Why I think you should be able to buy illegal drugs from licensed shops

The law on drugs and why it’s so, so wrong

Drugs

In 1971, a strange thing happened.

Parliament decided, allegedly for public safety, it would control what people could and couldn’t use as a recreational drug.

This may sound, and at first reading to most does sound, like a perfectly sensible idea. The issue is that legally, scientifically and practically, it’s insane.

There were already laws that existed and criminalised drug use at the time, but these were lightly enforced and doctors could prescribe drugs for addicted people. In 1971, under pressure from the United Nations (UN), that changed.

Parliament passed a law, with little thought given to how it would work.

Vague guidelines about suspicion in s23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 quickly became free licences to search any person the police pleased.

The class of drugs has been used more as a political tool than a measure of safety. Amphetamines and cannabis are both class B drugs while, despite being far safer than amphetamines, MDMA is class A. The Science and Technology Select Committee in 2006 branded the methodology unscientific in a report titled Drug classification: making a hash of it? Yes, that was meant to be funny.

But, perhaps most damningly, it didn’t stop anyone using drugs.

There is, apparently, a consistent reduction of drug use. Every year we’re told less and less people are taking drugs — or at least admitting to it.

However, the drug misuse survey published by the office of national statistics found that one fifth of people in the 16-24-year-old bracket have taken drugs in the last year. This is down from one quarter a decade ago, but still astonishingly high. What other crime would we cheer at knowing one fifth of people in a single age bracket had committed it?

Even so, it’s going down — a success? Not quite.

1. Yes, drug use has been going down (or at least admitting to it has been) but that was after its inclusion in PSHE lessons, and the introduction of increased education about the risks. There was actually an increase in use after criminalisation which continued into the 1990s, with increased use by 16-25-year-olds being noted in the British medical journal. This is at least suggestive that the decrease is to do with education, not arrests.

2. Not only do these laws not stop anyone taking drugs, they make drug use more dangerous. Needle sharing, contact with violent criminals, debt and petty crime to feed habits are all increased by drug prohibition. Needle sharing is a major cause of HIV, and a minor criminal record for possession or petty crime to fund addiction is a major barrier to employment. This pushes people, already on the edge of society, almost completely out of it. It forces people further and further out, compounding the addiction problem. It’s even undermined our geopolitical objectives, funding terrorism including the Taliban and allegedly the IRA.

The policy has failed, but this doesn’t appear to matter. Early this year, it was extended by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which banned so-called legal highs.

It was bad legislation that — its first draft banned food, flowers and scented candles. It was described as a ban on pleasure by one barrister, and that’s all this really is.


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The entire policy of drug prohibition isn’t based on scientific safeguarding or intelligent social engineering — it’s the modern temperance movement. I wouldn’t advocate for the free sale of heroin to all those over 18. The harm hard drugs can do is obvious, but the drugs debate is always centred on morals. The debate is never driven by facts, figures or data, but slogans and TV rants.

Moralising about the awful effects of drug addiction is all very well, but setting up laws to compound the problem isn’t going to solve it. Punishing the addict — the primary victim of drug addiction — is a bit like punishing the victim of an assault. Saying they shouldn’t have walked through a dark area alone isn’t going to heal their bruises, or stop others doing so.

It’s time for a change in policy to truly reduce harm. There are several ideas, from consumption rooms, to legalising cannabis to decriminalisation of all drugs. While these do have up sides, I don’t favour them.

I want to have some control. So I believe we should allow charities, under licences, to produce and sell drugs to those over the age of 18. Additionally, certain drugs should have paraphernalia provided with them and should be consumed in consumption rooms. The state should set the price of these drugs, so no one can profit from them. They should also set the strength, which should be clearly labeled, to reduce accidental overdoses.

On the other side, the unlicensed sale of drugs should be heavily punished, to maintain control of the market, to control what is put in the drugs and how strong they are. If there is a legal outlet, which is safer, criminals will make little money, and have significant risks. This will drive them out of the market. Who would risk ten years in prison for £200 a month, and a lot of leg work?

