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Let’s have an honest discussion about drug use

Suzy Dean

107714749 Let’s have an honest discussion about drug useForty years on from Nixon declaring drugs ‘public enemy number one’ and launching what some call America’s longest-running war, could the UK be about to declare a ceasefire? Last week reports from the EU drug agency declared the UK the drug-taking capital of Europe, yet at the Liberal Democrat conference this autumn, the party voted to establish a panel to consider decriminalising the use of all drugs. The likes of Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins and experts in the area, such as Roger Howard of the UK Drugs Policy Commission, have long been making the case, which has now been reflected by a shift in the mindset of the global elite. On June 2nd, the Global Commission on Drug Policy – made up of ex-presidents of Mexico and Switzerland, the prime minister of Greece and ex-chairman of the US Federal Reserve – called drug consumption to be decriminalised.

For those who have campaigned for a more ‘rational’ drugs policy, this is seen to be an important victory. Yet there is good reason why both those in favour of recreational drugs legalisation and those who oppose it should reject the new calls for decriminalisation: nobody has instigated, let alone won, a moral argument with the public. Considered morally rather than medically, is there anything wrong with seeking altered states of consciousness? There hasn’t been any kind of shift in the public conscience about the ethics of drug use; instead decriminalisation is on the table as a response to the challenges of policing drugs.

In fact, decriminalisation represents a failure to those who have traditionally been in favour of the legalisation of drugs. Nobody is any more convinced than they were previously about people’s freedom to choose to take drugs or the benefits of escaping every now and again into a high. Equally, decriminalisation is also a failure for those who have always opposed the use of drugs. The promise of better management and control of the trade is not the same as ‘winning the war’ on drugs and obliterating the black market: as Nixon first set out to do in the 1970s, and every prime minister this side of the Atlantic has sought to do since.

Decriminalisation is nothing but a pragmatic response to the recreational drugs market. It may seem to sit ill with the intensified government sanitisation of lifestyles and the regulation of legal highs – think smoking bans and the non-stop stream of reminders to limit our alcohol consumption – but actually this is not as contradictory as it seems. If ‘illegal’ drugs are decriminalised, but as highly regulated as tobacco is increasingly becoming, ‘where’s the harm?’, some might ask.  Indeed it has recently even become fashionable for some pro-drugs advocates to preach that we should ban booze but pass the Dutchie.  Meanwhile advocates for evidence-based drugs policy, such as controversial former ‘drugs tsar’ David Nutt, observe that we should be far tougher on regulating and limiting the consumption of more dangerous drugs such as alcohol, rather than cannabis or LSD.

These tangles over drugs policy should remind us that the trade and use of drugs is not just a policing or crime issue: there is an important moral dimension too. The impact of drugs is not just quantifiable through its impact on police time and the social security cost of addicts. The legal status of drugs says something about how we think young people should spend their free time: it says something about how we define sociability and our relationship to freedom. The reason that drug use has always been such a grey area is that we tacitly accept that our children will hit their teenage years and want to experiment, but we do not want young people to think it’s okay to spend their weekends getting high, or ‘out of it’?  These difficult moral issues can’t simply be resolved by tinkering with the law.

And there are many other points that require more than technical interventions. The public remains unconvinced about the positive use of drugs but, equally, it is not particularly keen to give up hedonism. Having an honest discussion about the place of narcotics in society will have far more of a lasting cultural benefit, one far greater than the quick fix that decriminalisation promises. To let decriminalisation slip through the back door would rob us all of the opportunity to develop a position on drug-use fit for the modern world.

Throughout October and November, The Independent Online is partnering with the Institute of Ideas’ Battle of Ideas festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time.

Suzy Dean is a writer and journalist. She produced the debate ‘Your mind, your high: is recreational drug use morally wrong?’ organised in partnership with UK Drug Policy Commission, at the Battle of Ideas festival.

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  • alancraigie

    Causing your own death at 27 is not my idea of a successful life. But I don’t take drugs. And because she wasn’t taking illegal drugs at the time of her death certainly doesn’t mean the didn’t cause her death. And Charlie Sheen is so addled he can barely speak. Not great long-term prospects. Maybe you should stop taking drugs Steve. You seem angry and confused.

  • stevester8308

    Who said i take drugs Alan ? I certainly didnt but i think you must from your replies  . I just have the brains to look at the evidence when it comes to drugs and the evidence tells us that leaving drugs in criminal hands through prohibition and letting them set the rules and price has got us nowhere and made the problem worse . When even the Governments own drugs advisers the ACMD are telling the Government that decriminalisation is the way forward , you know there is a problem in our Government when they are ignoring the people they have put in place to advise them . And if Charlie Sheen can hardly speak why and how has he been offered another contract for his own sitcom ? I was in the understanding you needed to speak to act on TV . Seems you have now realised insults are making you look stupid and you have resorted to making stuff up in a desperate attempt to prove your points . And Amy Winehouses death had NOTHING to do with drugs as its been PROVED so you stating drugs had an influence is made up nonsense as well as you have not provided any evidence , and im still waiting on my questions being answered .  

