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Sunday 26 July 2009

The Laws Don’t Work – 1

Few subjects provoke debate more than that of currently illegal drugs. And few are more guaranteed to generate a Pavlovian, and robust, reaction from politicians and the press. I considered this some time ago, but merely dwelled on the subject: now is the time for a more detailed consideration.

Why so? Well, Iain Dale (and there is no blogger greater than he) has found that, in a poll on his blog, well over half the respondents had tried an illegal drug. He was surprised. I wasn’t. There are two kinds of addictions you observe in the workplace – the legal (folks nipping out for baccy breaks, someone not showing of a morning as they’re still hung over) and the illegal (behaviours that suggest the recent consumption of cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines and the like). Freelances like me get into the habit of working round colleagues who aren’t quite there today. You just get on with the job.

What comes clear, though, is that, despite the headline grabbing drugs busts, those minded to consume illegal substances have no problem obtaining them. Sure, the price may fluctuate over time, but then, so what? Same with petrol and pasta – it happens. The problem is not supply, but quality: as the distribution is a product of criminality, there is little or no control on this, and drugs are routinely “padded out” to make more money. The “padding” can be one of a number of substances, which may make the effect of the drug far more harmful over time.

Yet the various authorities – Police, Customs, Intelligence – dedicate significant resources to not only seizing drug hauls, but breaking up networks of producers, suppliers and dealers, and bringing them to justice. Still the product gets through: there is hardly a settlement in the UK where a user is more than a few minutes away from his or her preferred drug (one or two of the Western Isles may be off the supply network).

So the drugs get through, and in a form that may be more harmful to the long term user. Also, some substances are injected, and there is the infection risk from dirty needles. But, as use is as illegal as supply, those who need treatment for their addiction, or just a supply of clean needles, are reluctant to come forward. So addiction remains untreated, adulterated drugs take their toll, and infected needles spread HIV. It’s a lousy deal all round.

What can be done? Ah well. Changing the status quo would involve clearing a number of hurdles. And they’re very high ones. I’ve identified three of them: Government and legislation, the media backlash, and the established criminality – and will consider their part in the drama later.

In the meantime, why not pop out for a ciggie, fix yourself a strong expresso, or crack open a chilled one? Don’t worry, they can’t nick you for it ...

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