British Drug Laws – Protection or Restriction?


With the rising correlation between tough drug laws and the use of drugs, they are not only constraining but harmful. 

Criminalising the use of illegal drugs in modern society is often perceived as the just and correct way of discouraging addiction, improving overall health and generally putting an end to illicit drug use. Yet, the use of certain substances was only recently, within the past hundred years or so, made illegal. So, what are the drug laws that are suppressing Britain, and how has a ruling that intended to move Britain closer towards a utopian society, instead become a restriction?

The Misuse of Drugs act in 1971, is the main law regulating drug control in Britain. The controlled substances are divided into three classes (A, B and C), with a series of penalties clearly set out, in the case that an offence is committed, that decrease in harshness, with C class drugs, such as benzodiazepines and anabolic steroids, resulting in lesser punishments. The harshest penalties given for producing or supplying class A drugs, is life imprisonment, and it’s fair to question whether drug laws have moved beyond being just a means of protection, and rather become a method to control the populace. 

Prohibition of drugs has grown over the last century. This coincides with an increase in drug use; 9.4% of adults (16-59) took an illicit drug in the last year, according to NHS statistics on drug misuse. Such laws, however, do not only affect drug users, but also taxpayers. Ashley Cowburn, writer for the independent, states that, “ministers have been accused of ‘squandering’ £1.6bn a year.” Continuing a failed drug war is costing taxpayers an estimated £400 a month, all as a result of futile drug laws put in place to pointlessly restrict citizens. Such money could be redirected into rehabilitation programmes, a more effective way of of facing the problem of addiction or misuse. 

Drug deaths also prove to be at their highest since 1993, with 2,917 deaths related to drug poisoning – a 46% increase from 11 years ago. The clear, piling evidence shows that drug laws have not only failed to protect society, but they have in fact caused further damage. Yet, government officials demonstrate that they are in denial of this fact, as Downing Street claims, “our drugs strategy is working and there is a long-term downward trend in drug misuse in the UK.” Ignoring the obvious and apparent evidence, only allows us to conclude that drug laws are a tactical means through which governmental authorities maintain control.

All too conveniently, these laws tend to affect, in the most part, social minorities. Asian, Black and ‘other’ ethnic groups were found to be 1.5 times more likely to receive an immediate custodial sentence, than other white offenders, according to the Sentencing Council. With prejudice present at the heart of this system, it’s obvious that such a law is only enforced when convenient. Alcohol related cases costs the NHS £3.5billion a year, while drug abuse costs the NHS a fraction of this amount (£500million a year), and yet alcohol consumption continues to be legal. This shows how drug laws are much more restrictive rather than protective in their nature, as more harmful substances continue to be legal.

According to the statistics on crime in England and Wales in 2017, there were 141,714 drug offences committed. 25,175 were for drug trafficking and 116,539 were for possession. With over-crowding prevalent in UK prisons, as the prisoner population almost doubled over the last two decades from 45,000 to 85,000, it seems unjust, to say the least, to allow laws, which are only instated for the sake of giving officials dictatorial power. 

One third of the people leaving prison say they have nowhere to go. Too often, drug addicts face stint after stint behind bars, which doesn’t help their addictions. This leads to the damage caused by jail time, as more often than not, it leaves people in a worse state than before, as they continue on with their addictions, as well as most likely being left homeless. As a result of this, drug laws can’t possibly be a mechanism designed for the protection of the country’s people, as it is these very laws which often bring more harm than good, to the victims of drug abuse. Instead of placing people in jail, addicts should be connected with treatments and services which could actually allow them to become sober. 

As a nation that declares itself to be ‘Great’, the continuation and celebration of our current drug laws, serves as a complete antithesis to this belief. The time for decriminalisation is much over-due, and we must strive in order to achieve a truly just society, free from the restrictions of those who would seek to rule us. It is only then, that we may proudly refer to ourselves as citizens of ‘Great’ Britain.


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