smoke and mirrorsWe can often mistake drug law reform as being a simplistic issue, one in which we base arguments on the rights and wrongs of ingesting a drug. There’s a linear logic: a harmful substance should be kept as ‘illegal’ because, by doing so, it creates a layer of protection to society.

As cannabis reform takes hold across the globe, with four US states fully legalising and others – including Californians who will vote on the issue later in the year – preparing to grasp the nettle alongside positive reforms in Canada and Uruguay, we have to ask why the UK is moving backwards.

2016 has seen the UK introduce yet more legislation to deal with society’s convoluted relationship with drugs. The Psychoactive Substance Act has been hastily drawn up and is much criticised. This new chapter, which has the intention of banning ‘legal highs’, has meant we are failing fast in our attempts to shore up our already collapsing flood defences. Instead of following global trends to regulate traditional substances such as cannabis, we now look to ban everything

It may be a surprise to learn that a group of legal, police and criminal justice professionals champion the cause to reform our drug laws. Existing (but crumbling) drug laws are blunt and outdated pieces of legislation which were constructed at a time where political rhetoric gazumped evidence-based policy making. If there’s one thing we can perhaps agree upon is that it’s essential to base laws on the best available evidence.

LEAP UK (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) is comprised of personnel that have held positions such as undercover police officers, MI5, chief constables, army officers and a wide range of professionals working in the criminal justice system, all of whom advocate the complete overhaul of our drug laws in favour of regulated systems and social reform.

If we pose the question: do you wish to legalise drugs? The answer may well be an emotive ‘no’. But the question is based on logical fallacy. We really should be asking: would you like to see your friends and family criminalised for a substance of their choice? Would you hope to see the substance in question come from an ethical source, free from exploitation and domestic slave-trading? If your loved one was using a substance, do you hope for them to have a safer choice – a substance that’s been subject to regulations, including labelling, dosage advice, and access to testing to prove the purity? And perhaps most of all, where would you prefer your loved one to purchase the substance of their choosing? A street vendor, where connections to gangsters are inevitable, or from one who is subject to trading standards and could lose their license if they do not conform to those basic standards (and where taxes are paid)?

The basic aim of a punitive policy is to act as a deterrent. But we know that such a proposition is highly debatable. In the closing moments of the coalition government, the International Comparators report was released – the most notable finding being that there’s no relationship between the harshness of a country’s laws and the level of drug use. Drug laws do not prevent drug use.

So how do we become smarter on drugs as opposed to tougher on drugs?

The argument needs to be made that we should not frame or place undue emphasis on the drugs themselves, but more about the people who choose to consume them. Should someone who likes a drink have the privilege of being allowed over someone who likes to have a cannabis joint? Or likes a pill to dance with? When scientific analysis of drug harms does not marry up to the societal perception of drug harms, are we setting ourselves up for a fall by basing drug laws on a mirage?

All the while we do have discriminatory drug laws based on arbitrary harm perceptions then we are in danger of marginalising ethnic and vulnerable groups. It is a fact that black people, despite not using drugs any more than white people, will stand to get stopped, searched, arrested and prosecuted at a significantly higher rate.

We also see other vulnerable groups, such as medical cannabis consumers, subject to house raids and placed in harm’s way from a Wild West drug market where they cannot seek protection from the police. And we must not forget those who have suffered abuse and mental illnesses who consume certain drugs to self-medicate – at a time where we’re looking to be more understanding to the plight of mental health, we’re effectively criminalising them.

Trying to enforce drug laws is like trying to catch smoke. As our undercover operatives within LEAP UK will attest, we really do hand over all power to organised crime which currently reaps profits from a global industry worth $320bn a year, and around £7bn to the UK.

The law of the street is unforgiving and it’s a climate that’s only going to hot up – we’re wilfully sending our loved ones into this world whether they consume ‘illegal’ drugs or not. With each layer of prohibition, just as with 1920s America, a new breed of criminality is born and ready to fight for territory. It’s time we follow evidence and get smarter on drugs.






Profile photo of Jason Reed About Jason Reed
Jason is executive director of LEAP UK (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). The aim of LEAP is to 'reduce the unintended harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs'

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  • trevor June 3, 2016 11:03 am

