The war against drugs has been raging for decades, with the cannabis trade still posing a problem to the British government. It is clear that a fresh outlook is needed.
The Issue of Drugs
The usage of illicit drugs is something that many people explore in their youth, with the vast majority stopping as they get older, with largely no problems. The reasons for addiction are varied, and can be based on the individual’s genetics, personality, and upbringings, amongst other factors. The idea that drug usage is always bad, and should be punished no matter the circumstances, may be a flawed one, as the context of each case varies. In fact, the blanket punishment for all drug use may be doing more harm than good, as evidence from other countries suggests, when drug users are not ‘caught up in the criminal justice system’, their chances of escaping their addiction may be higher, according to Release – a drugs charity that has petitioned for the legalisation of recreational cannabis use in the UK.
The Case for Decriminalisation
In recent years, drug usage rates amongst youth has been declining in the UK, however the proportion of people consuming drugs in the nation, still appears to be higher than those in other countries. This indicates that there must be some change, perhaps to legislature, in order to reduce the negative impact of drug use on society. One solution may be to legalise/ decriminalise certain drugs. Cannabis is the most widely accessible and used drug in the UK, and many people have pushed for its legalisation, such as in Canada and the Netherlands, where recreational cannabis usage has been fully decriminalised. A major driving factor in these judgements is that the legalisation of cannabis will lead to the emergence of a regulated market, as opposed to a shadow market, which is near impossible for the government to control, and is dominated by criminals who profit from the distribution of drugs. These unregulated black markets are extremely dangerous, as consumers are unable to determine the safety of any drugs, as there is little incentive for illicit drug suppliers to ensure that their products are safe to consume. Often, drugs which sold are mixed with cheaper, harmful substances to increase suppliers’ profit margins. Profit is what drives them, and this trumps morality, as well as the quality of their produce.
The decriminalisation of marijuana would not be anything new, as it has already been successfully implemented in multiple countries, one of which is Portugal. Like in the UK, the usage of illicit drugs in Portugal used to be a criminal offence, making the offender liable to prosecution, and depending upon the severity of the offence, possibly leading to time in prison. However, over the past 15 or so years ,decriminalisation has had an overwhelmingly positive impact, leading to a very low rate of overdose deaths and reduced rate of addiction, not to mention the countless millions of Euros saved in maintaining prisons. This should be enough evidence to show that decriminalisation of drugs can be an effective solution to the problem of heavy drug usage. This came about as a result of Portugal making it so that the use of drugs is no longer a criminal offence, but now a civil one. In other words the focus of dealing with drug usage has moved from punishment to treatment.
However, it is entirely plausible to assume that the decriminalisation of drugs may lead to an increase in the rates of drug use, as society begins to view them as less ‘taboo’. Evidence from cases in the US proves otherwise. The legalisation of cannabis in selected US states, has actually not led to a rise in the rate of adolescent drug usage, as opponents to the decision had claimed would happen. This is positive news for the case to decriminalise drug usage.
How it Could be Implemented?
If it is ruled that drugs are to be decriminalised, the obvious questions are which drugs, if not all, are decriminalised, and how this should be done. A good first step may be to legalise the drugs which would have the greatest, positive impact on society, with the least negative side effects of usage. Cannabis is the most commonly used drug in the UK, and it is relatively less damaging when compared to other drugs such as heroin or MDMA. Thus, this would be a helpful start in the solving of the drug crisis. However, the government must be extremely vigilant in its regulation, to ensure that this reduces the problem, rather than adding to it.
The fight against drugs has been a long and arduous one, with countless lives destroyed by drug use, and millions of pounds of taxpayer money has been invested into the attempt to combat it. An end to this cycle, is in demand, and legalisation may just be what is needed.
- A Fresh Approach To Drugs, https://www.ukdpc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/a-fresh-approach-to-drugs-the-final-report-of-the-uk-drug-policy-commission.pdf, October, 2012
- General Election 2019: The pros and cons of legalising drugs, https://www.theweek.co.uk/59417/should-cannabis-be-legalised-the-pros-and-cons-of-decriminalising-drugs-general-election-2019, November 21, 2019