The Failed “War on Drugs” – Time for Change


The international, US-led, ideological “war on drugs” has been an utter failure and it is about time the UK joined a growing number of nations in taking a scientific, evidence-based approach to dealing with the inevitable use of psychoactive substances.

The authoritarian idea of controlling the behaviour of the public by criminalising mind-altering substances has a long history; which has resulted in public health crises, mass incarceration of otherwise law-abiding citizens, immense black markets, violent drug gangs, deaths and even genocides. These are only few examples of the devastating and far-reaching consequences of the drug war.

Even the United Nations Office on Drug Control admits that international drug control has resulted in the creation of “a criminal black market of staggering proportions” which has become a fundamental threat to global security.

Criminalising drug use does not prevent its use, it just hands the market to criminals. Drugs sold have no age restrictions, no ingredient-labelling, no instructions and no health advice. Drugs created on the black market are notably impure, and it is never truly possible to know what you are buying.

Most of the health-risks can be directly attributed to the fact drugs are illegal. People who overdose do not seek medical help quickly enough due to the fear of the legal consequences. Substances are adulterated by dodgy dealers, and they are made in unsafe home-laboratories. People are poorly educated on how to safely use these substances and what the safe limits are.

Not only does the drug war have such severe repercussions – it has been a catastrophic failure. It has failed to eliminate drug-use. It has failed to eliminate the production and supply of drugs. It has failed to protect the health of the public. After many decades it has completely failed in achieving what it was supposedly meant to achieve.

The world is starting, slowly, to wake up to this issue. The number of countries liberalising drug laws is increasing, especially in regard to cannabis. In these countries where drug laws have been liberalised, drug use has not soared.

Portugal is one of the most prominent examples of succesful liberal drug laws. 15 years ago, Portugal decriminalised all drug use. As a result of this, they have made considerable financial savings, public health has improved, crime has dropped and there has been no significant increase in drug use.

Other notable examples include the Netherlands, the United States, Uraguay, Canada and Switzerland.

Alongside these more progressive countries, there are unfortunately 33 that have a death penalty for drug offences.

The war on drugs is ideology driven – it is an authoritarian policy, designed to ensure control over citizens. Any arguments to say the war on drugs is about health and public safety can be struck down by simply pointing out the staggering impurity of drugs created by dodgy, violent criminals.

It is in the interest in public health and safety to educate people about how to safely use these substances and to regulate the production and supply of these substances to ensure purity.

It is time the UK took a more rational, evidence-based approach to substance use – an inevitability, proven by even the harshest anti-drug policy’s inability to curb it. It is time the UK joined the ever-increasing number of countries that are reaping the benefits of more liberal drug laws.

It is time the UK took notice of how damaging the consequences of the black market are and joined other countries in championing an evidence-based approach to drug policy.