I am new to drug policy campaigning, but have been struck by how easy it is convincing individuals that regulation and control, rather than prohibition would deliver huge benefits. But if I have learned one thing from meeting politicians around the world during years working on environmental and international development campaigns, it is that being right is never enough, you need the right political climate too.
So I was not surprised to hear that when Transform asked then UK Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth MP to audit the costs and benefits of different drug control options, he said; “Why would we want to do that unless we were going to legalise drugs?” In other words the government has no intention of letting the facts get in the way of a terrible policy that enables them to play “tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime”, when the war on drugs is precisely the opposite. Or perhaps equally the Labour Party was not going to do anything to undermine the UK’s Siamese-twin foreign policy relationship with the Bush Administration.
So to end prohibition we need the public and political climate to change to one supportive of evidence based drug policy. Well, Obama has made some interesting noises as mentioned on this blog before, and if he was elected that might give a bit more latitude for governments to at least audit their drug policies properly without being threatened with US shock-and-awe. But in the end politicians must believe that climate change around drugs policy is happening out there in the real world. And at Transform, after ten long years working on this issue, we see strong hints that it finally is.
Now I don’t pretend we are there yet, but there is a steadily increasing chorus of voices from across the political spectrum, from individual Joe and Mary Public and media voices to senior officials either advocating an end to prohibition, or making statements and producing evidence that underpin regulation and control as the solution. For example, just a small selection from the news over the last couple of days:
- Manchester Evening News : reporting a former drug addict in Manchester saying; "In a way, legalising drugs could help cut burglaries, drug dealing and a lot of gun crime and turf wars."
- The US Conservative Voice: “In addition the government needs to … eliminate the 'War on Drugs' which is creating criminal activity on an unprecedented scale."
- The Canton Rep: Ohio: “The entire "war" on drugs has done nothing except increase demand and fill our prisons and jails while those who should be in prison are on the streets. If you want to control anything, then legalize it and tax it.”
- Usnews.com : “Regulation can reduce drug use. In two generations, we've halved the number of cigarette smokers not through prohibition but through education, regulated selling, and taxes. And we don't jail nicotine addicts. Drug addiction won't go away, but tax revenue can help pay for treatment.”
- Gay Byrne, in the Irish Independent: “For how long more than 40 years do you continue to apply a solution [drug prohibition] to a problem, which not only doesn't work, but also which makes the problem worse with every passing day, before someone, somewhere, says that maybe - as in perhaps - there might be a better way?”
- The New York Times: “Today, a dizzying array of armed groups lord over the farmlands of Nariño [Columbia]…Their presence reflects the symbiotic nature of the armed groups and the drug trade, each drawing strength from the other… [C]oca growers have nimbly sidestepped almost a decade of fumigation efforts by reorganizing industrial-size farms into smaller plots that are much harder to find and spray from the air. They are taxed and protected by forces on the various sides of the conflict…The FARC and other groups will survive as long as there are safe havens, the flow of drug money and large, remote regions unconnected to the broader economy.”
- Irish Times: "Illicit substances have been in demand here for at least 350 years; no legal measures have ever made a difference."