There is of course the issue of supply. Initially there would have to be the supply from criminals. But, we can synthesise and produce these drugs ourselves. In fact last year two papers, published separately, found a way to turn sugar into opium (a few chemical reactions from heroin). We could find a similar method for other drugs and completely cut off funding for terrorists in a few years.

Some people may find the idea uncomfortable. I, however, find the waste of lives, potential and resources on a pointless exercise to be far more repulsive.

Peter Baker is a graduate from Aberystwyth University. He completed the GDL this year at BPP University and hopes to study the LPC.

Want to write for the Legal Cheek Journal? Find out more here.

49 Comments

SuKihn

Sometimes, I look at the competition in the graduate market and feel truly miserable about my future prospects.

Other times, when reading articles like this for instance, I feel much better.

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Anonymous

“But, perhaps most damningly, it didn’t stop anyone using drugs”

In equally shocking news, murder is illegal but people kill each other all the time!

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Anonymous

Murder is ipso facto wrong. Unjustified and unjustifiable killing will never and should never be legally permitted in any society. Getting high on drugs is not inherently wrong. If you choose to get high, fine, just don’t do anything wrong or harmful in the process, much the same as alcohol or tobacco.

Killing someone and getting high are not equivalent in any way shape or form. Other than the fact that it’s been observed multiple times that prohibiting something, particularly trivial things that are easy to achieve anyway, tends makes it more widespread, what would be the issue with people taking drugs? We already have laws in place regarding illegal acts under the influence of substances, how is allowing them to take those substances going to make it any worse? The issue is the actions they take afterwards, not the taking of drugs.

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Anonymous

“minor criminal record for possession or petty crime to fund addiction is a major barrier to employment”

That’s the major barrier, yes, not being high on smack most of the day, of course.

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Pantman

The problem with these arguments to legalise drugs, or control access through legal means (i.e. you can get them if you want them, legally), is that they somehow come to the conclusion that this measure will eliminate organised crime, and possibly reduce collateral criminality by users (e.g. stealing to fund their habits).

I think that applying a little logic to the situation, and looking at other areas, reveals that this is a completely spurious argument. This is easy to prove: we have state controlled access to tobacco and alcohol – this does not prevent the illegal importation (smuggling) of these items, nor the production of counterfeits. It also would not prevent the production and distribution of some illegal forms of these substances (if the market wanted such) that the government chose not to allow. We see the same issues in many other areas where counterfeit/illegal/unsafe products are introduced into a legal market by large scale criminal enterprises.

In addition, it seems clear to me that those wanting these drugs, and who currently commit crime to fund their illegal consumption, would end up committing the same level of crime to fund their “legal” consumption.

Essentially calls for this kind of state control of psychoactive substances aren’t very well thought out.

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Anonymous

Lets apply a little logic to your argument- which is clearly lacking.

You talk about organised crimes involvement in smuggling. They already smuggle drugs into the UK. However, as the article shows, legalisation wouldn’t increase demand. If some of the market is legal, and the market isn’t any bigger there would simply be less smuggling. That is a reduction in organised crime. The Scottish cigarette market is an excellent example- 25% of tobacco is illicit (smuggled or without taxes being paid). It would be 100% if tobacco was illegal. That’s a clear reduction in smuggled tobacco.

Under the proposed charity system, there isn’t a profit motive for those selling the drugs. This means that they wouldn’t buy counterfeit versions. It is normally suppliers buying counterfeited merchandise which introduce it to the market. In addition to the proposed heavy sentencing, that’s a lot of risk for little profit. Few criminals will gravitate towards that area, so crime will again be reduced.

As for the associated crimes- perhaps they wouldn’t change. It would depend on the prices charged at the charities- if they where cheaper less crime would fund the same fix. The easier targeting of services may allow for reduced addiction rates, so crime may also fall in this way. I do, however, take this point.

A final point- you seemed to have missed the point of the article. It was arguing that current laws don’t reduce crime rates, but cost lives and money with no positive result. It’s all very well saying this wont reduce crime (which I disagree with) but if it’s the current system is causing exploitation, violence and health consequences for no purposes, shouldn’t we change it?

