Julian Critchley has come out and said what those in charge of UK drug policy won’t admit: prohibition doesn’t work
Wednesday August 13 2008
The former head of the government’s UK anti-drug co-ordination unit (UKADCU), Julian Critchley, posted to BBC Home Affairs correspondent Mark Easton’s blog last week, The War on Drugs, calling for the legalisation of drugs. In his post he also reports how those he met during his time at the unit knew that criminalisation was causing more harm than the drugs themselves. (This comes as no surprise to anyone who has read the damning report from the prime minister’s strategy unit from 2003.)
“I think what was truly depressing about my time in UKADCU was that the overwhelming majority of professionals I met, including those from the police, the health service, government and voluntary sectors held the same view: the illegality of drugs causes far more problems for society and the individual than it solves. Yet publicly, all those intelligent, knowledgeable people were forced to repeat the nonsensical mantra that the Government would be ‘tough on drugs’, even though they all knew that the Government’s policy was actually causing harm”.
Critchley is to be congratulated for speaking out with such candour on the issue. I have met many former and current civil servants who are of the same opinion, but haven’t gone public. What Critchley makes absolutely clear is that many, if not most of those working in the drugs field are knowingly colluding with a regime that actively causes harm. Their silence is not based on ignorance but is tacit support for one of the great social policy disasters of the last 100 years.
Critchley, having retrained as a teacher, concludes with the following:
“I find that when presented with the facts, the students I teach are quite capable of considering issues such as this, and reaching rational conclusions even if they started with a blind Daily Mail-esque approach. I find it a shame that no mainstream political party accords the electorate the same respect”.
His final comment ought to send a shiver down the spine of every UK voter. If you voted in the last election, you probably voted for prohibition. You voted to gift hundreds of billions of pounds to organised crime each year, to undermine the social and economic development of producer countries such as Colombia, Afghanistan as well as transit countries such as Guinea Bissau and Jamaica. You voted to double the amount of acquisitive crime in the UK and to double the prison population with it. Your “X” contributed to misery and degradation for millions of the most marginalised people on earth. Unless we all do something to change it, you will probably vote for prohibition next time too.
In 2003 at a press conference, I asked the then drugs spokesperson at the Home Office, Bob Ainsworth MP, whether the government would support a cost benefit analysis of drug law enforcement. Quick as a flash his reply came back: “Why would we want to do that unless we were going to legalise drugs?” Does that sound like a man ignorant of where that audit trail would lead?
It is the candour of the likes of Critchley and others that exposes the hypocrisy of those failing to speak out and makes prohibition untenable in the long term. As Joseph McNamara, former police chief of Kansas City and San Jose put it: “The drug war cannot stand the light of day. It will collapse as quickly as the Vietnam war, as soon as people find out what’s really going on.” Tragically and despicably, the government’s commitment to populist posturing means that the collapse will come far too late for many.Republish