The ever controversial topic of governments drug control has come once more into the spotlight, as France plans to launch and test the success of a number of ‘shooting galleries’; places where drug addicts can get their fix under medical supervision, and Uruguayan President José Mujica has announced plans to legalise marijuana, with the state monopolising its production and sale.

In terms of marijuana, many people think lax drugs policies are a good thing. Furthermore the facts, to a large degree, are in support of them; however many governments claim that legalisation amounts to ‘dangerous liberalisation’. As recently as 2009, the British government’s chairman of the Advisary Council on the Misuse of Drugs was fired in relation to his research, after producing a pamphlet that illustrated the difference between the scientific classification of drugs through empirical evidence and the laws classification of drugs on a criminal basis; not only did his research conclude that marijuana was over all a fairly harmless drug biologically, but that it produced less negative effects on the human body when consumed than both alcohol and tobacco. After his dismissal, then Home Secretary Alan Johnson stated that ‘He was asked to go because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy’. The dismissal essentially made the statement that government policy on drugs wouldn’t follow evidence produced by the scientists who are employed to inform the government, but that they expect scientific findings to confirm the traditional views…

Despite this opinion across the globe is changing; there are currently twelve states in the US pending the legalisation of marijuana for medical use, following in the path of California. With President José Mujica’s plans, Uruguay would be the first country in the world to fully legalise and regulate the production and sale of marijuana, and, Mujica suggests ‘The negative effects of consuming marijuana are far less harmful than the outbreak of violence associated with the black market’.

So it appears our collective understanding and treatment of marijuana usage worldwide is rapidly changing, but does this mean that every drug should be treated with the same leniency? Well of course no; scientific evidence shows that drugs like heroin are far more harmful than marijuana, biologically and socially. These drugs have been proven to be incredibly harmful to the body, and as such heroin should be considered in a completely separate light. The resolution of France’s Socialist government to test the success of new ‘shooting galleries’ represents a radical step forward in the humanisation of people addicted to heroin and drugs in general. We need only look to our own use of the ‘shooting galleries’ test and its immense success in reducing crime rates and cutting the level of drug related deaths to get a clear understanding of the kind of impact such a policy can have. Although naturally there is the ethical question posed by the prospect of the government providing drugs, is it any more ethical for us to continue to allow people suffering from addiction to die from impurities in their narcotics as they fork cash over to serious criminals?

For Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens however, these arguments are null and void. ‘I don’t believe in addiction’ he states in his new book, entitled ‘The War We Never Fought’ where he postulates that the war on drugs has not only failed, it has in fact never truly existed. Hitchens argues that it suits the liberal elite to talk tough on drugs, but in fact allow citizens to take them with relative impunity. However Hitchens also attempts a moral argument, claiming that all drugs are morally wrong as they break the chain of cause and effect between work and pleasure. However, when pressed for answers as to the logic behind his belief that all drugs are immoral he fails to produce substantial rebuttal; when asked about his coffee consumption, he replied, rather disappointingly, ‘Caffeine? Come on. It’s just not a serious point’. Well…. Why is that, if, according to his belief, all drugs are immoral?
A petty sounding comparison, I know; but an important one. if we are to continue in the vein of tradition in ‘the war on drugs’, governments will come under increasing pressure to adhere to scientific findings, and if they are to defend themselves on moral grounding, much more robust argument will be needed.

[Ryan Wilson]

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