DomSez: A new model for tackling drug abuse

[This post is a syndication of my latest Ruberyvillage DomSez column]

For Kate Moss at least, the penalty for allegedly snorting cocaine appears to be losing your modelling contracts, rather than any kind of legal process.

No surprise this week as brands raced to distance themselves from Kate Moss and her extra-curricular activities. Once H&M decided they didn’t need that kind of publicity, the rest quickly followed. I don’t particularly care – I’m sure there are clauses in the contract for this sort of thing and you can hardly knock a brand for trying to control its image. That is, after all, what a brand is all about.

The interesting thing, though, is that news of a police investigation came later and appeared almost as a footnote in most reports. Some appeared to have forgotten that using class-A drugs is actually, ur, illegal. But should it be? Is it a mistake to criminalise drug use in the first place?

My view is that we shouldn’t simply criminalise something on the grounds that “it’s bad for you” or even “it’s very bad for you”. Smoking 30 cigarettes a day, drinking into an early grave or setting yourself on fire are all bad ideas – and while the state might intervene to stop you or at least offer you some serious help – you wouldn’t be labelled a criminal.

Oddly, right-wingers who normally spend their time moaning that the ‘nanny state’ is telling them they can’t posion other people’s lungs with their cigarette smoke change their tune over drugs. Tabloid newspapers and sensational TV programmes spend an inordinate amount of time explaining that heroin is really, really bad. Which it is. But is that a reason to criminalise those addicted to it? Is it only that it kills you faster than tobacco?

We could do a thought experiment and imagine what might happen if drugs were legalised. The dosage and quality of drugs could be controlled to remove impurities which kill. Prices would be kept down, potentially making addicts less desperate to get their hands on cash. People could get help without fear of persecution. Families could provide support without running the risk of committing a crime themselves.

And importantly, the money from the sale and taxation of drugs could go to clinics, education the NHS and targeting the illegal traders of drugs. Surely that’s better than going straight into the pockets of criminal gangs to fund their assortment of guns which make the streets a dangerous place? I suspect that if it ever became a serious political possibility, the people lobbying hardest against it would be the drug dealers themselves.

The big question is – would this encourage more people to use drugs in the first place? No one has the answer to this, because it has never been tried, not even in the most liberal of Europe’s countries. There are particular fears over young people and whether they would be pressured even more into using drugs which literally ruin your life. The nightmare scenario of a parent, unable to stop their child throwing their life away through a product that is now legal.

I’m not convinced, however, that this would happen – at least in the long term. While smoking is still the main cause of preventable death in the UK, rates have declined over the past 50 years. It could be argued that the aspect of illegality is what attracts young people to drugs. Would the buzz be lost if these ‘rebellious’ temptations were relegated to the back end of a chemist, in bland white packets bought by unattractive addicts who would form a visible reminder of the dangers of drug abuse.

This won’t happen, of course. An election manifesto promising cocaine to eighteen year olds on demand would be a comparatively short suicide note. People are naturally afraid of drugs – and they have every right to be – because their effects are often terrifying. I’m only questioning whether criminalising Kate Moss, and other victims, actually makes the problem worse.

What do you think? Do we need a radical new approach to tackling drugs? As always you can leave your comments at the bottom of the article.

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