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Pantman

I believe you are making assertions that simply are not borne out. If drugs are legalised I think it is obvious that consumption will increase. This fact is easily derived, if we believe that there is any disincentive (to consume drugs) in the risk of criminal conviction or the difficulties of dealing with criminals. I don’t think it is controversial to say that one purpose of the law is to persuade people to be compliant.

As to the argument that drugs would be cheaper. I’m not convinced by this either. The most likely outcome is that the state would like a piece of the pie too – and tax drugs in the same way that they tax alcohol and tobacco. It is obvious that this would provide the gap in which smugglers and counterfeiters could operate. There is also the issue of criminals providing drugs that the government chose not to sanction, or develop new drugs (ultra-strong cannabis derivatives or new designer drugs, for example).

It’s hard to say whether the law reduces crime – to take your example, if we decriminalise all crime then we suddenly have no crime. So the criminal law in itself is autopoietic in the sense that it creates its own crime. However, I think it is obvious that criminalisation changes behaviour – the drink-driving laws are probably a good example of that.

For certain it would be a good thing to deal with addiction rates, and overall consumption in smarter ways, but legalising drugs just normalises their use and probably leads to an increase in the number of addicts and consumers. This is an easy test to make – if we could stop 100% of smuggling, then we’d have a 100% drop in addiction rates too. Availability creates addicts and consumers (that’s basic economics – 25 years ago who knew they needed an always-on, internet-connected device in their pocket 24 hours a day?) .

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Sleepy Lawyer

Your opening point was refuted in the article. Did you even bother reading it?

Your point about increased drug prices realise on a presumed course of action that I did not advocate for. The solution to this issue is simply not to follow the strategy you propose- Instead following the strategy in my comment. If you do not allow the price to become very high, there is no gap for smugglers to operate in.

Thirdly, you seem to have entirely missed my point about crime rates- Yes certain behaviour should be criminalised. However, I was simply arguing that as the size of the market is not effected by criminalisation (see the article) that it is preferable to have 25% (upper limit of criminal control) controlled by criminals to the entire market. It is also worth pointing out that it is not simply the prohibited activity, but also a reduction in crimes (violence) associated with it.

I would just like reiterate that criminalisation didn’t reduce drug usage rates, so it didn’t change peoples behaviour. This was a major point in the article.

Finally, you seem to have a very basic understanding of economics. Demand creates supply, not the other way round. It is also worth stating- again- that the article argues there no association between criminalisation and drug usage rates. The normalisation point is false.

I have to say I am very disappointed- the substance of your argument was completed refuted in the main text.

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Pantman

There is an error in your logic: if someone first states something, and I state something else, it doesn’t mean that the first is correct.

Your understanding of economics is flawed. Demand my increase supply, but without supply there is no real demand – you need a product in the marketplace in order to capitalise on the latent demand.

Show me some evidence that drug consumption is not affected by the law, positively or negatively.

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Pantman

And besides anything else the suggestions in the article, and your own, do nothing to deal with the collateral crime that result from drug usage (theft to fund habits, driving under the influence…) and the negative effects on health. These are arguably more significant than the effects upon society of the drug taking itself.

We need a model that reduces drug taking (including tobacco and alcohol) – legalisation does not do that.

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Frustrated Lawyer

I’m going to reply to both your comments in this reply.

Firstly- supply creates demand? So there’s a demand for sand in the dessert? A demand for salt water on a sea going ship? How ridiculous. Even if we apply this to drugs, No one has ever realised the local dealers run out of heroin and suddenly decided they didn’t want it anyway.

Secondly- the article points out that there was a consistent increase of drug use after we made them illegal. Further evidence you haven’t bothered to read what you’re commenting on. There is also the home office report that found no connection between drug usage rates and the legality. Here’s a user friendly version, but it has a link to the study itself – https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/oct/30/punitive-drug-laws-are-failing-study

Your quiet correct- the author saying it first doesn’t make it true. The evidence that has been presented, and your failure to provide any is what makes you incorrect. Please show me your evidence it does- you’ve made a claim now back it up. Please use actual evidence, data, facts figures- not arguments about what you think will happen (as you have been up to now).

