Frequently Asked Questions
When talking to the public about drug law reform, you tend to get a lot of the same questions or arguments. Here are a few of the most common and some suggested answers. We strongly recommend that you you read Transform's report “Tools for the Debate” for a more indepth guide to making the case for drug law reform.
But if we make drugs legal, it will be easier to get hold of them!
It would depend on the drug and the laws which governed them, but yes, for the majority of drugs it would be easier (and safer) to get hold of them. However, the question you need to ask yourself is, why do I want to stop people getting hold of drugs? Because they're illegal? But they wouldn't be illegal anymore - this objection would be gone. Is it because you fear for people's health? In which case control and regulation would raise purity, reduce violence and improve people's health. Is it because you think drugs are bad or immoral? Fair enough, but why do you want to impose your moral judgements upon others? This is an interesting question because it contains the assumption that people shouldn't be accessing drugs, full stop. And everyone who asks it should question where they developed that assumption?
But if we make drugs legal, more people will take them!
There's actually very little evidence to suggest this would be the case. In most countries that have decriminalised drug use, made heroin available on prescription, or invested heavily in education and harm reduction, drug use has actually gone down, not up. When the UK reclassified cannabis as a Class C drug from Class B, drug use among 18-24 year olds actually fell by 5%. In Holland, where heroin addicts can receive free heroin from the health service from life, the average age of heroin users has risen to 36 from 25 - this is because there is no incentive for current heroin addicts to introduce other people to the drug. So it's pretty unlikely that if we did control and regulate all drugs, overall drug use would go up, although you would expect some movement in the statistics as people's choice of drug shifted around.
But drugs are dangerous! They have to be controlled.
Drugs can indeed be very dangerous. No-one disputes that. However, so is climbing. Would it be less dangerous to try to ban people from climbing, and watch millions of thrill-seekers do it anyway and quite a few die? Or would it be better to license climbing instructors, regulate the construction of safety equipment, and heavily encourage a culture of responsibility and training? Consider which option your government has chosen and ask yourself why they don't treat recreational drug users in the same manner.
You just want to be able to take drugs without getting into trouble.
There are almost certainly supporters of drug law reform who just want to get high without consequence. However, the maker of this FAQ just spent an hour and a half collating statistics about how thousands of people die every year because of the drug war, how millions of people have contracted life-threatening illnesses through sharing dirty needles and drug consumption equipment, and how the organised criminals of this world generate hundreds of billions of dollars in profits from drug sales every year which they pump into other criminal activities, mass homicide and destabilising governments and communities to their own ends. Whether I want to get high or not is absolutely irrelevant to the question of why we need global drug law reform, as soon as possible.
Alcohol is different, because it's a social thing.
Next time you are free on a Friday night, walk to your local Accident and Emergency department via your town centre. Take a look around, and then tell me that these scenes are "a social thing". 6,541 people in the UK died from causes directly related to alcohol in 2007, with over 800,000 alcohol-related hospital emissions (NHS statistics). Alcohol is also responsible for innumerous acts of violence, accidents, and highly embarrassing photos. Alcohol is a drug, a dangerous drug. And yet mainstream culture claims that it is acceptable to drink it, but it is not acceptable to smoke cannabis, which has never been proven to have killed anyone.
Any drug policy needs to be consistent, and enforced, and with the aim of reducing harm and protecting people's welfare at its heart. This applies to all drugs, not just the ones that the minority enjoy using.
If we legalise drugs, more people will die.
No, fewer people will die. In a controlled and regulated system, people will not accidentally overdose because the purity of their usual supply suddenly changed. In a controlled and regulated system, people won't be violently mugged for standing on street corners late at night waiting to meet their dealer. In a controlled and regulated system, teenagers won't get shot for standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fewer people will die, not more.
You want crack to be legal? Crack?! Do you know what that stuff does?
Yes, that's why it should be legal. Crack is highly addictive and destroys people's lives. But it was invented as a result of drugs being illegal. Crack is refined cocaine, and is lighter and easier to smuggle. It also costs more, but the experience is far more intense so you get more bang for your buck. Therefore it is more lucrative for dealers to push people onto crack, even though it is more destructive to the user. If crack and cocaine were legal and people were able to freely weigh up the risks of both and make an informed decision about what to use, most users would choose cocaine, in the same way that most people who drink don't go straight for absinthe, but drink wine and beers. Obviously the safest option would be to not take drugs at all, but if people are going to take drugs then we should be encouraging them to do it in the safest manner possible.
Do you want children taking heroin?
Children are taking heroin now, and we can't stop them because we can't control the use of heroin. We can stop children drinking alcohol, or at least make it harder, by imposing age limits on who can buy alcohol. These limits are enforced by retailers concerned about losing their licences. Most dealers don't care about who they sell to. Heroin has only one limit. £20.
