Firstly, Happy New Year to one and all, and may the next year be most favourable to you. Now, I know they say, New Year = New Me; but I didn’t think that it would lead to me seeing Nigel Farage as a source of inspiration for this piece, let alone that I would actually agree with him.
UKIP’s recognised stance on the legalisation of drugs has faced staunch opposition, with many arguing that the war on drugs has not been fought, let alone lost. Nigel Farage disagrees; arguing that we are not only losing the war, but that a fundamental change has to occur to help us win it, and that thing is legalising drugs. In this piece, I want to show just how effective a measure this could be.
My biggest concern with legalising drugs is that the state would be intervening in people’s lives, and that is not a government’s role; the liberty of the individual should be paramount. However, on reflection, one can only conclude that the legalisation of drugs is the most liberal actions we can take. It preserves the liberty of the individual – who retains the freedom to make up his or her mind as they see fit without interference – and it would also significantly reduce crime and remove a vast amount of money, indeed a whole industry, from the black market.
We cannot fail to see the big picture any longer. Drug use is dangerous, and when you buy it from a supplier on the street, you cannot guarantee the ‘quality’ of the product, something which can ultimately lead to death of the drug user. The legalisation of drugs would allow the government to not only ensure that the product was as safe to use as it could be – i.e. it wasn’t cut with any other substances – but, as crass as this will sound at the outset, it would also be a significant boost to government coffers. Do not jump to conclusions however, because it is what we do with that money which is key.
In Scotland, there are an estimated 59,600 problem drug users according to Scottish government figures. There are strong links between substance misuse and homelessness, according to Homeless Link. Drug users are seven times more likely to be homeless than the general population, and research suggests that two-thirds of individuals report increasing problems with substance misuse after becoming homeless.
This isn’t acceptable. And to bring it back to government; the first role of a government is to look after its citizens, and on this count it’s clearly failing both homeless people and substance users. With the increased revenue from drugs, the government, as a priority, could invest in old services and indeed set up new ones aimed specifically at dealing with the difficulties that homeless people with regard to drug abuse.
If drugs were legalised, there would also have to be an education program rolled out across the country, to not only inform people of the risks associated with drugs, but from where they would be available to purchase. A well-formed education program could discourage people from taking drugs, elaborating on the risks involved, but it also offer support and advice to those who were recreational or more frequent drug users. People shouldn’t feel ostracised and therefore unable to seek help; they should see that we, as a collective, are supportive of their choices, and are willing to support them to seek rehabilitation or to carry on living their life as they choose.
For me, the target area of any educational outreach would be to offer help and advice. I feel that we often forget that education goes beyond school, and we must make help and advice – whether drugs are legalised or not – available to anyone who feels that they need it. We should be investing, now and in a future time if drugs are legalised, in rehabilitation services.
These services have the power to help people to ditch their drug addiction, to be a rock of support to someone who is clearly in desperate need of one. The work done by these services is undervalued, and in turn, underfunded. We can and should rectify this by legalising drugs. By making drugs available legally, we can then identify who needs the help and support of these ‘beefed up’ services, and we can try to direct them to the appropriate agencies.
The legalisation of drugs is by no means the only step to tackle “the war on drugs”, a war which, I believe, without such an action, is unwinnable. However, I am not as short sighted as to believe that this is the be-all and end-all measure; it requires support services to be adequately funded, and for education about drugs to be incorporated into our national curriculum. When this is achieved and carried out, I truly believe we will see progress with regards to drug use and people who are burdened by their addiction.
By Ronan Valentine