As a resident in the UK I will primarily discuss drug policy, current and potential as it applies to the UK, I have drawn heavily on the work of Transform, an organisation who's mission statement is to:

... promote sustainable health and wellbeing by bringing about a just, effective and humane system to regulate and control drugs at local, national and international levels.

Raising the debate on the prohibition, legalisation
and regulation of all drugs including heroin, cocaine and cannabis.

Further information can be found on their website - (

I am a drug and alcohol worker, volunteer substance misuse counsellor and ex-offender. I currently work to support individuals seeking to make changes in their problematic drug or alcohol use.

The Current State of Play

In the UK as in the vast majority of the world, drug use is currently being managed by the prohibition model.

Prohibition aims to eliminate the production, trafficking and use of certain psychoactive substances by using criminalisation of the above actions as a deterrent.

Despite punitive measures and harsh punishments for infractions, drug use in the UK has continued to rise.

Who is Harmed by Prohibition?

Victims of crime:

Drug prohibition increases crime on all levels, from the householder who is burgled, the individual that is mugged, through the victims of associated crimes within the drug trade. Gangs and associated violent gun and knife crime have become more prevalent as turf wars escalate over the lucrative drugs trade. At a higher level, organised crime cashes in on the vast trafficking profits leading to corruption amongst the law enforcement community and politicians.

Drug users and misusers:

Prohibition creates a culture of harm maximisation for those using drugs; often the most vulnerable in our society. Blood borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis are rife within the drug using community. Recently needle exchanges and BBV education and testing campaigns have been implemented but for many it is too late. Prostitution is strongly linked with Class A drug use with an estimated 90-95% of female sex workers using; usually heroin and/or crack.

Citizens of Producer and Transit Countries:

Drugs are big business, countries such as Columbia and Afganistan suffer social, economic and political instability due to the massive economic pull caused by the demand for drugs in first world countries. Supply will always follow demand and local, temporary successes in drug interdiction will only raise street prices causing knock on acquisitive crime in the end-user country and greater potential profits for the traffickers.

Otherwise Law-abiding Users:

Prohibition has the effect of effectively criminalising huge sections of the population, individuals who are often not involved in any other law breaking run the risk of receiving criminal records and demotion to second class citizens - ex-offenders. Ex-offenders often find it difficult to find employment when compared to individuals with no criminal record. This can lead to the cycle perpetuating itself with fewer and fewer opportunities available with every subsequent conviction. Including lifetime use 25% of adults and almost 50% of young people are or have been potential drug offenders.

The Tax Payer:

All this prohibition is mighty expensive, in particular it costs around £37000 to imprison one person for a year and prison populations of around 77000 (in 2006) this swiftly adds up. In 2000 the economic and social costs of class A drugs were estimated at between £11.1 billion and £17.4 billion.

Another Option:

Legally regulated markets would allow government to take control of the market which are currently under the control of criminals. This would lead to:

A dramatic drop in crime including street and violent crime, acquisitive crime and prostitution.

A drop in the prison population and associated costs by up to 50%.

Improved public health and more effective harm reduction resulting from improved data collection on drug use and better access to vulnerable people.

Removing the corrupting influence of drug trafficking profits in countries around the world.

Safer, purer drugs on our streets and in the hands of our most vulnerable citizens.

The option to tackle the underlying causes of problematic drug use such as poverty, abuse and self-medication.

So What Stops Us?

Politicians, Non Government Organisations and individuals are often unwilling to speak out, in part due to the emotive and highly charged political environment drug policies exist in. Associations have been made with terrorist organisations, immigration and criminal behaviour linking the impression of being 'soft on drugs' with a thousand vote and funding losing positions. Drug use has been turned into a moral issue, those who take a toke or pop a pill are somehow evil or at the very least weak.

We are fighting a war on drugs, a crusade against the scourge afflicting the weak, doomed and the hopeless. It is a war many of us do not wish to fight, but are carried along and get caught in the crossfire. It is a war that ultimately we cannot win yet cannot seem to withdraw from.

Perhaps it is time for the olive branch.

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