Archive for July 3rd, 2009

July 3rd, 2009

Doing the impossible

Posted in The Job - Comment by 200

I am no expert on drugs & drug crime. I never worked on the drugs squad though I did my fair share of drug raids & arrests of both users & dealers in my time.

One thing my limited knowledge of drug crime & its devastating effects on both the economy & the millions of victims has taught me is that the last 40 years of the war on drugs has not worked & there is nothing I have seen in any government policy or legislation which leads me to believe any change is imminent.

I have long been a proposer of radical thinking on anti-drugs policy, so it is with interest that I saw Mark Easton, of the BBC’s piece on Portugal’s response to fighting the menace of drugs.

Portugal hasn’t legalised drugs, though this is what the headlines might show; they have de-criminalised the personal use of drugs.

On 1st July 2001 Portugal announced that the purchase, possession & use of any previously illegal substances would no longer be viewed as a criminal offense.

Health & social workers can now assist users to use ‘clean’ drugs paraphernalia & guide users on police-free drug rehabilitation programmes.

HIV infections & drug related deaths have fallen dramatically.

One of the  biggest objections to the legalisation of drugs is that it would open the floodgates to everyone who previously were desperate to take drugs but were only stopped for fear of breaking the law. It’s interesting to note that Portugal’s eight-year experience does not bear this out. Figures suggest there to have been a fall in drugs use of 10% across the country. Use by school-age children shows some dramatic falls; approximately 25% fall un use of cannabis & 50% fall in the use of ecstasy, cocaine & amphetamines. The use of heroin & LSD is also down.

Whatever the figures there is no evidence that any use of illegal substances has risen as a result of the relaxing of the law in Portugal. The truth is that some people will take drugs whether it is illegal or not & most people would not take drugs even if you stood on street corners handing it out free.

Drug trafficking remains a serious offence in Portugal but those caught with drugs for personal use are sent to a local drugs dissuasion commission panel which encourages drugs education & treatment.

Since Portugal changed its policy 10 other EU countries have de-criminalised the possession of some if not all illegal substances.

Here in Britain we seem to have a policy which is not clear in its purpose & is a hybrid of mixed messages; possession of drugs is still a criminal offence. Cannabis possession has just been put back into a more serious category after the government experiment to move it from class B to C was deemed an error, yet 80% of people caught with an illegal substance are given a caution or a warning & less than 1% (about 1,000 people a year) are sent to prison.

With so many of the government’s policies, it seems the bark is worse than the bite which leads to a wishy-washy approach which looks good in the soundbites but actually does absolutely nothing to address the issue.