Pubdate:  Tue, 12 Aug 1997

Source: The Scotsman, Edinburgh, UK
Contact: Opinion

Time to face reality of drugs 

Editorial comment 

IT IS only right that the casual, unbelievably callous murder of five
year Dillon Hull in Bolton should concentrate minds on the problem of 
drugs. The child's death is the vilest of metaphors for the carnage 
being wrought among the young by an epidemic that has resisted every 
curative campaign and is only now receiving honest debate. Illegal drugs 
mean vast amounts of black money. Fortunes in untraceable cash mean 
organised crime. Noone, anywhere in the world, has managed to suppress 
the appetite for narcotics. Does this mean that the "war" against them 
is lost before it has begun? 

Some would say so. Calls for a Royal Commission to examine Britain's 
drug culture, and demands that the likes of cannabis be decriminalised, 
amount to a rational answer to a horrific question. The answer might 
stick in some throats, but it is logical enough. Soft drugs are 
different from hard drugs, it suggests. Far too much time, and too many 
scarce resources, are being expended making criminals of otherwise law
abiding people because there taste in the leastharmful intoxicants is 
not sanctioned. Why not cut through the nonsense, license and control 
the trade, and thus stop the criminals in their tracks? 

Some apply the same logic even to hard drugs, arguing that there will 
always be people stupid enough to fall prey to addiction and that the 
energy and resources expended on law enforcement would be better spent 
on health and education.

IT IS only right that the casual, unbelievably callous murder of five
year Dillon Hull in Bolton should concentrate minds on the problem of 
drugs. The child's death is the vilest of metaphors for the carnage 
being wrought among the young by an epidemic that has resisted every 
curative campaign and is only now receiving honest debate. Illegal drugs 
mean vast amounts of black money. Fortunes in untraceable cash mean 
organised crime. Noone, anywhere in the world, has managed to suppress 
the appetite for narcotics. Does this mean that the "war" against them 
is lost before it has begun? 

Some would say so. Calls for a Royal Commission to examine Britain's 
drug culture, and demands that the likes of cannabis be decriminalised, 
amount to a rational answer to a horrific question. The answer might 
stick in some throats, but it is logical enough. Soft drugs are 
different from hard drugs, it suggests. Far too much time, and too many 
scarce resources, are being expended making criminals of otherwise law
abiding people because there taste in the leastharmful intoxicants is 
not sanctioned. Why not cut through the nonsense, license and control 
the trade, and thus stop the criminals in their tracks? 

Some apply the same logic even to hard drugs, arguing that there will 
always be people stupid enough to fall prey to addiction and that the 
energy and resources expended on law enforcement would be better spent 
on health and education.

Again, organised crime would find business a deal less profitable. 
Meanwhile, health risks, of which HIV from shared needles was the most 
recent, would be reduced. 

It all sounds very simple, suspiciously so. Libertarians might adhere to 
the philosophical belief that freedom (or at least free markets) should 
be paramount. In the real world, a 15yearold junkie dying in an alley 
lacks the benefit of theory. Besides, if Britain were to abandon its 
drug laws it would overnight become a haven for every addict and amateur 
pusher in Europe and beyond. That does not sound like the sort of 
freedom the public at large would find comfortable. 

Nevertheless, one thing is clear: without exception every drugs 
"initiative" ever mounted has failed. Thus, the Government's plan for a 
"drugs czar" is likely to have no more success here than it has had in 
the United States. Why appoint such a figure, indeed, when policy is far 
from clear and when there are wide, inexplicable variations in the 
sentencing of convicted drug abusers in different parts of the country? 

Equally, the slogan "Just say No" has fallen on too many deaf ears. 
"Harm reduction" campaigns are precisely as modest in their ambitions 
and achievements as they sound. The sterling work of police and Customs 
has come nowhere near to staunching the flood of narcotics, as even they 
would admit. 

None of this is to suggest that drugs should become a supermarket 
commodity: quite the reverse. Too many advocates of decriminalisation 
are altogether too blase about the destructive potential of these 
substances. If possible, they should be eradicated. 

That said, there is no excuse for refusing a Royal Commission. In an 
area in which new thinking is desperately needed, it might at least 
provide a fresh understanding of the drug culture in Britain. What is 
required, indeed, is a review of the entire scope of the Government's 
antidrugs policy. Scotland Against Drugs has not been a notable 
success, for example. Why not? 

With so many serious objections against it, meanwhile, the option of 
decriminalisation might in the end be of only marginal use. Let us find 
out. Battles may have been lost, but this war is far from over.