IN ONE of the great movie moments, Harry Lime (The Third Man) muses that, after 500 years of peace and prosperity, the only thing to come out of Switzerland was.... the cuckoo clock.
Well, this week Switzerland gave the world something else: the chance to reflect that our drug laws are... yes, from cloud cuckoo land.
Swiss voters backed a scheme to provide heroin to addicts after they saw the results of a test programme launched as long ago as 1994 and opposed since then by the usual suspects – we’ve got plenty here, from conservative coppers to ranting MPs.
Those voters saw that crime fell dramatically, streets and parks (and areas around schools) were cleared of dealers and supervision, ensuring the purity of substances, meant healthier addicts, fewer deaths, less pressure on health services.
So they voted for common sense.
In some cities in Britain and other countries where such experimental schemes have given addicts heroin under supervision, crime has dropped and street sales stopped.
Only a tiny minority of our 280,000 users were given the treatment, but it shows what could happen if this government, or any government, legalised ALL drugs.
It’s plain to see that the so-called “war on drugs” isn’t working (whatever happened to our “Drugs Czar”?). We’re spending billions on this useless battle but the UK market is still one of the most lucrative in the world, worth at last count £5.3bn, equal to about 40% of the alcohol market.
Worldwide, the drugs trade makes £200bn, second only in value to oil. That’s the cash cost.
The cost in human misery can’t be computed.
Meanwhile, back home, we get these periodic drug busts where a bunch of coppers bellowing like banshees, looking more like Robocop than Dixon of Dock Green, bash down the door of some hapless, harmless valley druggie at dawn.
There follows the inevitable announcement that the evil-doers are off our streets, we can celebrate another victory in the war on... yeah, yeah, it makes a great photo-op but not much else. And you can bet it’ll happen again. And again.
But some senior police officers, doctors, social workers and those politicians who can see it makes sense, say that drugs should be legalised.
For a start that would eliminate the drug-related crime that costs us something like £15bn a year – averaging £45,000 for each addict committing about 450 crimes a year to feed the habit.
No politician or policeman would be nuts enough to call for the prohibition of alcohol.
We know what would happen. It would go underground as it did when America tried what the Puritan lobby called the “Noble Experiment” from 1920 to 1933.
The experiment failed. It brought the rise of a criminal cartel as big as General Motors.
It triggered bloody turf wars in every city, and the bootleg booze provided killed thousands of innocents whose only connection to Capone was through buying his stuff.
Well, it’s happening here now, think drugs instead of alcohol.
We’re coming perilously close to Chicago-style warfare on our streets as gangs battle, with Scotland Yard estimating that 95% of all illegal guns in Britain are linked to the drug trade.
Legalise drugs and that trade vanishes, along with most street crime and the random shootings that kill kids in the line of fire.
And watch the deaths from impure drugs fall as well when the state is the supplier instead of the crook on the corner.
Drinkers die in much greater numbers than druggies, costing the NHS billions. Yet, as I said, only a policeman or politician with a death wish would call for the prohibition of alcohol. So, if alcohol is legal, can anyone tell me why other, less harmful, drugs are illegal?
Or why the lad from Cardiff’s dockland gets collared while “celebrity users” like Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse are apparently immune to prosecution along with the billionaire Hans Kristian Rausing and his wife, cautioned, merely cautioned, for possession of crack, cocaine and heroin.
Maybe it’s because they don’t have to mug a pensioner to feed the habit.
Dec 3 2008 by Dan O'Neill, South Wales Echo