Resources spent tackling problematic drug and alcohol abuse needs to be focused on getting more effective results rather than just locking people up.
If we tackle drug addiction and its causes through the use of health professionals its crime rates will start to fall.
By tackling the drugs issue at its source, we will be treating the cause rather than the symptoms of this problem.
Half a century has passed since Richard Nixon declared "a war on drugs" on 17 June 1971.
There was a political logic behind declaring war on this unseen enemy. As John Ehrlichman, Nixon's domestic policy assistant later explained:
"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did." (Baum, 1994)
The cost of waving that war over five decades has been immense both in terms of money spent on enforcement, whether policing or military, judicial time and incarceration and human misery by the creation of an underclass of those who have been convicted of possession. In addition, the effect has been to place the distribution of illegal drugs in the hands of criminal gangs; in some South American countries drug cartels almost rule large areas and that the Taliban fund their military operations through the sale of opium for heroin, is 'overlooked'.
No one claims that the misuse of drugs is a good thing. However, drug misuse started well before Richard Nixon. The British fought two wars in 1839 and (with other Western countries) in 1856 against China to be able to sell opium to the Chinese. It is well known that be "coca" in Coca-Cola was cocaine (DeMichele, 2015). More recently large pharmaceutical companies in America were aggressively promoting painkillers containing synthetic opioids (AFBP, 2019) making millions of Americans addicts.
Over six years ago Nick Clegg and Richard Branson in a joint article (Clegg, 2016)declared "We have been losing the war on drugs for four decades - end it now
As other nations have been rethinking their approach and admitting mistakes, British politicians have been too scared to embrace reform". It was pointed out that Home Office research had shown: "there is no apparent correlation between the 'toughness' of a country's approach and the prevalence of adult drug use". Nick Clegg and Richard Branson declared "This devastating conclusion means that we are wasting our scarce resources, and on a grand scale."
Six years later and populist politicians are largely still in denial preferring to pretend the war against drugs can still be won. Undoubtedly the Government estimate of the economic and social cost of SOC to the UK being £37 billion in 2015-16, but which was used in waging the war against drugs will have increased.
Gang activity is closely linked to the drug trade. It is these gangs that abuse children in "county lines" and whose gang warfare encourages the carrying of knives and knife crime. (LibDems Federal Policy Committee) In addition existing Government drug policy unnecessarily criminalises too many people.
So how should matters be reformed?
Cannabis is the most frequently used drug in the UK and it has been Lib Dem policy for over five years to legalise and regulate the cannabis market would tackle this problem. In many countries this is already the case and, indeed, New York state has just legalised cannabis. (LibDems Federal Policy Committee)
In the UK number of police forces are already not pursuing or criminalising people in possession of drugs for personal use. It is LibDem policy not to criminalise people in possession of
drugs for personal use. (LibDems Federal Policy Committee)
Instead as studies have shown switching funds from enforcement to treatment is more successful many times over. (Gov.UK, 2017). So rather than concentrating government efforts on punishment it should to the causes of addiction.
And by criminalising drug rather than regulating them the War on Drugs creates a highly profitable black market. (Stooksberry, 2016) So by removing you make drug dealing less profitable and gangs will lose interest. There will be no point in running "county lines" and as local drug territory will not be worth fighting over, knife crime will diminish.
Society has always been dogged by problems of addiction. Cigarette smoking was always controlled taxation, but when it's true cancerous nature was realised, taxation restriction and education have made it socially less acceptable and it has declined.
Alcohol is an accepted drug and alcoholism is a major problem. Its effects are partially restricted by taxation. However, prohibition in the United States revealed how criminalisation led to a black market and bootlegging led by gangsters of the Al Capone nature.
Other than on racecourse bookmakers, gambling was illegal in the UK until the 1960s. "The policing of illegal betting and bookmaking was a major issue in relations between police and working-class people until 1960, when betting shops were legalized in England and Wales" (Dixon, 1991) Again, illegal gambling was conducted and was associated with gangs and police corruption.
These are the addictions, smoking, alcohol, and gambling are all legal albeit that the cause considerable problems for those who become addicts. Drugs would be in a similar category.
Regulation has been fairly successful in preventing alcohol providers promoting brands rather than promoting the addiction.
However, the providers have to be carefully regulated to ensure that whilst they provide, they do not promote the use of, these products. Examples of such abuse are encouraging gamblers to extend their credit limits have been well reported. (Reuter, 2015) Indeed, there examples of monopoly state providers in America promoting lotteries or alcohol as ways of raising revenue. In the UK we have the examples of a financial donation to the Labour Party under Mr Blair by Formula-1 and cigarette advertising.
Liberals agree with the Victorian philosopher, John Stuart Mill (Mill, 1859)that individuals can do as they wish unless they cause harm to others. Others can counsel and advise, but ultimately, it is for the individual to decide. we also believe that if they make a bad choice and become addicted it is for society not to incriminate them but to help them back in.
We have lost the drugs war. Let's manage the Peace.
AFBP. (2019, 10 18). Yahoo News. Retrieved from Yahoo News: https://news.yahoo.com/five-things-know-fentanyl-americas-deadliest-drug-212606786.html
Baum, D. (1994). Harper's Magazine.
Clegg, N. &. (2016). We have been losing the war on drugs for four decades - end it now. London: The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/03/war-on-drugs-british-politicians-nick-clegg-richard-branson
DeMichele, T. (2015, 11 17). FactMyth.com. Retrieved 2021, from FactMyth.com: http://factmyth.com/factoids/coca-cola-used-to-have-cocaine-in-it/#:~:text=Coca-Cola%20%28Coke%29%20had%20cocaine%20in%20it%2C%20in%20varying,short%2C%20Coke%20used%20to%20have%20coke%20in%20it.
Dixon, P. D. (1991). From Prohibition to Regulation Bookmaking, Anti-gambling, and the Law. London: Oxford University Press.
Gov.UK, H. O. (2017, 07 14). Press release. Retrieved from Press release: New drug strategy to safeguard vulnerable and stop substance misuse: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-drug-strategy-to-safeguard-vulnerable-and-stop-substance-misuse
LibDems Federal Policy Committee, L. (n.d.). United Against Crime. Retrieved from https://www.libdems.org.uk/policy_papers: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/46346/attachments/original/1564404759/138_-_United_against_crime.pdf?1564404759
Mill, J. (1859). On Liberty.
Reuter, P. (2015, 08 15). BBC News. Retrieved from BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-31922609
Stooksberry, J. (2016, 08 10). Prohibitions create black markets and cause violent crime. Retrieved from IEA: https://iea.org.uk/blog/prohibitions-create-black-markets-and-cause-violent-crime