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Just Say Yes, Dave

11 May 2011

1:39 AM

11 May 2011

1:39 AM

When David Cameron was a backbench MP he condemned the "abject failure" of the War on Drugs. And when he campaigned for the Troy leadership he said it was time for "fresh thinking and a new approach" to drug policy. He correctly noted that "Politicians attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator by posturing with tough policies and calling for crackdown after crackdown. Drugs policy has been failing for decades." While a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee he said the then-government should "initiate a discussion" at the United Nations to consider "alternative ways – including the possibility of legalisation and regulation – to tackle the global drugs dilemma."

There are many things one could say to mark the anniversary of his arrival in Downing Street and many of them would be fine and good things indeed. So let’s remember that, thus far, Cameron’s government has been a disappointment in this area. 

Britain will send a representative to Vienna next week for the latest international meeting at which global drug policy will be agreed upon. I suppose it is too late to hope that the Cameron who campaigned for his party’s leadership will re-emerge to advocate a more sensible approach than the current madness. Like other would-be reformers before him, he’s a victim of government-capture. That and the troublesome headlines legalisation would produce. Drugs are not the place for boldness. Or leadership. Alas.

The Economist has a magnificent and blistering leader on the subject this week.

[T]he war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless.

Indeed. This is more than just a question of personal freedom (though that’s an important consideration too) it’s also a policy, insisted upon by the developed world, that immiserates large parts of the developing world. A sensible western approach to drug policy is also a question of international development. Without the rule of law, state-building is difficult and the rule of law is all but impossible to apply when a territory becomes a producer of narcotics.

None of this troubles the Drug Warriors who insist all that needs to be done is to keep pounding, only harder this time. That’s not a luxury available to the developing world and any crude utilitarian calculation must conclude that millions would be better off even if legalisation were to produce millions more users in the developed world. (This, on the available evidence, seems unlikely too though there might be a sharp, if perhaps temporary, increase in drug use in the years following legalisation.) Nevertheless, western drug policies are essentially a tax on poorer nations. Is it a surprise that, increasingly, producer countries are losing patience with consumer territories?

In case after case and no matter which way you choose to look at the issue, prohibition and all that comes with it is responsible for creating or at least exacerbating many of the problems associated with drug use. Not all those problems will melt away with legalisation but they may become easier to manage. Cheaper too.

Doubtless some of the Drug Warriors are well-intentioned. Others, of course, are authoritarians and puritans happy to peddle lies if that’s what’s required to maintain control. Still others seem wickedly keen on widespread capital punishment for drug users and sellers. Happily (most of the time) these latter scolds are more often found in comment boxes than in parliaments.

It’s hard to find any measurement by which one could conceivably consider the drug war a success. And yet it persists, nowhere more wickedly than in the United States. Repeated failure means nothing and certainly cannot be grounds for a change of plan. Instead one more heave will bring victory this year and if not this year then next year but certainly the year after that or, in the worst case scenario, within the next decade or…

So, how about it Dave? What happened to the sensible fellow who sat on the backbenches and still seemed sensible when he was running for the Tory leadership?

Whole Economist editorial here.I agree with every word.

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