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Top British Doctor and Lawyer Join Drug Decrim Chorus

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #645)
Consequences of Prohibition

The former head of Britain's Royal College of Physicians has joined the growing chorus calling for radical reforms of the country's drug laws. Sir Ian Gilmore, who left his post just weeks ago, told the Guardian Monday the government should consider decriminalizing drugs because prohibition neither reduced crime nor improved health.

Prof. Ian Gilmore
"I'm not saying we should make heroin available to everyone, but we should be treating it as a health issue rather than criminalizing people," said Gilmore. "This could drastically reduce crime and improve health."

Just over three weeks ago, Nicholas Green, chairman of the Bar Council (the British equivalent of the ABA), called for decriminalization, saying it was "rational" to consider "decriminalizing personal drug use." "Crime was costing Britain $20 billion a year, he pointed out.

"[Decriminalization] can free up huge amounts of police resources, reduce crime and recidivism and improve public health. All this can be achieved without any overall increase in drug usage," Green said. "If this is so, then it would be rational to follow suit."

Gilmore, for his part, went out of his way to draw attention to yet another recent call for radical reform. He praised a recently published article in the British Medical Journal by Stephen Rolles, senior policy analyst at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which, he said, clearly made the argument for decriminalization.

In that article, Rolles noted that not only had prohibition worsened health problems such as HIV, it had also created numerous secondary harms, including "vast networks of organized crime, endemic violence related to the drug market, corruption of law enforcement and governments, militarized crop eradication programs (environmental damage, food insecurity, and human displacement), and funding of terrorism and insurgency."

Rolles' call for decriminalization also won the support of Dr. Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal. "He says, and I agree, that we must regulate drug use, not criminalize it," she wrote in the journal.

"Sir Ian's statement is yet another nail in prohibition's coffin," Transform's Danny Kushlick told the Guardian. "The Hippocratic oath says: 'First, do no harm.' Physicians are duty bound to speak out if the outcomes show that prohibition causes more harm than it reduces."

Kushlick also prodded the government to act. "With a prime minister and deputy prime minister both longstanding supporters of alternatives to the war on drugs, at the very least the government must initiate an impact assessment comparing prohibition with decriminalization and strict legal regulation."

Drip, drip, drip. And so the prohibitionist consensus erodes even further.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Dr David Hill (not verified)

In 2004 the Labour government stopped the trialling of a cure for hard drugs that is humane, perfectly safe, detoxifies in 48-72 hours, has no side effects as it is based on natural growing plants (Vietnam the country of origin is only one of two nations in the world that has the most biodiverse plant life on the planet by far) and where there is no 'cold turkey'. Indeed the Labour Government snubbed the Vietnamese government that offered their hand of help. Now this curative treatment that has been developed jointly through leading scientists in Vietnam and Germany over the last 10 years on a scientific footing, is produced in high-tech laboratories in capsule form. Therefore instead of looking to decriminalise hard drugs and make them available to all, there is a curative treatment out there that our former government did not want to even test. A strange and funny old world that we live in really and where now we could have been seeing tens of thousands of UK drug addicts cured in Britain every year. But it has to be said that there is no greater foolishness than that of government or their so-called wise advisers in Whitehall. Indeed they go against even common sense itself.


Dr David Hill

Executive Director

World Innovation Foundation Charity

Bern, Switzerland 

Tue, 08/17/2010 - 5:52pm Permalink
Carl Darby (not verified)

In reply to by Dr David Hill (not verified)

Finally a voice of reason appears and you want to muck it up with further calls for the Tax & Regulate model??????

It is clear from your comment that you deny  the right to modulate ones consciousness is a fundamental human right and that you assume that an all omnipotent State is in the best interests of humanity.

Both of these premises are fallacious.

Decriminalization is a FAR more sensible model to follow and it preserves more individual liberty and is less harsh on the individual pocketbook.

Thu, 08/19/2010 - 7:23pm Permalink

In only the most regressive states are food and medicines subject to sales tax. Things essential for survival should never be taxed. Marijuana is in that category.

Children are the responsibility of their parents.

In a good decriminalization bill all current non-violent offenders convicted of "drug crimes" would have their sentences commuted and their records expunged.

Fri, 08/20/2010 - 6:04am Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

In reply to by Carl Darby (not verified)

would eliminate all criminal penalties for growing, transporting, and distributing, too.  

