Drug problems are getting worse, it's time to seek alternative approaches
Sir, Antonia Senior is right that drug legislation is a failure (Opinion, July 31), and Keith Hunter (letter, Aug 3) is right that this has been known for a long time. In 1995, while I was a vice-president of the Royal Society of Medicine, I organised a symposium on “Alternative approaches to the control of cocaine and heroin”. Twelve international experts, including the head of Interpol then, agreed that the policies in force at the time were not working and would never succeed. Since then the policies have continued and the problems have got much worse.
However, the solution is not to legalise drugs: there would rightly be too much public opposition to such a change. The better solution would be to license drug users. Just as people wanting to use a motor car or a television require a licence, so anyone who wanted to use drugs would apply to the Home Office for a licence, probably through their GP. Licensed users would be able to obtain specified drugs from a pharmacist, for the cost of an NHS prescription. They would have to submit regular hair samples for testing, to ensure that they were taking the supplied drugs. They would be free from any risk of prosecution but anyone found using or possessing drugs without a licence would be liable to much higher penalties than at present.
The objective of this would be to remove the trade from the drug dealers. It is the enormous amount of money involved that drives the trade, and only an economic response will stop this. I am convinced that most genuine addicts would welcome this opportunity to be maintained on standardised drugs without the financial worries. So-called recreational users could also be licensed, but if they were embarrassed about that, they might prefer not to continue to take the drugs in the face of very severe penalties. I hope that this idea will be considered by those who could implement changes to the law.
Dr Gavin A. Cullen
Sir, Legislative attempts to control the sale and consumption of psychotropic drugs began with the International Opium Convention of 1912 and have continued for almost a century with conspicuous lack of success. Drugs are freely available to those who want them. The price is high, reflecting the risks to the suppliers of seizures en route and the risks of detection and arrest approaching the points of sale. The high prices required from consumers, who tend not to be among society’s high earners, drives them, of course, to crime. Since the motives for crime are not recorded in the criminal statistics it is impossible to say how much acquisitive crime, from bag and mobile phone snatching through car radio stealing to house burglaries and armed robberies on sub post offices, can be laid at the door of drug users. But long experience in the criminal courts as advocate and judge has led me to the belief that it was a great deal — perhaps even most of it.
The only solution is to decriminalise the supply and consumption of drugs. Supply could then be taxed and consumption regulated — just like the supply and consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Both are dangerous (in the case of alcohol not only to the consumer but to others also) but both are taxed, tolerated and consumed, generally in moderation. The American experiment with the prohibition of alcohol was a failure and short-lived. Our experience with the prohibition of drugs has been equally a failure but of much longer duration. It is time to end it.
There are treaty complications (eg, the Psychotropic Substances Convention 1990) but these are not insuperable. And if the experiment turned out after a time to be a failure, as it would if drug consumption rose and acquisitive crime failed to fall, Parliament could re-enact the drugs legislation and we would be back where we are now.
Peter Crawford, QC
Former Recorder of Birmingham
Source - http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article6739160.ece