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Why our drugs policy does not work – a Liverpool example

Tom Winnifrith
Tuesday 2 October 2012

Thanks to the Ambush Predator blog for this tale of utter hopelessness which shows why our current drugs policy is such a disaster. The blog recounts:

A Liverpool shoplifter snubbed the help that had been given her by travelling to Blackburn and stealing just six days after completing a residential drug rehabilitation programme.

The chairman of the magistrates, Vanessa Pickup, said residential rehabilitation places were like “gold dust.”

“You were given a chance many people would give their right arm for,” said Mrs Pickup. “Your response was to come out, and six days later travel to Blackburn to steal.”

And so a custodial sentence was imposed.

She was jailed for 12 weeks.

Gareth Price, defending, had been faced with a large electricity bill and a drug debt and found herself in dire financial straits.

Okay so let’s work this out. Our heroin (or whatever drug it is) addicted scouser friend has to find a very large amount of money each week to buy a commodity (heroin) which costs nothing to produce. Her welfare cheques are not enough. So she steals. Not big amounts but enough to piss off a series of shop owners and homeowners in Liverpool.

The Old Bill eventually catches her and there is a lengthy legal case (costing thousands). Then she is sent to a rehab centre (costing the taxpayer thousands) and then she steals again and we are back in court. In prison she will find a plentiful supply of heroin but may end up having to share a needle and so exposing herself to awful health risks which will, in due course, saddle the NHS with hefty bills. When she walks free after (shall we say) six weeks she will start stealing again and so the cycle repeats.

The war on drugs has failed and will always fail. Because drugs are illegal those who ship heroin into the UK make vast profits. A few mules get caught now and again but the big guys never do. And they can always find a willing supply of poor people in the 3rd world, heroin addicts in the UK, very stupid people from the UK to act as mules.

So the current system means:

a) nasty criminals make huge profits

b) because heroin is expensive, addicts commit numerous crimes to feed their habit so causing misery for lots of people

c) The taxpayer picks up the tab for: policing to catch these poor addicts shoplifting, the courts, rehab centres that do not work since the folks are sent there as an alternative to jail when they do not expressly want to kick the habit, prisons which are crowded with folks there for stealing to feed an expensive habit and in due course for NHS treatments for hepatitis and AIDS when folks get ill as a result of using dirty needles because drugs are illegal.

In a different world, heroin, coke, etc would be taxed like cigarettes and sold in chemists, tobacconists with a disposable one use syringe with every purchase. Anyone buying could be offered a place on a rehab programme if they wanted to go. The state would generate tax revenue. Hep B and AIDS transmission rates among drug addicts would fall. Criminals would be put out of business. And with far fewer crimes committed the police, courts, rehab centres and prisons would be far less busy so the taxpayer would win again.

This sorry tale from Liverpool shows just why prohibition is such a total failure all round. I would be devastated if someone I loved started using heroin or coke. I have not taken drugs myself for almost 25 years and am sternly against drug usage. But the current system does not strop drug usage. It is failing. All it does is cause misery, disease, crime and waste vast amounts of cash. It is time for an adult debate.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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