I recently read a book called Chasing the Scream which is written by a British writer and journalist – Johann Hari. It examined the history and impact of drug criminalisation and helped to completely change my perception as to whether drugs should be legalised.
How It All Started
I learned that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ started in America, lead by a man called Harry J. Anslinger in early 1900s under the Hoover administration. Anslinger staged his campaign as a moral crusade against certain kinds of users: jazz musicians, the counter-culture, and particularly immigrants and blacks.
In his own words, “marijuana can arouse in blacks and Hispanics a state of menacing fury or homicidal attack”. Harry instructed his growing army of anti-drug soldiers to “shoot first” when dealing with addicts as once they were addicted there was no hope and they were better off dead.
Harry forced other countries to join the ‘war’ by putting financial pressure on them if they didn’t tow the line. His approach was continued first by Nixon and then the Regan administration, with the “Just say no” campaign – headed by Regan’s wife, Nancy. And, today, under Trump, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), has record high budgets.
Sadly, his racist, cruel and illegitimate agenda worked and currently, drugs are illegal in almost every country on the planet.
America has spent over 1 trillion dollars ($1, 000, 000, 000, 000) on this war to date, and yet still, drug use continues to rise. The simple fact is that making drugs illegal has not stopped people from using them. What it has managed to do though, is dramatically increase the number of people in prison. The US has 5% of the world’s population, but over a quarter of the world’s prisoners – 50% of which are there for illegal drug use.
The war is also very hypocritical, alcohol, which is agreed by many scientists to be the most dangerous drug in the world, is legal everywhere. I recognise that this is largely down to social and cultural reasons but when you look at it objectively why should alcohol be legal over many other less harmful substances?
A large proportion of hard drug users and addicts are people who are poor and have had traumatic childhoods; they turn to drugs to escape their horrible reality and society condemns and imprisons them for inordinate amounts of time. Treatment, support and love is the only way they will ever recover.
Just look at Portugal, in the 1980s one in ten people were addicted to heroin. Then in 2001, they became the first country in the world to decriminalise the possession and consumption of all illicit substances.
Rather than being arrested, those caught with a personal supply might be given a warning, a small fine, or referred to a social worker to discuss treatment, harm reduction, and the support services that are available to them. Overall drug use decreased, death form using drugs has dramatically decreased, and they have a more educated society that knows about the risks of drug taking.
If America and all the other countries around the world ended the war on drugs and took the ludicrous amount of money that they spend fighting it to invest in education and healthcare, I believe the world would be far better off. It would cripple the income source of the most violent and dangerous gangs and cartels globally. It would save millions of lives, from the people who overdose because they are unsure of the purity, or because of other lethal impurities mixed into street drugs, as well as, those who catch HIV/AIDS from sharing unclean needles.
And when I talk of drug reform I am by no means talking about legalising all drugs in a free for all. Rather I would propose new state-managed ‘pharmaceutical’ shop that would sell everything from heroin to alcohol. To purchase anything from there you would need to have signed up to a secure register where your age and identity are confirmed. Access to certain drugs would be restricted, so you couldn’t buy inordinate amounts. Advertising, promotion and branding of any drugs would also be illegal. Information, safety, and harm reduction rooms would also be available on site. This model would not only provide massive tax revenue to be invested in health and education, but I think it would solve many of the problems that the black market creates.
I hope the world will follow Portugal’s example and reform the current laws to ones based more on harm reduction and support, rather than punishment and condemnation. In my view, it’s only a matter of time before this happens.
If you want to read more about this topic or find out where I got some of my information from, check out this article: Portugal’s radical drugs policy is working. Why hasn’t the world copied it?