War on Drugs

The War on Drugs has been a monumental failure. Canada is the latest country to begin legalising marijuana. So, how long before prohibition of all drugs ends?


The War on Drugs has been lost. It’s time to legalise all drugs.

Hi. I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about government policy to prohibit the production, distribution and consumption of psycho-active drugs.

Cocaine, heroin, crack, meth amphetamine… all of them should be legal and treated in the same way as

any other food or medicine.

The War on Drugs has its routes in America during the Nixon presidency. In 1971, engulfed in the Vietnam War, he went on TV to say this…

“America’s Public Enemy Number One in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new all out offensive. I’ve asked the Congress to provide the legislative authority and the funds to fuel this kind of offensive.”

And so it began. The Drug Enforcement Administration was created and the US bullied the rest of the world into following suit.

In Britain today, the government spends £5 billion a year policing drugs. One sixth of prison population is there for drug offences. That’s another half a billion pounds a year.

Yet, drugs are available on every street corner. One third of adults have used drugs at some point in their life; and one in five young people used them in the last year.

According to official Treasury figures, UK consumers spend £7.2 billion a year on drugs. That’s more than we spend on beer or spirits.

By any standard, this war has been a monumental failure.

Violent crime, corruption, overdosing… virtually all of the problems associated with drugs are caused by the very fact that drugs are illegal.

Think about supply and demand. If you make something illegal, you raise the personal risk taken by suppliers. So, to compensate, they raise the price.

Consequently, a gram of cocaine that costs less than £1 to produce has a street price of about £40.

Everyone in the supply chain from Colombia to London has to spend money on security, counter intelligence and bribing customs officials and police.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, those involved in the production, trafficking or supply of Class A drugs face a possible life sentence.

So, it’s worth killing a police officer to evade capture… as the sentence for murder is no greater.

When was the last murder carried out by a cigarette or alcohol manufacturer? It was the days of Prohibition in America.

You see: in the 1960s, it was hippies and rastas supplying drugs, but the War on Drugs jacked up the price and enticed hardened criminals into the supply chain, for whom murder and mayhem are a reasonable cost of doing business.

Look at corruption in Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia. These are narco-states, where the drugs cartels buy politicians and influence government policy.

If drugs were legal, this corruption would disappear… as would many of the murders and gang wars that afflict our cities.

Government could tax drugs and also collect V.A.T. and income taxes from drugs suppliers. In 2004, this tax revenue was estimated to be worth £6 billion a year in the UK.

The emotional argument put forward for keeping drugs illegal is: your child could end up addicted or dying from an overdose.

Well, 2,200 people died last year due to drug misuse.

The most common age was 40-49.

But the reason people overdose is because they don’t know the purity of the drugs they’re using. Criminals mix contaminants in with the drugs. Legal production means better quality control, better labelling, less risk of adverse medical reactions

And 200,000 are receiving treatment for a drug problem. A tragedy, yes. But that’s out of one third of the entire population who have ever used drugs. Millions of people use drugs recreationally, and are perfectly functional.

If drugs were legal, the new tax revenue could finance a state of the art addiction treatment program.

One final point. I have never heard of a police raid on a Soho advertising agency, or a City wine bar or a university hall of residence. Yet, I guarantee you would find copious quantities of drugs there.

Instead, the police stop and search black youths and those living in poor neighbourhoods, who are statistically no more likely to use drugs.

If the police enforced the drug laws equitably, you would hear many more powerful voices agreeing with me, once their family members start getting locked up.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

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Journalist, broadcaster, media executive, academic, author.