Human beings have been taking mind altering substances throughout history and in all cultures. That drug taking can be harmful to health is undoubtedly true, but this is not only the case for illegal substances but many legal ones too. How societies react to their citizens taking drugs however bears no logical or proportional relationship to the level of risk, either to the individuals or society.
Many countries have an approach to drug use which is not determined by rational assessments of risk and harm. The UK is one such, where the attitude of government towards drugs is entirely moralistic. The so called “war on drugs” pursued by successive governments has clearly failed to attain it’s ends and the only response is for government to get more and more repressive and draconian. And yet despite all the resources thrown at the problem and the successes of enforcement authorities the problems continue.
When experts in the field try to question this approach and inject a little sense into this area they find themselves slapped down and ignored, as is illustrated by the reactions to statements made by David Nutt and Sir Ian Gilmore.
Different, more liberal and accommodating approaches, in some countries, such as Holland and Switzerland have however delivered huge benefits, such as;
A change in public perception such that drug taking loses it’s cool image and instead becomes rather sad, leading to significant reductions in the numbers of new addicts.
A significant reduction in crime of all types. In the UK about half of all crime is committed by drug users.
Significant improvements in the health of drug users.
British politicians reject these approaches as somehow not suitable for the UK. How lame is that.
The war on drugs is now employing the concept of “zero tolerance” a chilling phrase if ever there was one. For a good example of where that approach can lead have a read of this appalling case from the States.
Isn’t it time we got a little more pragmatic?