A contrary opinion on decriminalisation of cannabis

Medical marijuana is shown in a jar at The Joint Cooperative in Seattle

Medical marijuana is shown in a jar at The Joint Cooperative in Seattle

Last week I blogged about a top UK cop and his call for an end to the war on drugs.

There are of course many opinions and his is just one. Not one to only present one side of the argument on anything here is another, also from the UK.

I don’t happen to agree with him, his views take the extreme and ignore the successes of decriminalisation…nonetheless it is worth hearing the other side of the debate on de criminalisation of cannabis.

In the small Mexican town of Los Reyes last week, a bag containing the severed heads of three men was left beside a roundabout. They had been killed by gangsters as a warning to local people who had established self-defence squads to protect themselves from the brutal violence associated with the country?s war on drugs. Over the past three years, an estimated 60,000 people have been killed in Mexico. If ever there was a country that had cause to believe it was losing the fight, then here it is. So why haven?t the Mexicans alighted upon the solution proposed at the weekend by Mike Barton, the chief constable of Durham, and decriminalised drugs??

Mr Barton said that prohibition had failed to tackle drug use and had merely put billions of pounds into the hands of criminals. He compared what was happening now to the aftermath of the 1919 Volstead Act in America, which banned alcoholic beverages and is widely credited with being one of the most ill-judged pieces of legislation of the 20th century. It meant that the production, distribution and importation of alcohol were no longer the province of legitimate businesses, but were taken over by criminal gangs, which fought each other for market control. Gangsters such as Al Capone grew rich on the proceeds of illicit trafficking, backed up by violence, extortion and bribery.

The aim of prohibition was to stop people drinking; but since they didn?t want to, the law was widely flouted. The police and the courts did their best to bring prosecutions, but juries refused to convict and in the end the ban was rarely enforced. Within 15 years, the prohibition experiment was over and the Act was repealed. Yet while this meant it was possible once more to go to a bar for a beer, one thing it did not do was to end organised crime. The mobsters who had made fortunes out of alcohol soon diversified into other areas, like gambling and drugs. It is what they do: they are criminals. So while Mr Barton is right to say that drugs have lined the pockets of crime lords, he is almost certainly wrong to imply that legalising drugs would put them out of business.

No, but it keeps them in areas that are clearly illegal and away from the general populace who wanted to enjoy a drink in moderation, same goes for cannabis.

For a start, if drugs were legal, who would control the supply? Unlike many who favour some form of decriminalisation, Mr Barton is talking not just about cannabis (which can be grown at home), but heroin and cocaine, which would need to be imported from overseas. Since the cocaine supply routes are already in the hands of the criminal cartels in South America, and the Taliban effectively controls opium production in Afghanistan (which, to be fair, it has stopped in the past), legalising the drugs would legitimise their activities.

Has this fool not ever heard of tobacco and alcohol? Licencing, control, taxation…

Mr Barton has reached his conclusion that prohibition does not work after more than 30 years as a police officer. ?What I am saying is that drugs should be controlled. They should not, of course, be freely available.? He added: ?If an addict were able to access drugs via the NHS or something similar, then they would not have to go out and buy illegal drugs.?

But what he cannot know is the extent to which legalisation will fuel demand for drugs, which is at least partially suppressed by the fact that they are unlawful. If that were to happen, the criminal gangs would still be active, either developing new drugs outside the controlled groups or pushing cheaper and probably adulterated substances. After all, tobacco is legal yet cigarettes are still smuggled on a massive scale.

And yet there aren’t more smokers as a result of tobacco control, nor are their huge amounts of drinkers as a result of liberalisation of drinking laws. This writer clearly has a problem with logic. There would, i imagine, be a slight increase in cannabis use should it become decriminalised as people try something that is now not illegal…but it would settle down, like alcohol and like tobacco to a small percentage of the population of regular users who moderate their intake, and there would be the usual smaller percentage who would abuse it…like gambling, like drinking and like smoking.

The problem with this debate is that no one really knows what the consequences would be. There are those who will argue that a far tougher approach is needed and that Mr Barton?s comments are indicative of the shambolic approach to enforcement that has allowed crime to flourish. And there are others who will state, equally emphatically, that legalising drugs is a panacea. Most of us, I imagine, are somewhere in the middle, recognising that the ?war? has not been won but worried that to call it off would trigger an upsurge in drug-taking at a time when there are signs of declining use. In any case, politicians remember how the roof fell in when a small downgrading of cannabis from a Class B to Class C drug was proposed a few years ago.

We don’t know, so we shouldn’t try? What a stupid premise upon which to base a flawed argument.