Socialist Worker

'War' that fuels drugs trade

Issue No. 1718

Politicians ignore real issues in their...

'War' that fuels drugs trade

ANN WIDDECOMBE'S rant at the Tory conference spectacularly blew up in her face when eight of her Tory colleagues admitted they had used cannabis. Widdecombe's ridiculous idea of an automatic fine of �100 for cannabis possession has opened up a wider debate, with calls for the drug's legalisation. It has also highlighted how the "war on drugs" policy of successive governments has only created more misery and addiction.

Cannabis is safe

THE ONLY dangerous thing about cannabis is the tobacco with which it is often smoked. The doctors' BMA organisation says cannabis is "very safe" and that "no deaths have been directly attributed to [its] recreational or therapeutic use". Compare this to the 120,000 people in Britain a year who die of tobacco-related diseases.

Alcohol is another drug that is far more dangerous than cannabis, killing 30,000 people every year. Yet tobacco and alcohol are legal and cannabis is not. The Blair government spends tens of millions of pounds a year enforcing the absurd law against cannabis. It even targets those who use cannabis as relief from conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

Prohibition laws last year led to 80,000 people convicted of cannabis possession, and 400 jailed. Every year "the equivalent of six prisons are filled with cannabis offenders at a cost of �60 million a year", according to campaigning group Transform. Politicians who preach against cannabis are either hypocrites or live on a different planet from most ordinary people. Cannabis should be legalised now.


Prison fails

NEW LABOUR home secretary Jack Straw has set his face against any serious debate on drugs policy. A Downing Street spokesperson said, "To say the chance of reform happening is minimal would be an exaggeration."

Yet driving hard drug users underground only spawns more drug use. Until the 1960s drugs such as heroin could be got from a GP through prescription, allowing doctors to control addiction within the law. Governments abandoned this policy and unleashed a "war on drugs", claiming prison could stop drug use.

Prison is the worst place for an addict. Smuggled-in drugs are common currency. When addicts get out they cannot get a job because they have to declare their conviction. Prohibition racks up the price of drugs, forcing hard drug users to resort to crime to feed their costly habit.

Many working class addicts end up homeless, or driven into prostitution. Instead of getting help through rehabilitation schemes they are forced to share needles, leaving them open to HIV and other infections. Because there is nowhere for them to go they often use waste ground, leaving needles lying around.


Scots disaster

SCOTLAND SHOWS just how big a disaster the "war on drugs" has been. Problem drug use rocketed in the 1980s in working class areas as recession destroyed people's lives and hopes. There are now 30,000 problem drug users in Scotland. Illegality has done nothing but increase the problem.

At least �150 million is spent on dealing with drugs in Scotland. Only ONE TENTH goes on treatment, care and rehabilitation. That money would be better spent on NHS and social services provision. It should be used to house people and get them jobs.


"IN SOME parts of the country there are waiting lists in order of a year or longer for NHS treatment services. People need treatment when they decide to ask for help. Every day heroin users are not getting help they are feeding an �80 a day drug habit. That has a cost to the community in crime. It means they are vulnerable to illnesses such as HIV and hepatitis C through using "street heroin". Prohibition has a long history of not achieving what the politicians want it to do. People need to get back into society, but being labelled an offender doesn't help. We want a rational debate to bring out the issues."

  • RICHARD TAMYLIN, chief executive of the Exeter Drugs Project

Dutch lesson

"HARD ON drugs" politicians say laws against cannabis use are necessary to stop people graduating to heroin and cocaine. The opposite is true. In Holland police do not prosecute people with small amounts of cannabis. This has led to a FALL in cannabis use.

Decriminalisation has also led to a drop in heroin use-especially by the young. Heroin can be gained by prescription and people are not "busted" for having small amounts. In Holland heroin addiction levels are now amongs the lowest in Europe. A report also found that "drug related deaths per million population [in Holland] are the lowest in Europe. In 1995 the figure was 2.4 as against 31.1 for the UK."


A cover for racism

THE POLICE use the cover of drugs laws to stop and search young working class people, especially blacks and Asians. A recent study by the Metropolitan Police themselves found that half of all stop and searches were on the excuse of looking for drugs, and 75 percent of these were connected with cannabis use.

Black people are up to seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by police. This is despite British Crime Survey figures that show that black people are LESS likely to try cannabis than whites.


Is US a model?

THE US has the harshest drug laws and the biggest illegal drugs problem. In 1997 there were around 400,000 people on any one day behind bars in the US for violating a drug law.

The US "war on drugs" has been used in a racist way to lock up blacks on a huge scale. As a result there are now more black people in jail or on probation than at college.


THE LATEST casualties of the US "war on drugs" are the small farmers of Colombia and Bolivia. The US is engaged in a plan to destroy the coca plant grown in these countries.

Drug barons extract cocaine from the leaves, but the peasants use the coca leaves as part of their daily diet. Wiping out coca in Colombia and Bolivia will cause massive hardship and simply see the cocaine industry move to surrounding countries.


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Sat 14 Oct 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1718
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