When seeking a solution to a problem, we only need to look at the opposing view to find common ground. Drug policy is a quintessential example of how emotive positions defy evidence – we get so caught up in instinctual beliefs, that we often fail to pick out the thread of correlation between those on either side of the debate.
The time has come where we need to follow the evidence.
Drug laws: to reform, or not to reform – that is most certainly the question, and it’s a question that has grown in its maturity over the last few weeks in the UK. Durham’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Ron Hogg, has essentially de-prioritised small scale cannabis cultivation and possession. This has been largely well received, with just a little bit of the usual amount of outrage. Since Durham’s move, another three police forces have said they look to do the same.
For a few years, the UK has had the mantra that our drug laws are working, owing to the selective and marked decrease in cannabis use in younger age ranges. This, quite obviously, is not the full story. The Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that young adults using LSD has increased by 175 per cent, alongside an uptick of Ecstasy by 84 per cent. Cannabis still remains the most popular illicit drug. The Guardian gives comprehensive analysis to this most recent insight into youthful drug use.
If we assume that we wish to see our children use fewer drugs and avoid potential harm, then we have good news. Rates of tobacco smoking are once more on the decline. Unlike other drugs, tobacco has been subject to legislation, regulation, and education. It’s clear that our approach to tobacco has improved health.
But there is something else that’s tantalising in its projection of attitudes. When quizzed on sources of helpful information, young adults clearly see parents and teachers as their guides in decision making. This is far from an epiphany, but we have, perhaps, become complacent to the basic notion. It is, of course, the duty of those closest to children and young adults to fortify their knowledge on drug risks… all drug risks.
With the prohibition of drugs, we could argue that we’ve become apathetic in the need for rational dialogue, choosing to allow the law to act as the bogeyman of a deterrent – and we know laws do not deter use anyway. The result of this could feasibly be a malaise in factual drug education, and even distrust. If drugs harms don’t make logical sense to the corresponding laws, then we are certainly in danger of confusion. If we paint our drug education with broad strokes, using artistic licence too, then a sloppy mess will be the result, with no cogency to be found within the landscape. In many ways, our current conversation around drugs is reminiscent to the boy that cried wolf.
The first year’s figures of Colorado’s state regulation model of cannabis have produced some intriguing numbers. The state has managed to designate around $2.35million for public schools out of the $40million in tax revenue collected from the state’s legal sales. A further $8million goes into youth drug education and prevention. It’s also worth a more than a footnote that the Colorado has seen a marked decrease in crime rates across the board.
The UK faces hard decisions. Police forces are feeling the biting cuts, which have insidiously gnawed at them for the last few years. The Head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Sara Thornton, has gone on record stating that the police may have to scale back its investigations into burglaries. With a 25 per cent cut over four years, our police services are struggling.
This gives us an oblique dilemma, one that can be simplified in a question: What would we prefer? Decriminalisation of cannabis users, or the de-prioritisation of burglary?
Of course, it goes without saying that neither is currently on the cards, but this simplistic quandary simply serves to enforce the point that we have tough decisions to make and there’s no avoiding it. The current estimated costs to the police for cannabis enforcement stands at half a billion, with a possible £1.25billion in collected taxation, if we had a legally regulated system.
The UK Government has little choice but to face up to the conversation that we’re all having. An e-petition to debate the legal regulation of cannabis flew over the target mark of 100,000 signatures. It’s clear that we have a mandate to openly discuss the merits of drug law reform, and we shouldn’t just keep the dialogue exclusively to cannabis. The criminalisation of [certain] drug users is long overdue for a debate. Whatever our fears over the harms of drugs to our children, the harms of an unregulated market – and the stark realities of a criminal record – should be at the forefront of any interaction that we indulge in.
As the recent Anyone’s Child campaign perfectly (and tragically) highlights – our hypothetical conversation around drugs could well be applied literally to any of our own family members. The prohibition and criminalisation of drugs does not provide a raft of safety, but it does perhaps hinder the tide of progression, education and safety.
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