Can the War on Drugs be Won

US President Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs forty years ago.  Today, after enormous amounts of money have been spent fighting that war across the globe, illegal drugs are freely and cheaply available everywhere and drug  trafficking is endemic across the globe. The war  on drugs is a war that the authorities have signally failed to win. So much so that in the second decade of the 21st century the drug smugglers are far richer than they ever were, there are many more of them, and drugs of all kinds are a problem in almost all communities across the world.

Can the problem of drug trafficking be solved? Only in one of a very limited number of ways. Here are the possibilities.

1. Change human nature so that people do not want to experience things that bring them pleasure. That is not going to happen, so let’s move to the second option.

2. Educate people (and especially the young) so that they recognise that some drugs really are bad for you. Do this by telling them the truth about drugs, not that all illegal drugs from cannabis to heroin are going to kill you or harm you in some way. Kids know that’s not true – they have friends who take the drugs and nothing has happened to them. Tell them that, yes, drugs are enjoyable, but that (like anything else) they can become addictive, and too much can have an impact on their ability to live life as they need in order to be a properly functioning human being.

Also tell them the truth about the bad legal drugs that they know they can get their hands on should they so wish (such a tobacco or alcohol) and which they see parent and friends of parents, in all likelihood, using regularly.

3. Have a sensible approach to drug regulation based on an assessment of the harm each drug does. Heroin, crack and other forms of cocaine, methamphetamine and other forms of speed are generally bad and to be avoided. Nicotine is generally bad and to be avoided. Regular users of these will by and large become addicted and there will be significant impacts on both their health and longevity. There is some truth in the old adage, ‘Speed Kills!’

Alcohol is to be treated with respect. It can be addictive and, once it has, leads to killer diseases and is majorly disruptive to lifestyle. Cannabis, in its many forms, is to treat with respect as it can become psychologically rather than physically addictive, and it is related to certain psychological disorders. Those with any form of mental illness (current or past) should avoid cannabis or treat it with great caution. Generally, what holds true for cannabis also hold true for other psychotropics.

By and large the laws and regulatory regime for drugs should follow this schema, which leads us to the next point.

4. Abolish the laws that make it possible for traffickers to make a profit out of trafficking. While this is not a good idea for heroin, crack, other forms of cocaine and methamphetamines, legalisation of all drugs would undoubtedly remove the motivation for trafficking. Without prohibition, there is no profit. Without profit, there are no drugs gangs and none of the related violence. At the very least, the law should remove itself from two areas.

Firstly, the less dangerous drugs, tobacco, alcohol, cannabis and some of the psychotropics. (Tobacco and alcohol are only less dangerous in that they are unlikely to kill you quickly and in the short-term. In the long-term and in more than limited use, there is a very good chance of them contributing to the timing and manner of your death.)

Secondly, those drugs which are used by very significant proportions of the population. There is no sense in criminalising about half of the young people in a population. The benefit of removing the law’s concern over these drugs is that it would remove the link that currently exists through organised crime between the less harmful illegal drugs and their much more harmful counterparts.

5. Finally, it is possible to reduce demand for the more harmful drugs. Not by changing human nature which we have already said is impossible, but rather through taking the most addictive of these drugs, heroin, and providing it free to addicts. This would remove these addicts from the area of influence of the dealers and remove the incentive for dealers to operate. This would remove both the motivation for trafficking and also the epidemic of petty and not-so-petty crime that is currently conducted by addicts in search of their next fix.

The war against drugs and drug trafficking has failed. Currently, every time the forces of law and order have a success against traffickers, it merely reduces supply and puts the price up, thereby increasing the potential profit to be made by trafficking in future. It is time to recognise the reality of this failure of the war against drugs, to recognise the reality of human nature, and to work to remove the motivations for trafficking. Only then will trafficking cease.