Friday 14 December 2012

Downing Street "Domestic"

The drugs legalisation debate has started up again and overnight I read that this has turned into a "domestic" between the PM and Deputy PM who are scowling at each other across the Downing Street breakfast table - see the story here.

I am sceptical of some claims of a direct correlation between drug use and specific mental illnesses but I am in no doubt that drug use is a major contributor to mental health problems and a major obstacle preventing many people with a mental illness from recovering. However, I may be missing something but I cannot work out how legalisation could assist in diminishing drug use - which is surely everybody's objective aside from a few ghouls who celebrate intoxication and addiction.

Of course not legalising drugs doesn't mean authorities can't act proportionately. So, for example, most people agree that there is rarely any point in prosecuting individual users - and that is indeed the usual practice of the police. But the illegal status of drugs does give the authorities some leverage to push those who are at risk from their addiction towards treatment and recovery.

The illegal nature of supply obviously creates its own problems and risks and, yes, you could put a lot of criminals out of business and ensure some quality and safety standards if you permitted drugs to be freely and cheaply available - but who believes that would reduce drug use and addiction?

There appears to have been a small drop in drug use in recent years and that is to be welcomed. Nobody can claim that the decrease is because of hugely effective law enforcement but equally who doubts it would have gone up if drugs had been legalised?

The majority of people steer well clear of illegal drugs because (1) drugs are a bad idea, (2) they wouldn't readily know where to get hold of them, (3) they don't want to do business with criminals, and (4) they don't want to get into trouble with the law. Legalisation would cast doubt on reason (1) and wholly remove reasons (2), (3), and (4).

Drugs should remain illegal but we should recognise that law enforcement only keeps an unstable lid on the problem. Education for those not yet using drugs and for those who have started using, plus assertive treatment for addiction are the way ahead but nobody said it was going to be easy.