends and relatives who have or do smoke cannabis but who have never committed any other single crime. So you use drugs, get a criminal record and then suffer the social consequences of having a criminal record. Drug prohibition has turned otherwise law abiding citizens into criminals

A survey of 150 long-term addicts in a particular clinic showed that about 100 of them had been spending £700 a week on drugs which amounts to £36,400 a year. The survey also showed that each one of these people had previously been imprisoned for an average of four years…. at a cost of £24,000 for each year of imprisonment. That’s £36,400 of other people’s money and you can bet the probably had to steal 5-10 times that amount in real value to accrue a resale value equating to £36,000

Law Enforcement

Current policy is a failure. Eighty per cent of addicts found guilty of a crime and sent into compulsory rehab under a Drug Testing and Treatment Order (DTTO) re-offend within two years. Those not forced into rehab have a 71 per cent re-conviction rate. And the figure for those put on probation and given community sentences is best of all at 66 per cent. It’s incredible how people who have no treatment for their problem have a higher success rate staying off drugs than those who are forced to undergo drug treatment programmes.
Custom and Excise officers only seize an estimated 10% of illegal drugs entering the country. Addicts need to raise huge amounts of money to pay for their habit.

There is more law enforcement targeted throughout the world at anti-drugs operations than any time in the history of the planet yet the drugs problem is at its worst, surely this should show the complete and abject failure of governments to prevent the ever increasing spiral of drugs misuse? Does anyone reading this think that drugs are now harder to get than when they were kids? They’re probably cheaper than they were 10 years ago.

We spend billions of pounds a year fighting something which only does so much harm because someone somewhere decided to pick it from a list of harmful substances and ban it, whilst leaving more harmful substances completely legal. AND WE’RE WASTING OUR MONEY!


It all leads up to this really and I can’t pretend to have a definitive answer but I do think that it is a better solution than we have now.

Legalise Drugs.

And I don’t mean open sweetie shops selling them to anyone who wants them, I mean legally regulated and controlled. Policies in Holland, Portugal, Switzerland & Russia are seeing some drugs decriminalised. We already have a system for handing out drugs through pharmacies and doctors where people can get good quality health advice and guidance and don’t need to jack up using shared needles round the back of some derelict crack house.

Take production out of the hands of the drugs barons, produce a product which is not mixed with baking powder or anything else that happens to be lying around, which is as safe as it can be and is of measured quantity so you know how much to take and don’t need to risk an OD.

Bring the price down to a reasonable economic level and not one based on an illicit trade with mark-ups of 2000%. Which will cut crime levels dramatically. Even if you’re a complete cynic, if a drug user’s £100 a day habit is cut to £1 a day he has to rob an awful lot fewer old ladies a year.

Maybe open up clinics where people can take drugs in relative safety with medical staff on hand to help, advice and initiate drugs treatment programmes.

Proper investment in successful treatment programmes, not ones which cost millions and have an 80% failure rate. The very fact that the only way to get on a drug treatment programme is to get convicted at court and have it as part of the sentence or be very rich and go to that place all the footballers and pop stars go makes it impossible to get help without entering the spiral of crime/prison. I don’t have much experience of drug taking but I do know that there aren’t many people who actually want to be hooked on drugs. The fact that drug taking is largely the domain of the socially deprived can’t be coincidental.

Proper education from an early age based on reality. There is little point in telling someone that drugs are evil & horrible and you might die, if what they actually see is that some drugs can be quite pleasurable and people aren’t dying. Tell people the truth about drugs. Expect that some people will experiment but give them the tools and support to understand their actions and consequences and give them the support to stop.

The argument that making drugs legal merely to cut the crime rate is like making burglary legal is a total spurious argument. With all other crimes there is a victim; it can be argued that the only victim in drugs misuse is the user, therefore the analogy is a completely false one. And it’s not about legalising drugs so there are less crimes on the figures, it’s about minimising the real and huge effects these particualr crimes have on real people every day in every town up and down the whole country, including the massive massive financial loss these people have to suffer.

You may say if we legalise drugs there will be many more users and that may be the case, but those users won’t be committing crime to fund their habit and your mum won’t be as frightened to walk down the street in case she gets mugged by a druggie and there will be more money in the pot to fund drug treatment, education and a whole host of other things which we could fund having made billions of pounds of savings by decriminalising drugs. I’m not so sure that millions of people will be whooping it up in the streets because they are now allowed to take heroin. The vast majority of us know the risks and choose not to do it, but if we do try and, and get hooked we can say it’s our own choice, we don’t commit crime to fund it, we’ll probably still have a job and who are you lot to ban us from our pleasure, just like smokers do now!

Legalisation is not a cure-all; people will still die and there will still be an illegal market (although much smaller) as there is in any commodity. But it seems to me to offer more to society than the current outlook.

I don’t think it is acceptable to say to my neighbour when all her worldly goods have disappeared and her husband has been battered over the head and had his wallet and mobile phone nicked that we could have prevented it but we didn’t because it is all the fault of some scumbag drug-taker.
Taking a different approach to the way we deal with drugs is not about treating the minority of society who can’t be arsed to work and just want to sit around all day doing heroin and taking handouts; it’s about protecting the important people in life from harm, crime and an ever downward spiral of social disintegration and in order to do that, you just might have to adopt a new radical approach, ‘cos the one we’ve had since 1961 has completely and utterly failed.


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