The debate over the legalisation of drugs has continued during the last month and has actually stepped up a notch, following former Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth’s recommendation to legalise. Mr Ainsworth fervently believes that the UK is losing the so-called war on drugs. He feels that legalising even class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine will, in turn, take the control away from the criminal gangs and move us towards conquering this problem.
There is no denying the fact that the UK does have an astronomical problem where drugs are concerned. A little research into this issue reveals an interesting detail: many people claim that the police are not consistent in their enforcement of the laws regarding drugs. While statutory law may be very clear on how a drugs issue should be handled, it has been alleged that the police have not always adhered to the law and have gone more softly on certain individuals at times than is recommended.
Tom Lloyd, former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Police, has stated that something needs to change with the current system. He has said that the 40 years of prohibition have failed; there has not been a decline in the number of offences or of people using illegal substances and enforcing the current laws as they stand is very costly for the police. The primary aim of existing legislation is to reduce the use of drugs and to narrow the range of unintended harmful consequences – yet this has not been achieved.
Mr Ainsworth provoked fierce condemnation from all three main parties in the House of Commons when he suggested that legalising drugs may be the best way forward. In fact, he maintains that there is a real fear among politicians about speaking out and expressing their true opinions on this matter. He believes that a majority of politicians are actually in favour of this move, but both the very nature of politics and a culture of intimidation prevent more people from coming forward. Mr Ainsworth stated that intimidation is the reason he was prevented from exercising his opinion when he was a part of Tony Blair’s Government. Had he made such a statement at the time, convention would dictate that he would have been obliged to resign.
Even if Mr Ainsworth’s opinion were true, there is still an overwhelming strength of support behind keeping the current prohibitions firmly in place. It is thought that if drugs were no longer criminalised, this would send out the wrong message to the citizens of this country and would almost certainly make it easier for people to obtain harmful substances and progress from weaker drugs to far more dangerous ones.
The Netherlands has been used as an example of a country where cannabis is legal and people in favour of decriminalising drugs tend to shine a rather blinkered light on the way in which this issue has been dealt with there. Proponents of legalising drugs state that there is a well-managed system in operation in the Netherlands and that the UK really can learn a thing or two from this. Yet this is not necessarily the same story that comes to light when research is conducted on the issue. Indeed, it has even been said that the Netherlands is dealing with a much higher rate of crime as a result of the legalisation of cannabis and that the country has established itself as the ideal transit point for narcotics to be distributed throughout the rest of Western Europe.
If these are the potential consequences of having legalised cannabis, imagine what the situation would be if class A drugs were to become decriminalised in the UK. Perhaps the answer here depends not on completely decriminalising all drugs, but rather on developing a much better system for how we, as a nation, deal with the enforcement of drug prohibition. But then, that really is the $64,000 question – one that every single Government over the past 40 years has grappled with and that successive administrations will continue to face.