Wednesday, 24 June 2015

How Drug Legalisation Can Be Made To Work

by Loren Dean

Drugs have been used by a wide span of the population for various reasons since their discovery; therefore, the act of illegality in the UK is a relatively new concept. It came about because of a significant increase in usage in under 16's in the 1960s - the Misuse Of Drugs Act was brought in in 1971 to tackle the problem of underage usage. Since then there have been strong debates discussing the legalisation of drugs in the UK.

Drugs are dangerous. That is a fact and therefore there should be severe consequences and penalties for users who seem to ignore the risk. By making something legal this gives the false impression of safety around the substance, which is obviously untrue. According to the Drug Project and Journal of American Medical Association, 900,000 Americans die each year from substance abuse, alcohol and tobacco. The vast majority of these deaths are caused by the already-legal substances and it is thought that illegal drug abuse might be lower due to the criminal status of the substance; this therefore proves that the current drug laws are effective and should remain in place.

A common misconception of the term legalisation is that it means unregulated. If now-illegal drugs were made legal then they would have to be strictly regulated with age restrictions and the like, just like tobacco and alcohol now. The legalisation of illegal drugs would benefit society because, as of right now, drugs are a criminal paradise where there is not any regulation; as a result, there are a lot of backstreet concoctions of drugs which can be cut with anything from talcum powder to rat poison. Therefore, the main causes of deaths is that users do not ever 100% know what is going into their bodies; the difference between batches can be fatal.

It should not be forgotten that substances such as alcohol and tobacco are drugs that have become socially acceptable, so this may be the concern that we need to change the mindset of the nation. The negative effects that legal drugs have on our society are far more evident than illegal drugs on the street. For example, alcohol disrupts judgement, causing deaths of innocent third-party victims as a result of accidents like drink-driving collisions. 90,000 British citizens per year die from smoking and tobacco causes a large variety of cancers for example lung or oral cancer. This is a major concern as these numbers may skyrocket if all illegal drugs become legal. It is known that cannabis - currently a Class B drug - is forty times more deadly than a single cigarette when smoked; if this was legalised too, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Because drugs are illegal, there is a fluctuating black market system by which the cost of drugs increases and so users are more likely to commit crimes to obtain money for expensive drugs. There was a case where a young man stole diamonds worth $160 thousand to pay for a few wraps of marijuana which proves the extent someone will go to pay for a $20 drug wrap. If drugs were  legalised, it would mean cheaper prices with no need for a black market so no need for drug-related crime to settle the debts of expensive drugs.

It is thought that a positive argument for the legalisation of drugs is that they can be taxed; however, this is very short-sighted and can lead to the development of a black market for tax evaders and those who cannot afford taxes but are already heavily reliant on drugs who thus may commit crimes - this starts the whole vicious cycle related to drugs all over again as a direct result of legalisation.

On the other hand, it is also known that the most effective means of drug-use reduction is educating the younger generations of the dangers in schools; coupled with the deterrents of jail sentences and a criminal record this may be the way forward for the future. The problem is that we need to deter the next generation of drug users away from drugs; then there would be no need for legalisation or illegality but 90% of minors are introduced to drugs and are exposed to the criminal lifestyle by their parents or immediate carers. This needs to be stopped.

However, proof that legalising drugs can work is Portugal.

In 2001, it became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. At the recommendation of a national commission charged with addressing Portugal's drug problem, jail time was replaced with the offer of therapy. The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is more expensive than treatment — so why not give drug addicts health services instead? Under Portugal's new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment) instead of jail. At the time, critics in the poor, socially conservative and largely Catholic nation said decriminalizing drug possession would open the country to "drug tourists" and exacerbate Portugal's drug problem; the country had some of the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe. But the recently released results of a report commissioned by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, suggest otherwise.

The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled. Similar parallels could be drawn if this policy was to come into affect in the UK.

To sum up, I believe that legalising drug all drugs would be counter productive as the resulting impact of very dangerous hard drugs like heroin could be catastrophic; however, new, updated drug laws would be the right step forward to remove the stigma against addicts who seek help. I think that following the footsteps of Portugal and decriminalising drugs to offer healthcare is the best possible option. 

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