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Jan 4, 2008

Time to ditch a failing drug policy (Danny Kushlick, tdpf)

From Blogs Independent

Guest author: Danny Kushlick

In calling for the legalisation and regulation of drugs again, chief constable Richard Brunstrom has suggested that aspirin is more dangerous than ecstasy. Whether or not this is the case isn’t clear (apparently the Department of Health could not supply the number of those who die as a result taking aspirin each year). However, as Mary Brett (Europe Against Drugs) tells us in the Mail, “This was an extremely stupid and irresponsible comment. Aspirin is taken as medication to help people get better. Ecstasy is taken to upset the chemical balance of the brain deliberately”. Thanks Mary (she’s a teacher you know).

Commenting on the substance of Brunstrom’s remarks, the Mirror leader said: “Clearly, 40 years of prohibition has been a disaster. Our country is awash with drugs. Criminals are raking in billions… and billions are being wasted on the largely futile “war” on drugs.”

These vastly different views encapsulate precisely the fault lines in the debate on the future of drug policy: one, knocking Brunstrom for having the temerity to question the absolute success of UK (and global) drug prohibition; the other going right to the heart of the matter – prohibition doesn’t work. Indeed, the Mail followed the news piece with a relentless ad hominem attack on Brunstrom, with no analysis of his views on drug policy.

Happily, at least the debate is being kept alive in the media, with some excellent pieces being penned over the last few years. Sadly, the media is the only place where this issue is receiving an airing. For most politicians and Whitehall officials, questioning the status quo on drug policy is taboo (with some surprising exceptions) and the vast majority of NGOs, professional bodies and Government Quangos remain totally silent on the issue. To me it beggars belief that organisations and individuals that work with those most negatively affected by prohibition fail to speak out. That includes: development organisations that work in the drug producer countries, those in prison reform, drug treatment organisations, drug policy think tanks, criminology academics, and the legal field.

Brunstrom suggests that legalisation and regulation will take ten years. Transform is in agreement that this is probably a bare minimum. But in that time, the UK drugs trade will have made £70 billion for gangsters (globally that figure will be over £3 trillion). At the same time, UK families will have paid close to £200 billion of crime costs, either as tax payers or as victims. The illegal trade will have ruined, for another decade, Afghanistan, Colombia, the Caribbean and blighted every major urban environment in industrialised countries.

However, politicians will continue to trot out the “tough on drugs” propaganda for a combination of easy votes and the maintenance of our special relationship with the US. The UK public meanwhile, will continue to be swindled out of billions to support a failed regime. The challenge from the media will not be enough to force politicians to expose prohibition to significant scrutiny and explore alternatives. Those who know the score have a choice - stay silent about the massive social costs of a counterproductive policy that benefits only organised crime and cynical politicians or to speak the truth. Brunstrom’s courage should inspire others to follow his example.

Danny Kushlick is Director of Transform Drug Policy Foundation. Visit for more information

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