New Labour’s Prohibition Failure

The absurd shenanigans perpetrated by New Labour with drug classification and scheduling under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act are thus extraordinary. It treated its Drugs Advisory Council with contempt, sacking its chairman David Nutt for questioning some of the more deranged aspects of government policy. Seven members of Nutt’s committee immediately resigned in protest.

There are now two drugs regimes operating in Britain, entirely divorced from the other. One is New Labour policy of Prohibition, presented before parliament and seen in the pages of the press, rising and falling with public hysteria. The other regime exists in the real world. It consists of drug users, their desperate parents and friends, together with teachers, social workers, police, club owners, dealers and their suppliers, all in chaotic and lawless relationships with each other.

The fantastic fallacy of Britain’s drug legislation is that prohibiting supply prohibits demand. The idiocy of this notion is manifest in four decades of statutory failure. It also applies to the hundreds of new “offences” parliament declares every year. These new measures are entirely unenforceable and always in response to some headline. And each new measure drops more poisonous criminality into the economic blood stream, distorting the pattern of demand and supply, and subverting respect for authority.

Nobody conversant with the drugs scene regards the present law as anything other than an out-of-date nuisance. Britain has no workable drug laws, merely legislation that randomly fills jails with those unlucky enough to get caught, and ruins thousands of families more completely than the impact of the drugs themselves.

That drugs, legal and illegal, are dangerous is not the issue. Enough is known about mind-affecting substances for sensible people not to use them. That some drugs, such as marijuana, can be used safely by some people, in the same way as alcohol, does detract from the risk attached to them. But that applies to many things people use, especially young people. Over 7,000 each year die of alcohol abuse and tens of thousands from nicotine poisoning but narcotics kill far less than paracetamol.

Two years ago the UK Drug Policy Commission concluded: “There is no evidence that drug policy influences either the number of drug users or the share of users who are dependent.” A year ago Transform, a drug policy think-tank, used the government’s own figures to calculate that drugs prohibition is costing Britain £14bn in health, crime, imprisonment and family breakdown, a cost that legalisation and control could save. Even by the standards we have come to expect from one of the most venal, spendthrift, and corrupt governments in British history, this is failure on a grand scale.


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