If police said we need to legalise all drugs, what would you think? Would you be apprehensive? Would it come as a shock? But what if we said that police, military, magistrates, undercover operatives and intelligence officers are able to comprehensively map out the distinct pathways to failure in our current drug policy? If you found out your family were in greater harm’s way owing to our drug laws, would you want to know why?
LEAP UK (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) launches in the UK Houses of Parliament on Leap Day. When the whole spectrum of law enforcement takes a stand to challenge the current laws, we have to ask why. This is a line in the sand moment. We need to depoliticise the issue and we need to talk about drugs.
Our international and domestic drug laws are not just one single failure, but instead they represent a vivid pallet of colours which paint a beguiling picture. Through the testimony of those who have stood on the very front-lines of drug law enforcement we are able to see the nuances in a policy in which we’ve chosen to have an almost pious belief in. It’s time we comprehensively question if we’re on the right road.
Like any debate, we need evidence, but we’re often cynical about statistics. So let’s address this with mainly logic: We start with the concept of the ‘War on Drugs’ – which of course is actually a war on some people who have chosen to consume certain drugs. We have decided to allow and enjoy certain substances, we sympathise with certain addictions, and we have chosen to stigmatise and criminalise others. The UN recognises that 90 per cent of those who consume drugs will never experience a problem, and yet we have poured trillions of dollars into waging a war.
We then look at the international connotations of a punitive, prohibitive model for drugs. Those who have served on the front-lines of enforcing drug laws are able to give a ‘roadmap’ which directs us towards the legal regulation of drugs, but in reality, we are actually looking at a roadmap of harms and consequences. From the poppy field in Afghanistan to the inner-city streets, each creeping tendril of our drug policy is, literally, fatally flawed. International development and the environment is the casualty. Drug cartels are perhaps the only victors under our current policies. Drug money accounts for a vast industry, controlled by the worst kind of people who use this pot of gold to fund unspeakable endeavours such as human trafficking and terrorism.
As we travel down the drug policy map and take a turn into our shores, streets and homes, we soon see that our attempts to control the market are bordering on futile. The UN estimates that to impact the flow of drugs we need to seize 60 to 70 per cent of heroin imports. The real figures can be as consistently as low as one to three per cent.
So, what happens to our communities when we criminalise so many people through pure suspicion? Stop and Search powers have had a lasting impact on both sides of the Atlantic. In certain areas of the UK, black people are 17.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police – the national average for an arrest after Stop and Search is only nine per cent. What is this doing for police and community relations? The question is as rhetorical as the answer is self-evident.
And then we reach the harsh reality of an unregulated, criminalised drug market. If your family members were to consume drugs, whether it is through emotional distress, recreational exploits, or even peer pressure, would we wish to see them obtain drugs through dealers and drug dens? Or would licensed premises with age checks, purity, safe environment and dosage advice be preferable? The law has no impact on society’s decision to use drugs, but drug laws do impact on safety and place firm barriers in the way of someone seeking help. The UK has the highest ever drug death rates in its recorded history.
Drug laws simply do not work. Each link of the chain is broken. Only false optimism and intransigence keeps us from reaching reform. Before we find the solutions, we first must spot the problems – and honesty is going to be the best policy. This is why so many from law enforcement are joining the ranks of drug law reform. When the front-line personnel of the ‘war on drugs’ call for change, we have to ask why. When you look at the big picture, it’s no wonder that so many in law enforcement are standing with communities for drug policy reform.