This country is losing the war on drugs, according to Nick Clegg. The Deputy Prime Minister told the BBC’s Free Speech programme that he was frustrated that his Coalition partners were not prepared to be more imaginative on the issue, given clamour from other quarters for a new direction:
‘I don’t think we’re winning the drugs war; I think we keep banging our head against the wall and in fact I find it very frustrating that my Conservative coalition partners are not prepared to look more openly, imaginatively. You’ve got very senior police officers now coming out saying that the war on drugs is failing, that we should treat drug addiction as much as a health issue as a criminal justice one.’
But that assumes that there is war on drugs that is being fought at all. A year ago Peter Hitchens argued in The Spectator that this was a myth:
Tags: Drugs, Nick Clegg, UK politics
This country pretends to have stern anti-drug laws, and some people (notably the otherwise astute Sir Simon Jenkins) take this claim at face value. But it does not take much study to find that cannabis is at least as decriminalised in this country as it is Amsterdam. We just don’t advertise our laxity, partly because older voters are not ready for the truth, partly because we are bound by international treaties to maintain at least the semblance of a law against it.
How is it that, in a country where drugs are supposedly illegal — where ‘evil dealers’ are endlessly denounced — that drugs are so common and that little or nothing happens to those who are caught in possession of them? How did the ‘cannabis warning’, a gesture without force or penalty, unsanctioned by Parliament, become the preferred response of the police to the crime of possession? How can Pete Doherty drop illegal drugs on the floor of a courthouse, be caught by a security guard and yet walk free from the building, if we are — as we are so often told — running a regime of stern prohibition?
The answer is that the official version of events is simply false. Since a momentous Cabinet meeting in February 1970, there has been no ‘war on drugs’ in this country, only the official pretence of one. I beg my fellow commentators, columnists and pundits: please do not take seriously any claims that our drug problems stem from zealous enforcement of cruel laws, or you might find me camping outside your front door in a woolly hat, denouncing you and proclaiming your sins on a bedsheet.