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Report: Legalising drugs would save UK plc huge packet

Common sense doomed by Guardian/Daily Mail axis

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Another major potential benefit of legalisation - the massive health improvements from using nice clean drugs made in pharma factories rather than poisonous crap from illicit labs, adulterated with god knows what - is also left out. The death rate among users is predicted to drop significantly, however, owing to the arrival of clean needles and the fact that the most unwell users would be using prescription drugs in a medical setting rather than a crack den or wherever.

It is argued that significant health harms stem from use of illicitly supplied drugs in hazardous environments, and that these would be dramatically reduced under a regulated system. However, for this paper we assume that health and social care costs per user remain the same.

As a substantial proportion of the drug death risk factors stem directly from the behaviours, environments and products associated with illicit drug culture, particularly around injecting, we assume that the drug-related death rate would be reduced ...

Around 10% of the most high harm causing problematic users would have heroin and/or cocaine available on prescription in some form, so we calculate total costs of prescribing diamorphine [medical heroin] and cocaine for each scenario modelled.

Finally, the report allows a £150m budget for regulators, administrators and other infrastructure to manage the new legal drugs sector.

Transform argues that in fact the level of drug use isn't much affected by the level of prohibition and/or enforcement: anyone who wants to will use drugs if they've a mind to and the police can't stop them. All they can ever do is push up the price, and so drive addicts to commit more crimes in order to afford their fix.

Nonetheless, those in favour of prohibition often argue that there would be a lot more drug use if the laws were relaxed: and it is true that where only one country or district relaxes it laws there is often "drugs tourism" by users from outside. So Transform considered four different scenarios, including a drop in drug use, no change, or big increases.

The results were, even in the worst-case modelling used, that the public purse still came out ahead even with a doubling of hard-drugs users:

The net annual benefit of a move from prohibition to legal state regulation and control of drug markets would be: Scenario a) 50% fall in use, net benefit = £13.943 billion Scenario b) No change in use, net benefit = £10.834 billion Scenario c) 50% increase in use, net benefit = £7.724 billion Scenario d) 100% increase in use, net benefit = £4.616 billion

In fact things would probably be a lot better than that. It seems quite reasonable to expect that you could actually raise some tax revenue after a while, certainly from the prestige nose-candy market and similar users.

Once you factor in an actual feasible way ahead in Afghanistan, the health savings from nice commercial drugs (the difference would be similar to that between drinking proper whiskey and send-you-blind moonshine made in a plastic bucket) etc etc - why, we'd probably be able to afford another bank or two. And it would become hugely more pleasant to live in and around the nation's council estates, as the formerly larcenous addicts would be out of the picture - as would the perhaps still more irritating dealers, their unpleasant and dangerous retail premises and their violent business disputes. Those guys think they're tough businessmen, but they wouldn't stand a chance against the likes of Glaxo and British American Tobacco.

As the Transform people point out:

The policy of prohibition itself is the direct source of much of what is perceived as ‘the drug problem’ - specifically the vast majority of drug-related crime - rather than drug use per se. The Government has also repeatedly failed to acknowledge that prohibition is a policy choice ...

Could it ever happen?

Sadly, probably not. Even to speak of legalising cannabis is to sign one's own political death warrant in Blighty. The kneejerk Daily Mail reading government-by-crackdown legions up and down the land are in this case being joined in many cases by Guardian skunk-fear "liberals", who have only just woken up to the fact that a certain proportion of people would rather lie about off their faces all day than get on with their lives - and will do that more or less regardless of the cost to themselves and those around them even if there's nothing better than cider or glue on offer. A certain proportion of these people will also go mad - become schizophrenic - though this has no measurable connection with cannabis use.

Unsurprisingly, so far from relaxing on drugs, there's a determined push under way to prohibit or tax into illegality the remaining legal drugs: booze, tobacco, even chocolate.

So the Transform report seems likely to fall on stony ground. It can be read in pdf here. ®

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