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Thursday, October 30, 2014 

Prohibition still not working, still set to endure.

There's been much in the way of celebratory noises today following the publication of the Home Office study comparing how other countries fight, or rather don't, the war on drugs.  In one of those wonderful examples of a report just confirming what you already knew, it concludes there is no obvious correlation between a punitive approach and lower overall drug use.  Indeed, while drug use in Portugal has fallen since decriminalisation, it has risen in the Czech Republic, where more draconian legislation was introduced in 2010.  Who would have thought?

Except, oh, everyone.  Let's not mince words here.  Politicians have known for decades that prohibition doesn't work.  While the modern approach in this country can be linked back to the panic over heroin use in the early 1970s, coinciding with the Nixon administration's beginning of the crusade against drugs (more than somewhat based around Nixon's conspiratorial belief left-wingers were trying to destroy the right and society itself through promoting "homosexuality, dope, immorality in general"), let's not forget the lesson of that great American experiment from 1920 to 1933.  Quite apart from the inherent stupidity of making something illegal that you can easily brew yourself with ordinary household items, as prison inmates have been doing with little more than apple cores and orange skin since time immemorial, it resulted in the further rise of organised crime.  Back then it was the likes of Al Capone who benefited; now, if you so wish, you can go and see how the Mexican drug cartels operate.  Just be advised you need a strong stomach.

When the Graun nevertheless urges politicians to study the evidence, the leader writer does so knowing full well they have.  It's why politician after politician has come out in favour of liberalisation - after they've left office.  Nor is the refusal to consider decriminalisation all down to fear of what the tabloids will say, as Tony Blair proved when he took the baby steps of ensuring cannabis was downgraded as the Advisory Committee urged and the licensing laws were reformed.  Come the coronation of Gordon Brown, one of his first acts as prime minister was to suck up to Paul Dacre by upgrading cannabis to Class B again.  Blair more often than not led the tabloids, whereas those who've followed have done the opposite.

Is the tide beginning to turn?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, the weight of evidence is becoming too overwhelming to ignore.  Yes, the Sun, apparently sensing a wind of change (to mix metaphors) now joins the Graun in saying the status quo is not an option.  Yes, the legalisation of cannabis in some American states as well as decriminalisation in Uruguay is as the report itself recognises the kind of development that attracts and interests in equal measure.  All this seems encouraging, until that is you remember that we're still in 2014 criminalising the possession of plants which have "mild stimulative effects", as the coalition has done with the ban on khat.  Then you realise that alongside the warm words of Norman Baker on moving towards decriminalisation, the same report advises putting restrictions on head shops and internet sellers of "legal highs" while possession will remain legal.  Baker apparently wants these shops reduced to selling Rizlas; no word on whether bongs would also be allowed.  Where then exactly will people get their still legal for personal possession highs from?  The same person or sites retailing the illegal stuff, perchance?

Forgive me then if I don't get too excited by all this.  For the Lib Dems it's obviously been alighted upon as something that might just get a few of their former supporters to return to the fold, and in truth they deserve credit for continuing to push for change.  When though the first response from a prime minister who previously wanted to liberalise drug laws is to resort to the "sending a message" argument, and the Labour frontbench accuses the Lib Dems of wanting to solve "a problem that doesn't exist" it's still going to be years, if not decades, before we have laws based somewhat even slightly related to the evidence of harm.

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