Should drugs be legalised? What are the main reasons for anti-social behaviour? What is problematic drug use and how can we endeavour to tackle this huge problem? DCI Trevor Williamson, the co-ordinator to ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) Drugs Committee, provides some insightful answers.
Trevor explored the question of whether or not drugs should be legalised or if the law should be changed to regulate drug use rather than criminalise drug users. He said that there were “strongly held views on both sides of the argument.” From research, I have explored both sides of the argument and have found some interesting answers. Legalising drugs would mean that the government can “collect tax revenue from the sale of drugs. It will also save money from vainly trying to stop the illegal sale of drugs.” (http://econ.economicshelp.org/2007/09/should-drugs-be-legalised.html)
The state can use the revenue for helping drug addicts through treatment programmes.
Legalization would therefore “change drug consumption from a criminal to a health issue. If the state directs more resources to helping individuals break their addiction opposed to fighting the ‘war on drugs’, consumption can be more effectively reduced. …On the other hand, since the pleasure gained from drugs…is fundamentally subjective, it is not up to the state to legislate in this area. Rather than pouring wasted resources into attempting to suppress drug use, the state would be better off running information campaigns to educate people about the risks and consequences of taking different types of drugs…” (http://debatepedia.idebate.org/en/index.php/Debate:_Legalization_of_drugs) In my opinion, I believe that the public need to be made more aware of the dangers of drugs and this can only happen through education.
The argument against legalising drugs is that making drugs legal would only encourage consumption. “Approximately 6-15% of people do not do drugs simply because they are illegal. If we scrap this deterrence, these people are likely to try drugs and…become addicted.” (http://debatepedia.idebate.org/en/index.php/Debate:_Legalization_of_drugs)
Trevor argued that “Ultimately it is a political decision as to whether and which drugs should be controlled and in what manner and not a matter for the police. The police role is to enforce the law as it stands. The Government is currently reviewing its Drug Strategy and the new one is due to be published within the next few months.” His view was that the police’s role is primarily to enforce the law rather than make it.
Trevor then went on to discuss ways in which we can tackle problematic drug use. He said that the “It has traditionally been difficult for the Government to prove which aspects of its Drug Policy were working.” He argued that both the Criminal Justice System and the National Health Service are needed. Enforcement recognises that the police cannot tackle it on our own. Trevor argued that the police do not wish to criminalise users because ultimately they are victims of drugs. Instead, drug users should receive help from the health service. They can provide sufficient treatment and care. Trevor emphasised that prevention was highly important and that we should do what we can to reduce drug use. According to Trevor, prevention consists, at least in part, of “work undertaken with Young People to assist them in not starting out on a life of drug taking. This is wider than just providing them with information on the harms caused by illicit drugs and should also include wider support regarding education, employment opportunities and positive role models (family, friends etc).” This can prevent drug use as well as good housing and job prospects.
Trevor provided an analysis of Tim Hollis's (The Chief Constable of The Humberside Police) argument who was advocating de-criminalisation of the Cannabis issue. Apparently, Mr Hollis was misquoted. A correction to the story was issued by ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers). Mr Hollis denied he or ACPO were suggesting legalisation of the personal use of cannabis. He said that “putting young people before the courts for simple possession does not solve the problem. A more sophisticated approach combining prevention and education, enforcement and treatment is required." Mr Hollis said the police “will continue to exercise their discretion when dealing with those who have modest amounts for personal possession as we already have powers to issue cautions or give advice in such circumstances as appropriate. "There is good scientific evidence that cannabis causes harm in our communities and tackling those who peddle the drug will continue to be a priority for police. Professor Roger Pertwee said making cannabis as available as alcohol would prevent drug-related crime, and reduce the chances of people being introduced to harder narcotics. But he cautioned that it might be necessary to prevent vulnerable individuals obtaining the drug. Mr Hollis said that "The question of the legalisation of any drug is a matter for the Government and their advisors." Professor Roger Pertwee said "The Government does not believe decriminalisation of cannabis is the right approach. Our priorities are clear - we want to reduce drug use, crack down on drug-related crime and disorder and help addicts come off drugs for good."
Furthermore, Trevor described some of the causes of anti-social behaviour. These include “social deprivation, poor parenting, peer pressure and generally poor ‘life opportunities.’ Williamson highlighted one key reason for anti-social behaviour.
“For operational police officers one of the things that they see on a regular basis (particularly on a Friday and Saturday night) is the contribution that alcohol makes to anti-social behaviour. It is increasingly also very common for this to be combined with cocaine, the combination of which can be lethal in that it adversely affects the heart. However, although anecdotally there may be evidence that alcohol and cocaine combined increases the tendency towards violence the scientific evidence is not particularly strong.” The mixture of alcohol and cocaine leads to increasing amounts of social disorder and antisocial behaviour. From my own research, I have found from news reports that the police have sometimes found a strong link between cocaine and high levels of violence. In 2009, Police suggested that 41% of people arrested for violence had taken cocaine or crack cocaine, by itself or with other drugs. Chief Inspector Dave Boon, who leads Greater Manchester Police's drug intervention programme, said “We cannot afford to ignore the link between violence, drugs and alcohol that is apparent in city centres all over the UK every weekend.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7941052.stm) Due to the popularity and easy availability of cocaine, many people and existing drug users are prone and exposed to this harmful drug. Overall, Trevor argued that he does not think that the UK drug policy will change. Drugs should be illegal and we have to enforce the law.