GP Taylor: We’ve lost the war on drugs, so let’s win the peace

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IT was in 1971 when the ill-fated President Nixon declared the war on drugs. The great expectation was that a concerted effort of customs and law enforcement agencies could reduce the effects of illegal drugs trafficking in the USA.

Now, over 40 years later, the war on drugs has been lost. In many countries around the world, drug cartels profit in a multi-billion dollar market and in Mexico alone, 50,000 people have been murdered since the government started its anti-drug campaign in 2006.

The USA has spent over £800bn on fighting the importation and sale of cocaine and heroin. Money well wasted.

The vast profits involved in the production and sale of illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine make the stakes high enough for terrorist groups and even some governments to become involved in the illegal supply. The drugs themselves are now purer and cheaper to buy than in the last 20 years.

Even with stricter laws, the increase in the quantity of drugs seized around the world would suggest that cartels are not put off by the harsh punishments handed down by the courts. The money that can be made is so vast that people are willing to risk their lives and nothing law enforcement agencies can do will ever stop it.

The sad thing about society is that there will always be someone wanting to use drugs. It seems to be an in-built default setting in the human condition. We are all drug users. They type of drug changes but most adults in Britain today use caffeine, nicotine, alcohol or illegal drugs at some point in their week.

Most of the time we have no problem being users. A glass of red wine in the evening is thought to be harmless. Yet this would have been a criminal offence in 1920s America and the use of alcohol is still prohibited in some countries today.

Imagine the outcry if the Government announced that alcohol was to be banned.

The loss to the country would be catastrophic. Pubs would close, revenue would be lost, but the health benefits would be significant and deaths would be prevented. I predict there would be rioting on the streets as members of the Mothers’ Union demanded their fix of gin and tonic.

The idea of banning alcohol is preposterous, it is part of our culture. But, then again, so are illegal drugs. It is estimated that there are 3.2 million cannabis users in Britain alone. Under current laws that makes them all criminals.

Imagine a police campaign to arrest them, imagine prisons full to overflowing with accountants, teachers, doctors, police officers whose only crime was to take a substance derived from a plant probably in the comfort of their own homes, in a responsible manner.

I remember when I was a police officer in Northallerton. The local youths would go out every weekend and get drunk, buy a kebab and have a fight. These alcohol-fuelled binges put a great strain on police resources.

All this changed when cannabis hit the streets. Suddenly these youths were all loved up. The Office of National Statistics estimate that the sale of drugs contributes over £6bn every year to our economy. That is a phenomenal amount of money.

I would advocate that the way to win the war on drugs is to do so with pure economics. Politicians have to get over the idea that legalisation would be a vote loser. When prohibition ended in America, crime dropped and income from alcohol increased.

It would be the same if the consumption of all drugs was legalised. If sold only through pharmacies and licensed premises, revenue could be applied and standards of product maintained.

The money raised could be given to the National Health Service to treat those people unable to control their use and used for education to deter people from starting in the first place.

Police forces could then concentrate on those people involved in the illegal supply of drugs and not on persecution and criminalisation of the end user. On a worldwide scale, drug supply and cultivation could be legalised. Farmers in Afghanistan and Colombia could be given a fair trade deal for their goods. This would take them out of the hands of terrorists and drug cartels.

This demands a radical change in our attitude to drugs, but when a war is already lost we have to fight to win the peace.

In an open and liberal society, it should not be for the law to say what a person is allowed to do with their own body. It is all personal choice.

If there can be a growing and serious campaign for the legalisation of assisted death, then why not for the legalisation of cannabis, cocaine and heroin?

I would suggest that the consequences would not be as frightening as some would have us to believe and that society may be enriched by the process.

GP Taylor is a writer, and broadcaster, a former police office and vicar and can be followed on twitter @gptaylorauthor