Again showing you haven’t read the article- the article points out that the illegality of drugs increase the danger of drug usage while not preventing it. The whole point is that the it makes them more dangerous while not decreasing there use. If you truly care about the danger of drugs, you should support the legalisation policy which makes them safer. As is pointed out above- needle sharing and the increased risk of overdose are caused by the drugs being illegal.

Please read the article before you comment again. It’s very frustrating directing you to the article. Disagreeing is fine, but at least deal with the arguments presented. If you don’t, I wont bother replying beyond saying that you still haven’t read it.

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Trumpenkrieg

Liberalism is a collective mental illness the participants of in which engage in a merry-go-round of one upmanship to see who can propose the most degenerate, depraved and destructive thing to be tolerant of, and the most time tested societal taboo or grandmotherly wisdom to be cast aside in a fit of virtue signalling. And make no mistake, none of this is based on empathy or wanting to better the lot of one’s fellow man, but rather rather on an unfettered drive to appear ‘cool’ and ‘liberated’ in front of one’s peers, and consequences for society be damned.

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Anonymous

Bet you first heard that term “virtue signalling” on Newsnight last week and haven’t stopped dropping it into conversation since…

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Legal Aid Funded Peasant

Half of Western Europe, USA and the Caribbean have legalised or decriminalised Cannabis (Netherlands and Portugal have gone one step further). I struggle to see why the UK is still stuck in the dark ages over this issue. I’m sick of representing clients at police stations over cannabis charges and most police I talk to are equally sick of it and most do not bother making arrests anymore. The governments pussy footing around over this issue is pathetic and a generation of kids from all walks of life get criminalised over a bit of puff… Don’t let me get started on cocaine after either those of you corporate Link Slaters/Freshfields lot that have half a G of Peruvian up your hooter before you’ve even left the office on a Friday afternoon. Legalise the lot and just come down hard on those who deal and drive under the influence, simple!!!

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Scouser of Counsel

The lad is talking sense here. Legalise and sell or prescribe and here are the benefits:

– Organised crime is put out of business overnight.

– Fewer users are committing low level acquisitive crime to fund their habit.

– Massive savings on policing, courts, CPS and the Legal Aid bill follow.

– Taxes on said substances mean more dosh for the Treasury. Even more if the substances are sold through government owned shops.

– Fewer deaths from contaminated substances (yes, this is a benefit- “junkies” are people too!)

– Fewer people held back from finding employment because of a drug conviction.

– Easier to target treatment at those who want to stop.

Meanwhile, drug driving would continue to be an offence as drink driving is now.

A final thought- in all the years doing Legal Aid crime, I’ve never once had a case where a defendant has allegedly attacked someone whilst stoned. Plenty who have done so while drunk, however.

Just my 2d worth…

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#thegreatest

Ha!!! Owned!!!!

You peasant thinking you’re so clever- 2d doesn’t mean 2 dollars, it means two-pence!

In old (ie pre-1971) British money! Ask your parents, wretch!

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Pantman

You probably should have read the comments above, these argue the direct opposite of what you say. Legalisation increases consumption, taxation creates a space for criminality, drug users create a great deal of collateral crime.

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Adult human being with rights.

I think at the very least there should be a selection of 10 drugs for the public to choose from so that they have a tool kit to get through their life without wanting to die from the madness of not being allowed to use your body how you see fit. Me personally (I’m not talking about doing these all at once, just what I need when I need it) I would choose 1) cannabis for everyday use 2) my favourite medium strength opiate 3) MDMA maybe once a month for very special social events that I want to enjoy with friends 4) a strong opiate for when I just want to get a break from mental and physical pain 5) a mild amphetamine or similar class drug when I need to work hard 6) a decent sleeping aid for times when I need it 7) dmt for when I need to look deep into myself 8) some type of drug for a good sexual time with my lady 9) and 10) I’m not sure what else I need perhaps 8 is enough. So there you have it an adult toolkit to get the most out of life.

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Anonymous

To be fair to him, if I’d gone to Aberystwyth University I’d also want easy access to mind-bending substances…if only to cope with my crushing sense of failure.

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