    I have come to the conclusion that everyone has their own reason for using banned drugs.
    I for example used cannabis for a number of years because I have an anxiety disorder which made me prone to having panic attacks which made day to day life difficult.
    and at that time I had no Idea that doctors prescribe medication for this disorder
    and so I had to make a decision.
    do I become a recluse or do I use cannabis as a form of medication?
    I decided to chose the Latter and began using it on a more or less daily basis.
    I was aware that I was breaking the Law by using cannabis
    but due to the severity of my mental disorder
    I felt justified.
    I no longer use cannabis and my anxiety disorder remains the same.
    I don’t recommend cannabis as a form of self medication or for general use,
    but I think the government need to understand that when people feel extremely stressed out and cannot relax,
    such people are prone to experiment with banned substances
    not because they want to break the law
    but because they are mentally unwell and in the absence of general medication
    such people are left with no choice other than to break the law.
    and when they are arrested it is unlikely that the police will take their health problems into consideration which I think is unfair.
    but I must stress the point again that I do not advocate using cannabis
    but there will always be people like me who due to a mental health disorder will experiment with drugs until they find a legal alternative.
    and when people like me are arrested for possession of a banned substance
    the police should contact the person’s doctor etc to verify the person has a nervous disorder
    and should be given a caution.
    the government would be surprised to know that there are many people who for various reasons become habitual drug users.
    not because they want to be lawless
    but rather cause they are stressed out and clinically depressed.
    and having lived 49 years in London
    I can say from experience that London is a hotbed of stress
    and though people in general should try to find better ways to cope with stress,
    they all too often take the easy way out and chose a form of what can rightly be described as escapism.
    they of course know that it won’t change the situation which leads them into that
    but maybe they feel that the situation is hopeless and so rather than spend their time fighting against an unfair and stress system they resort to drug use
    which for many leads to more problems
    and it is a very sad and extremely negative cycle.
    and the way things are going in London
    I can almost visualize the young generation resorting to drug and alcohol abuse simply cause the system stresses them out and puts unfair demands upon them,
    and makes day to day living harder than it needs to be.
    also I think it is important to remember that though the government is tough on drug abuse,
    it nevertheless uses unnatural and highly addictive substances such as tobacco to its own advantage.
    no one is born to be a nicotine addict
    let alone an addict of cocaine or heroin.
    but when one is born in a country in which the government creates a two tier system in which it chooses its own “dealers” i.e. the cigarette business and allows them to entice people into smoking,
    that is a form of systematic abuse
    because the outcome or results of an unnatural habit such as smoking makes the government guilty beyond reason of systematic abuse
    and in this case they permit because it benefits the treasury and the economy.
    but is it right to allow such a thing to become the norm?
    think about the impact on the NHS which treats people with smoking related diseases.
    the costs run into billions each year.
    and that money could be used in other ways and would help to reduce the burden on the NHS and the taxpayers.
    There is little difference between drug barons and the cigarette business because both thrive on getting people hooked on drugs or tobacco in order to makes huge profits with no consideration whatsoever to the damage done to the health of their customers.
    How can it be right to permit one business to use a natural substance to sell to the public in return for vast profit
    which wrecks the health of their customers and causes no end of preventable deaths each year to smokers and non smokers,
    while condemning the illegal drug trade which uses substances such as heroin and cocaine to ensnare their customers?
    the effects on the customers and society proves whether the law is just or unjust?
    and in this case it is unquestionably unjust and as long as government is run by MP’s who have warped views on justice,
    the public will be prone to exploitation by the drug and cigarette business.

  • Alison June 3, 2016 12:56 pm

    Unfortunately the Tories have zero interest in any evidence based policies to whit spending billions on research and then burying it when it contradicts what they want to hear. Apparently government policy is dictated not by common sense or even any ideology other than runnign scared of the tabloids

  • trevor June 6, 2016 10:57 am

    I agree with you Alison.
    I can’t express enough how much it hurts me to know that our democratically elected governments use government for selfish reasons which leave the public exposed to bad influences.
    I will always believe that it is unfair for the governments to permit the public to smoke
    while denying them the right to use drugs.
    but don’t get me wrong Alison,
    I’m in no way advocating freedom to use drugs,
    my point is that the legalization of tobacco and smoking exposes a serious flaw in the laws of our country.
    if heroin and cocaine and cannabis were banned on the basis of them being found to be a threat to health,
    then how can it be right for tobacco to be sold and consumed when it has proved to be damaging to the health of smokers and non smokers past and present?
    consider too the impact it has upon the NHS which spends billions each year treating diseases which are preventable.
    and yet we are regularly told that the NHS needs more money if it is to continue in its present form.
    but the money which is spent treating smoking related diseases could be saved and used in other ways.
    but it isn’t simply cause our democratically elected MP’s believe they can continue enforcing an outdated law which does not stop people from dealing or consuming banned drugs.
    and at the same time they are willing to stand by and allow the public to needlessly waste their money on cigarettes which damage their health and drains the NHS of much needed money.
    Alison this is outrageous.
    this is a systematic abuse of power and authority and the people in charge show themselves to be increasingly corrupt incompetent and completely out of touch with reality.
    they don’t see the wrongs they do in the name of democracy,
    they only see things which they consider as acts of lawlessness.
    I’m surprised and immensely saddened that the British electorate has tolerated this sham for so long.
    I’ll end by saying that just as a drunk person driving a car is a liability to themselves and their passengers and pedestrians.
    how much more of a liability are MP’s who take control of government and lead the passengers ( the British electorate) from one crash to another?
    I say it is high time for the Public to begin questioning what MP’s do in the name of Democracy
    and call for much needed change.
    I don’t want to live in a country in which the elected government uses its power to benefit itself and capitalism which leaves the public exposed to exploitation and abuse of all kinds.
    I would appreciate your feedback Alison.

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