Do you really want the government/ massive pharmaceutical companies to make and sell drugs?
Right now, the drug industry is in the hands of criminals who often have little to no scruples concerning the health of their customers and so are willing do almost anything to increase their profit margin. This means that drugs can be cut with dangerous and harmful substances (from crushed worming tablets to powdered glass), and can be sold to people of any age and health condition. If the Government were to take the industry back then the trade could be regulated, making drugs much safer and allowing for the possibility of age restriction policies. This would also mean that instead of spending billions of pounds a year on fighting a war that can never be won, the government could put taxes on the sale of drugs; turning something that drains our economy into something that contributes to it.
This does raise the risk of pharmaceutical companies dominating the industry as well, but only for certain drugs, and a responsible legislative framework would recognise this and shape the law accordingly.
If we legalise drugs, companies will start advertising them and drug use will rise.
In the same way that there are regulations which restrict the ways tobacco and alcohol can be advertised, regulations can be put in place to ensure that any other drugs are also advertised responsibly. Advertising actually gives the government an opportunity
to directly communicate the dangers involved with their purchase to consumers e.g. the health warnings and smoking related images found on cigarette packages. Dealers are unlikely to be pointing out health risks to their customers so advertising could actually lead to a more informed public able to make fully informed decisions on what goes into their bodies, if the government was willing to develop a serious dialogue with drug users about their drug use.
We have no idea what the effects of decriminalisation/legalisation would be. Therefore we shouldn't risk it.
Right now people’s lives are already being put at risk by the war on drugs. The Mexican drug war was the world's bloodiest ongoing conflict in 2010, with nearly 12,000 people killed. And that is only in one country, what about the ongoing conflicts over heroin in Afghanistan, cocaine in Colombia, and all the turf wars on the streets of the Western and developing world? Something has to change if we want to keep people safe.
To get an idea of the effects of decriminalisation/legalisation one has to look no further than Portugal, who completely decriminalised possession of drugs for personal use back in 2001. After 5 years reports showed that drug use has dropped, HIV infection caused by needle sharing has dropped and the amount of people seeking rehabilitation has increased. Where decriminalisation and harm reduction methods have been tried, violence and health-related problems decrease. For the vast majority of people who use drugs, it's not the drugs that cause problems, it's the regulation surrounding them. An effective drug policy would recognise that people take drugs and that it's our responsibility as a society to make sure they do so in the safest manner possible. For more information on Portugal’s decriminalisation effects see this Time article.
If you want to legalise drugs because we can't stop people doing them, why not just legalise murder?
Murder is a violent act, committed upon another person without their consent. Drug-taking is a potentially harmful act, committed upon one's self. There is very little difference, morally or ethically, between someone who buys and consumes drugs, knowing that they could be risking their health, and someone who rides horses, flies hot air balloons, or works as a miner. All of these activities are optional and has the potential to kill you, but we do not criminalise them - we regulate them. We do criminalise animal cruelty, not abiding by health and safety legislation, and abusing and exploiting your workers, because these are actions forced upon a person without their consent, as murder is.
If we legalise drugs now, immediately, our society would collapse.
This is hysteria talking. Most people who want to take drugs right now are already doing so, so there would be little change in the lives of the non-drug taking majority. There might be a few months of accidents as people took the opportunity to try out new drugs that they didn't previously have access to and use them improperly, but it is unlikely that much would actually change in terms of society for most. People would still need to go to work to pay bills, and drug taking would probably remain a taboo in many social circles. In social circles where drug-taking is acceptable though, being able to access pure, commercial drugs, and being able to talk about one's drug use openly and share information with one another would mostly likely result in a steady drop in drug-related deaths, both from health complications and from criminal violence, as gangs would no longer have control of the industry.
So, unless we simply removed all legislation regarding drugs and let multi-national corporations offer heroin next to the pick and mix, it's very likely that most people's lives would continue as they had done before legalisation. It is perhaps the lives of the drug users they know and those who are involved in crime that would change most dramatically.
If we legalise drugs, then the gangs will turn to something even worse, like robbery or racketeering.
This is a terrible excuse to keep drugs illegal. There has been, and always will be, a criminal element in society as long as there are laws. Yet the current laws mean that criminals make billions of pounds of untaxed profit a year from the drug trade. The drug trade is the third largest industry in the world, after oil and arms sales, generating $320 billion a year in profit. This is higher than the total GDP of 90% of the world's countries. These huge profits are then used to fund other illegal activities, such as terrorism and political insurgency. The profits made by the drug trade are so ridiculously high, other criminal activities such as robbery and racketeering cannot and will not compensate the loss of income. The legalisation of drugs would strike a hard blow to the criminal underworld which it would probably find impossible to recover from. The police would also have more time and resources to deal with organised crime if they were not spending so much time busting small time cannabis farms.