Are UK Drug Laws Stuck In The Last Century?
At present, there are around 5000 deaths per year in the UK from misuse of drugs. Countless others have their families torn apart, their finances ruined and their personal safety compromised by their addiction.
The streets are dark, the nights are cold and a heroin needle is shared between friends. This was a common scene in Portugal no more than a mere 15 years ago. AIDS rates were at an all time high and drug related mental health issues and crime were skyrocketing dangerously.
But not anymore.
Over 15 years ago, Portugal legalised the possession of all drugs in small quantities - and the changes have been immense. Not only have the HIV rates dropped to nearly nothing, but the desire to use drugs has evaporated too. Though it can be stated that nearly every teenager who inhabits Portugal's towns would know where to find marijuana, the stigma around doing so is completely gone. The attitude for everyone, particularly young people, has turned from one of rebellion to one of casual indifference. As a result, previously “illicit” substances has fallen.
Meanwhile, the UK does not seem inclined to follow their lead. Drug usage is virulent in the back alleys, club toilets and deserted car parks of the UK. Last year, the UK was branded as the 'Drug Capital of Europe', with an astonishing 40% of all drug overdose deaths in the EU happening in our home country. Despite this, there seems to be no political will to step in and recognise this as an issue. Rehabilitation centres have been closed, local authorities have been ordered to cut their funding by up to a third, and addicts are treated as deviant criminals. On top of this, our drug laws are dangerously outdated - having stayed exactly the same since the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971. This speaks of a wider social attitude that drug misuse is something we can collectively brush under the carpet - yet a closer look at the figures reveals that this law is out of touch with the reality of what is happening on our streets.
At present, there are around 5000 deaths per year in the UK from misuse of drugs. Countless others have their families torn apart, their finances ruined and their personal safety compromised by their addiction. The drug market means that funds go straight into the pockets of dealers, who are free to cut their product with any manner of adulterants. Those who are in debt to dealers can hardly go to the police for help. It is the very definition of a downward spiral. This is why, counter-intuitive as it might initially seem, legalising drugs may help to reduce the problem.
Legalising drugs eases many of our societal problems with one fell swoop. It removes the rebellious nature of drug-taking, meaning that shady drug dealers can no longer profiteer from the vulnerable and under-aged. Taxation from the government could more tightly monitor drug sales and usage and raise funds for addiction centres, like in Portugal where drug users can wean themselves off substances in a safe environment. Our government could provide a healing and secure support system for those battling addiction, easing addicts back into society. Instead, we shove addicts in jail, which only serves to harden them into more dangerous criminals and turn them onto harder drugs. The logic here is simple, treat people as criminals and they will return the favour by acting as criminals. If we legalised drugs, gang violence and crime would deplete and there'd be far less risk of teenagers being sucked into a cycle of blackmail to transport or sell drugs under the duress of threat from dealers.
Though this may strike many as drastic, it could save thousands of lives and radically transform our society. By treating addicts as patients rather than criminals, we ease the burden on our prison system, create a more empathetic society and remove the black market, freeing up funds for our health service. Let's look to Portugal and try to create a society free from the shackles of illegal drugs.