To Criminalise, or to de-Criminalise: Drugs Abuse in the Modern Age

Dear All, 

I’ve just returned from my second trip to Amsterdam, and it re-affirmed why Amsterdam makes a relaxed three day break despite the heavy rain, and a couple of very hungover mornings. (If you are planning a trip, check out Suzy Saloon and if you put on your best British-ness and sing Wonderwall to your hearts content, the landlord will definitely send a few free Jaigers your way).


Another thing that struck me about the city is the way Marijuana consumption is controlled which sparked some personal investigation into the criminalisation/de-criminalisation of drug abuse. First of all, please recognise this isn’t a post embedded with an anti-establishment, hippy agenda which promotes Pot; instead, I’m highlighting a debate which I think is becoming much more prevalent across the world today, and has some level of relevance to almost every national society.

I’m personally not sure prohibition works. Whoever said “History is a Great Teacher” hit the nail on the head; look at how fat Al Capone’s pockets became during the U.S prohibition era through the illegal distribution of alcohol, replicated in Howard Mark’s cannabis network which was more than popular with the international policing community. Amsterdam, in my opinion, exemplifies the inefficiency of prohibition when specifically concerning less harmful substances; the regulation of marijuana has created a situation where knowledgeable individuals can control what is sold in the Coffee Shops, and ensure that harmful and more hazardous substances can be funnelled out.

I’m not wishing to propose the likes of Capone or Mr Nice are lurking on your street corner, nor that you should be able to get hold of a joint at the local ASDA, but my point is prohibition feeds a black market, and legalisation/regulation not only works towards combating illegal drug gangs, but it also reduces the health risks associated with these drugs.

I also think the taxable potential for substances such as marijuana has been overlooked, and only in the past 12 months with the legalisation in Colorado in the U.S has this been considered within the legalisation debate; marijuana realistically has a similar nature to alcohol consumption, and less health issues than tobacco, so I personally do not see the logic to prohibition when there is taxable profit to be made?!


Reflecting over the situation in Amsterdam also brought to my attention a similar debate, specifically concerning the criminality of drugs abuse involving class A drugs, which is a view I personally feel is archaic and outdated.

Why should an individual with a genuine addiction be convicted as a criminal with less emphasis being placed on the fundamental health issue at hand, in favour of focusing on the possession of a class A substance which warrants some form of record? Wouldn’t imposing a mandatory rehabilitation class have more potential benefits than a restless, counter intuitive night in a cell that neglects the sole root of the problem?

The American instigated “War On Drugs” campaign, not only is an example of U.S’ nosiness in the affairs of its Southern Neighbours, but it has also created a framework which defines drug addicts as criminals, and this is a position legislatively adopted by members of our current international community. Fortunately, in the UK we live in a liberal society with room for manoeuvre, unlike developing countries and authoritarian systems of government such as China which submit addicts to detention centres that have no withdrawal processes in place.

Arresting and imprisoning someone for the possession of heroin is completely illogical, and disregards the negative health repercussions associated with withdrawal, never mind the dire consequences that an individual may encounter imprisoned as a result of their addiction.

In an era of political austerity, shouldn’t governments be evaluating the cost-effectiveness of such a process, which most likely leads to re-offending and fails to address the root causes? Save yourself some money and follow in Portugal’s footsteps: invest in a few more needle exchanges and drop in centres which contain knowledgeable individuals offering realistic advice.

De-criminalisation would have a positive cultural affect which would encourage individuals to move towards seeking help, as opposed to addicts writing the idea off because of concerns over a criminal record. Personally, I think governments need to re-assess the logic behind their approach to drugs abuse; making a bigger emphasis on rehabilitation would make inroads into disrupting the monopolies gangs have on the distribution of drugs, by forcing addicts away from petty crime and underground networks of extortion. This global approach would similarly have positive repercussions on crime rates, forcing addicts away from small-scale crime as a means to keep up with the local ‘inflation’ rates towards a supportive network solely centred on rehabilitation.

The after-effects of a knock off version of heroine recently found in Russia, termed Krokodil. It is a much cheaper form, known to give a similar hit as heroine, but is also known to have symptoms with more similarities to severe eczema. My opinion: an example of the monopoly of local drugs trades which are able to manufacture chemically hazardous substances, that follow the ‘good value for money’ principle. For more information, I strongly urge you to watch the Vice documentary on the growing usage of Krokodil in Eastern Europe.

As a modern and progressive world, we should evaluate the flaws of this traditionalist focus on the criminality of drugs abuse, and avoid creating a game of cat and mouse between addicts and the police. I’ve been particularly interested recently in the role of Richard Branson in this debate, and I can only assume with a man of his prestige, he will be able to bring a positive light to this discussion. The atrocities ensuing from drug addiction, which range from prostitution to trafficking, kidnappings and robberies are almost a daily occurrence for some societies and is far from isolated to one global region; institutions such as the UN should get behind proponents such as Branson and re-evaluate whether the international consensus towards the criminality of drugs abuse is still effective in curbing drugs abuse in the Twenty-First Century.



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