Why I disagree with the call by former chief constable Paul Whitehouse for the legalisation of drugs
The former Chief Constable of Sussex, Paul Whitehouse, has called for the legalisation of drugs including heroin, cocaine and cannabis.
I fundamentally disagree with him on two counts: first is the practical case. The illegality of drugs make them less accessible and therefore, for many, less attractive to non-addicts.
We have seen cigarette use among young people reduce as a direct consequence of tightening up on supply.
Would people be allowed to acquire unlimited quantities of what would become legal drugs? We have a big enough problem with the most popular legal drug of all, alcohol. Do we really want to make other drugs as easily accessible?
An unlimited supply is a most appalling prospect for the addict, their families and, in particular, their children. The nature of addiction is that the addict has no limits. They would use more drugs in greater combinations, and drug related deaths would spiral.
Methadone is legal and yet we see those on methadone “treatment” topping up with heroin and other street drugs, or the methadone enters the illegal market when sold on to other addicts.
But if supply was limited, addicts would again seek out criminal supply. There is ample evidence from trials where heroin is prescribed that those on these trials continued to “top up” with illegal street drugs with the associated violence, exploitation and crime.
The second case against legalisation of drugs is the moral one. Drugs including heroin and cocaine prevent addicts achieving their emotional, spiritual and economic potential, and drugs harm people’s physical and mental health.
I am not prepared to see countless thousands of people live a life controlled by their addiction. I want so much more for them than those advocating legalisation who seem to have given up hope, are devoid of ideas and are willing to abandon people to addiction in perpetuity – or at least until they die from an overdose.
At what age would those advocating legalisation allow people to obtain those drugs that are currently illegal? Eighteen? Sixteen? Twelve?
Surely not even the most libertarian among us would be so morally bankrupt to support legalising heroin, cocaine and cannabis for children as young as twelve.
But twelve year olds are using these drugs. Legalising drugs for those eighteen and above would immediately refocus the illegal market exclusively on children.
There is a moral alternative. I invite those advocating legalisation to make an uncompromising statement that heroin, cocaine and cannabis use is harmful, and that abstinence-based rehabilitation must be the overriding objective for all addicts.
People in the hell of active addiction have said this to our staff
- “I can’t carry on in life. I have no options for the future.”
- “I’ve lost everything I valued. I’m trapped. I want my son back in my life.”
- “My mum died and she never saw me sober.”
The illegality of drugs for addicts is a mere inconvenience. The devastation caused by addiction is what blights their lives and those who they love and who love them. And it is not uncommon that addicts involved in the criminal justice system get into abstinence-based treatment.
Jen (not her real name) who has achieved abstinence through BHT’s Addiction Services said: “Before entering the service I was completely out of control. I was manic, confused, full of rage, argumentative and very defensive. I was in the deepest, darkest place I’ve ever been in and couldn’t see a way out.”
After treatment she said: “My life is better today, and me and my children’s future is looking brighter.”
Addicts like Jen are not calling for legalisation. They are calling for more treatment that leads to abstinence and recovery.
I can’t imagine any of those advocating legalisation would want their sons or daughters to spend any part of their lives addicted to heroin, cocaine or cannabis. And that’s not because these drugs are illegal.
Recovery from addiction is possible. We just have to make that the priority.
Andy Winter is the chief executive of Brighton Housing Trust (BHT). His personal blog can be found here.