  • stevester8308

    And one last thing why do you keep on saying im angry ? I didnt start throwing insults you did . Im not angry at all as i said before i pity and feel sorry for you because you have came on here posting comments on a subject you know nothing about and in turn made yourself look stupid . You saying im angry just shows that you cannot come up with any sort of argument to what im saying so you try to make you self look cool or right by acting like your better than me . But everybody on here can see you are either a liar or just stupid . And until you come up with some truth on what you state this will be my last comment as you are not woth the time . Now post a comment with more insults and false claims and give us all a laugh at you .

  • alancraigie

    Amy Winehouse was a crack addict! Just because she only had alcohol in he system when she died doesn’t mean drugs didn’t cause her death. Do you really think she would have drank herself to death if she didn’t take drugs. And I said you take drugs Steve. Interesting that you don’t deny it. Your obviously a screw up.

  • stevester8308

    Im a screw up ? Yet more insults from the small minded who cannot think of a decent reply .” Do you really think she would have drank herself to death if she didnt take drugs ” So by your logic Alan all alcoholics who drink themselves to death also take illegal drugs . So the late George Best must have took illegal drugs like crack in your stupid view, How thick are you ? And when she died Alan she didnt have any illegal or legal drugs in her system it was ruled in her autopsy that she died from alcohol with drawl  because she had drank that much when she stopped straight away her body couldnt handle it and sadly gave in NOTHING TO DO WITH ILLEGAL DRUGS – CLEAR ENOUGH ! , yet again you have proved you dont know what you are talking about and dont even have the brains to look up the facts before you post a reply . I think you are the screw up Alan and a very stupid one at that . Notice how nobody has liked your comments except the one i hit by mistake when i went to reply and the one you liked yourself . Keep it coming Alan and ill keep proving you wrong and showing people how stupid you are . I had to post at the top because the reply button isnt beside your retarded comments . And are you now getting angry Alan , i know i would be if some stranger was making me look like a moron on every comment i post like i am with yours .

  • corporeal4now

    Ultimately, drugs destroy society and families. 

    Taking drugs is the solution for people living a sad, depressing life – a form of temporary escapism. But this can easily take over the lives of the weak minded – of which there seem to be many, including some members of my own family.

  • stevester8308

    But if they had to go through a professional to get their drugs like a Doctor or some other specialist they would be offered the best professional help instead of going down to the local street dealer where they only get offered harder more addictive drugs to get them addicted so they keep coming back and no help what so ever , you wouldnt get this from a Doctor  . Im sorry to hear about some of your family members Corporeal4now but other European countries like Portugal have already proved that going to a professional for drugs works , they Decriminalised small amounts in 2001 and have just released a report saying it was a major and surprising success and the number of addicts has been reduced and the number of people seeking help has increased along with many more benefits like reduced HIV rates etc etc , Where here in the UK we have the highest rates of drug use in Europe and the least in numbers seeking help . Keeping drugs illegal only benefits criminals as Portugal have proved and the majority of Europe is starting to follow Portugals lead except the UK and France . You can see the study yourself just Google it , IT WILL surprise you , it surprised me because even i had my doubts about it . I hope this info can help . 

  • stevester8308

    I think Alan has realised how much of a screw up he is himself because he has failed to reply to my post or answer any of the questions i asked him . Its pretty sad when you have to tell lies and make stuff up to prove your points Alan and i couldnt blame you for going quiet . Maybe next time you will switch your brain on before you comment and not embarrass yourself  again . 

  • Rnd1

    God what a dry, technical article, which makes assertions without backing them up. Contains one of the most bizarre uses of ‘the public’ I’ve ever heard: ‘The public remains unconvinced about the positive use of drugs but, equally, it is not particularly keen to give up hedonism.’

    Who is this public? How does Suzy Dean feel so confident she can speak about them?How about a different title: ‘Let’s have a boring conversation about drugs.’ 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1581355165 Yakshaver Shavemyyak

    Sorry, but while all this “discussion” and “debate” you advocate in order to clarify and enlighten public consciousness about drug use would be taking place, people will keep dying of over-doses, with gangs & traffickers running amok killing people, running money laundering activities and all the rest of the sordid criminal palette that comes with it,  both at home and abroad. Discussion and debate about this is both late and useless. The old “war on drugs” model has failed and is continuing to fail miserably from all perspectives. The time to decriminalise and make drug use a medical issue alone, is long overdue.


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