Is anyone else sick of getting £20 out of their bank account, meeting some shady guy in a park and handing it over, all for the sake of getting your hands on a substance that the overwhelming medical evidence suggests is less harmful for you than the pack of cigarettes purchased from Rajous on the way home? Fortunately, despite plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Daily Mail – “Devout christian mother-of-three dies of cannabis poisoning” really? You hicks deserve a slap – some long overdue momentum for drug reform seems to be building in the United Kingdom.
Across the Atlantic, voters in four US states have voted to legalize marijuana for adults, with the Drug Policy Alliance suggesting that the move “will bring the nation’s largest cash crop under the rule of law, creating jobs and economic opportunities in the formal economy instead of the illicit market.” Adopting such measures in the UK would reduce the cost of prohibition enforcement and allow Police Scotland to more effectively prioritise public safety. What is the point in wasting police and court time to prosecute someone who wants nothing more than a pack of Doritos and some Super Mario? Similarly in times of austerity the government would acquire a significant new source of tax revenue from regulating marijuana sales. In fact, the Institute for Social and Economic Research has recently released a report estimating that licensing the sale of cannabis could reduce the government deficit by between £0.5bn and £1.25bn pounds.
Significantly for students, the criminalization of marijuana use disproportionately harms young people and fails to curb youth access. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that post-legalisation, marijuana use by students in Colorado and Washington actually declined slightly, from 26% in 2013 to 24% in 2014. Like alcohol or cigarettes, it can marijuana can be misused but the overall impact on the crime level or public health is minimal. The worst a pot smoker has ever done is nick a traffic cone and giggle about it, while Professor David Nutt, the government’s chief drug adviser, was sacked a day after claiming in a paper that data suggested cannabis, ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco.
So all the evidence supports a more liberal approach to marijuana, but what about other harder drugs? Different drugs do carry different risks, and the potential for serious harm from marijuana is less than for cocaine or heroin but the issues at stake are essentially the same. States impose laws to regulate the behaviour in their citizens and prevent them infringing upon the rights of others and governments can seek to shift private consumption when it imposes a third party harm – a perfect example of this would be the smoking ban; no one likes secondhand smoke – but beyond that personal autonomy should be maximised as far as possible without infringing on the rights of others.
Essentially, if I as a rational adult, want to walk into Boots and pick up deodorant, condoms and £20 of clinical grade amphetamines I should to be able to. And by turning over the production and sale to regulated producers and distributors we would guarantee that the drugs taken would be as clean and safe as possible. In the UK, drug dependent users are responsible for almost £2 Billion worth of crime every year to fund their habits. Enabling them to safely, cheaply and cleanly satisfy their habit vastly reduces the third party harms and takes money away from the criminal gangs that thrive on prohibition. Combining this with quality standards and clean needle supplies to prevent accidental poisonings or overdoses and counselling for those who genuinely want to quit is vastly more effective than criminalising an entire subsection of society. Something tells me GlaxoSmithKline are less likely to cut their merch with Warfarin.
Portugal, which pioneered decriminalisation in the early 2000’s, has seen vast falls in Hepatitis C and HIV infection rates, while drug use among adolescents and “problematic users” also fell. But this not the only reason to address the UK’s persistent drug problem. Poverty and desperation are at the root of the most problematic drug abuse, whether that be in Glasgow or Afghanistan and by outlawing these substances, it allows governments to shirk their burden of care, through the creation of a permanent underclass, stigmatised by society and at risk of falling prey to violence and criminality. Black markets increase violence because buyers and sellers can’t resolve disputes with courts or lawyers so they turn to guns instead.
But perhaps the best reason to legalize hard drugs is that people who wish to consume them have the same liberty to determine their own well-being as those who consume alcohol, marijuana, or anything else. In a free society, the presumption must always be that individuals, not government, get to decide what is in their own best interest. And at the very least stoners might stop going on about it.
All opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Queen Margaret Union.