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The pros and cons of drug legalisation 2


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So what are the pros and cons of legalising drugs in the UK?

Pro: the war on drugs creates addicts
Russell Brand, Sir Richard Branson, Sting and Michael Mansfield QC were among high-profile signatories to an open letter asking the government to consider decriminalising possession of cannabis in 2014, The Independent reported. Cannabis has been classified as a Class B drug in the UK since 2008 and carries a prison sentence of up to five years for possession.

Release, the drugs charity which organised the letter, says arresting users “creates more harm for individuals, their families and society”. It says that if users are not “caught up in the criminal justice system” they have a better chance of escaping addiction and argues that evidence from other countries supports this view. According to Release, users of ‘soft’ drugs like cannabis are more likely to try something harder, including heroin, when both are illegal.

Con: legalising drugs would create addicts
Kevin Sabet, a leading US academic and opponent of drug liberalisation, told The Guardian: “Legal regulation has been a disaster for drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Both of those drugs are now sold by highly commercialised industries who thrive off addiction for profit.”

He concluded: “What we need is much smarter law-enforcement, coupled with real demand reduction in places like Europe and the US.” At a time when governments are uniting to stop people smoking, should they really be becoming more laissez-faire about drug use?

Pro: if you can’t beat them, regulate them
Sir William Patey, the former UK ambassador to Afghanistan, ruffled feathers when he came out in favour of legalising the trade in opium poppies, from which heroin is derived. Writing in The Guardian, Patey said it was impossible to stop Afghan farmers from growing and exporting opium illegally, and concluded that “if we cannot deal effectively with supply” the only alternative is to “limit the demand for illicit drugs by making a licit supply of them available from a legally regulated market”. This would create stability and peace in drug-producing nations.

Con: sending out the ‘wrong’ message
Prohibitionists argue that legalising drugs would suggest to the public that they are safe to take, flying in the face of evidence showing that even cannabis can damage people’s mental and physical health. This is the view of the Home Office, which said in May: “The legalisation of cannabis would send the wrong message to the vast majority of people who do not take drugs, especially young and vulnerable people, with the potential grave risk of increased misuse of drugs.”

Pro: regulated drugs are safer
One of the strongest arguments for legalisation and regulation is that it ensures the quality of drugs being consumed.

Drugs sold by dealers are often cut with harmful substances, increasing the risk of suffering adverse effects. 

The result is that current UK drug policy has led to the highest ever rate of deaths from overdose. Deaths from heroin more than doubled from 2012 to 2015 while in 2016, 63 people died from ecstasy-related incidents in England and Wales – “deaths that could have been prevented if they’d known better what they were taking” says the Adam Smith Institute’s Matt Kilcoyne in City A.M.

Con: the Pope wouldn’t like it
Pope Francis has tarnished his glowing liberal credentials as the tweeting pontiff who spoke inclusively about gay people, denounced “unbridled capitalism” and reached out to Muslims, by speaking out against decriminalisation. Francis is a native of Argentina, which borders Uruguay, where cannabis is now legally grown and smoked. He said legalising recreational drugs was “highly questionable” and would “fail to produce the desired effects”, reported the Daily Mail. He added that legalisation was “a veiled means of surrendering to the problem”.

Pro: big savings for the taxpayer
Legalising cannabis could earn the Treasury up to £3.5bn a year in tax revenues, according to a new report from Health Poverty Action. The international development organisation says the money could be used to plug the gap in the NHS budget.

“Prohibition has failed,” said Natasha Horsfield, the group’s advocacy officer. “From our perspective, it’s about regulating the market to improve public health outcomes and create a safer environment. But we can see the potential benefits from a taxation perspective if we were to regulate it.”

A report from the Institute for Social and Economic Research suggests legalisation would save up to £300m in policing, criminal justice and drug treatment services in England and Wales. Health Poverty Action says it would free up the police and judicial systems to address more serious or violent crime and reduce the overall prison burden.

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