Should the UK legalise drugs?
YES: Legalisation and regulation of some illicit drugs is now on the agenda; Nick Clegg is leading calls for a royal commission on Britain’s drug laws. This comes ahead of a 2016 United Nations special summit which will consider global alternatives to prohibition. Originally scheduled for 2019, it was brought forward at the request of several member states. Meanwhile, two US states (Washington and Colorado) passed laws at the start of this year to legalise cannabis, and Uruguay has become the first nation to make it legal to grow, sell and consume it.
Criminalising the users, as well as the producers, of drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis has handed global criminal gangs and terrorists a market worth at least $300bn per year, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The current policy, which is based upon the UN conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988 and the UK Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971, has destroyed the lives of countless young people, and cost the UK taxpayer £15bn per year.
Legalisation with strong regulatory systems can, I believe, be a much safer option. However, the case for each drug must be addressed separately. The legalisation of heroin supply to addicts, for example, must be limited to a clinic setting where the heroin is injected. This policy, in operation for more than a decade in Switzerland and comprehensively evaluated, has been shown to be successful in curing addiction, dramatically reducing crime and restoring severely sick people to health and employment.
America is already demonstrating a more sophisticated attitude towards drug reform. Prior to the advent of legal cannabis for social use in the two aforementioned states, 20 further states, plus the District of Columbia, had already passed laws legalising it for medical use (often de facto legalisation for social use).
In the UK, young people wanting to smoke a spliff find that the only cannabis available from the dealers is skunk—a highgrade strand which is far more profitable for the dealer to push than the weaker variety. Young people might not want skunk, but when nothing else is on offer too many end up with the strongest and most dangerous variant of the drug. Worse still, a young person looking for a spliff is often told by the dealer, “Sorry, mate, no cannabis…