There is an argument which says decrim won't rid us of the gangs and cartels and, therefore, the violence associated with the black market, either; so those who forward that argument oppose decrim in favor of "tax and regulate".  It is my contention that if all criminal penalties are removed from any aspect of cannabis -- growing, possessing, transport, distribution, sale, and use for anyone over the age of 18 -- the black market will quickly fade away.  Who'd need it? 

Fri, 08/20/2010 - 6:20am Permalink
Buzzby (not verified)

In the US we differentiate between legalisation and decriiminalisation.  The former provides for legitimate production, transport, sales, regulation, and taxation.  The latter merely takes away the criminal penalties (there may still be civil penalties) for the possession of currently illicit drugs.

I don't know what "decriminalisation" means in the UK,  but, if it means the same thing as it does here, it's not a great idea.  The state in which I live, Ohio, has decriminalized cannabis.  Possession of up to 100 grams is a civil matter subject to a $100 fine with no jail time and no criminal record.  This is of great benefit to the end user, but it doesn't address any of the other problems caused by the drug's prohibition.

Production, transportation, and sales remain in the hands of criminal gangs.  The violence that stems from a black market is not abated by decriminalisation.  Sales to minors is not abated by decriminalisation.  The quality, purity, and potency of the product go unregulated.  Prices remain artificially high.  Buyers of cannabis still have to deal with criminals who are more than happy to also sell them hard drugs.

Public opinion will not support the legalisation of all currently illicit drugs, but it will support the full legalisation of cannabis using the same legal model used for alcohol.

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 4:03pm Permalink
Carl Darby (not verified)

In reply to by Buzzby (not verified)

There was a point in the not too distant past when marijuana was regarded as a benign plant with many uses and the thought of criminalizing the possession, use or sale of any plant would have been regarded as bizarre and contrary to the laws of God and the intrinsic rights of Man. Let's call this pre-criminalization.

When "demon rum" led the moralistic push for Statist intervention we got prohibition with all of its attendant crime and a huge bureaucracy. The end of prohibition brought an end to the insanity of alcohol prohibition but "law enforcers" were not about to give up their cushy gig. They found new demons to chase and by appealing to blatant racism, morphed the latent hysteria of a pliant public into a crusade against opium (the Chinese) and marijuana (the Mexicans).

The regulatory agencies that exist as a legacy of prohibition and the subsequent Tax and Regulate model of alcohol are just as jihadist in their outlook and can still be extremely draconian when enforcing their silly rules and regulations. They view that as their job. We as a society just need to give them their pink slip.

The situation you describe in Ohio may be technically a type of Decriminalization but the salient feature of keeping civil penalties (substantial fines) is not really too different from what is proposed under the Tax and Regulate model (substantial taxes). Both "solutions" are a result of a flawed model that presupposes the State has not only a right but some sort of obligation to extort vast amounts of money for its never ending litany of Wars on fill-in-the-blank.

It is possible to envision a world with a much smaller State, with much more modest objectives, and a much much smaller appetite. It is not unrealistic to appeal to a return of those halcyon pre-criminalization days when no one looked over your fence to see what you were growing in your garden, or arrested you or roughed you up for using your own medicine.

As for your concern that production, transportation, and sales remains in the hands of criminal gangs... if the transportation, production and sale is not criminal, then by re-definition they are NOT criminal gangs. Consider tomatoes. In addition there would be remedies in the courts for anyone that sold tainted produce just like there are now for heads of lettuce ridden with e. coli or peanut butter with salmonella.

Your concerns about "potency" are also specious. Most users of marijuana (medical or recreational) are perfectly capable of self-regulating by making adjustments for potency. In any event marijuana is not a toxic substance like alcohol and there is no LD50 level associated with it.

Appeals to "protect the children" are ludicrous. Children would be far safer smoking any amount of marijuana rather than pickling their brain and endangering themselves and other with alcohol consumption, but in the final analysis children are their parents responsibility -- not the States.

The public is quite capable of adopting the reasonable alternative of absolute and thorough decriminaliztion when presented with all of the evidence and costs. It is certainly preferable to the current situation and has many features that make it more salable than the Tax and Regulate model, not the least of which is the elimination of a HUGE State agencies involved in fighting the drug war and the freeing up  of space in the prison industry complex for real criminals. In this time of budgetary shortfalls it makes sense to axe these dinosaur law enforcement hold-overs from prohibition rather than letting firemen and teachers go. Don't you think?

Sun, 08/22/2010 - 4:25am Permalink
borden (not verified)

If by "absolute and thorough decriminalization" you mean that sales and distribution and production would also be legal, not only possession -- then you are calling for what the rest of us call legalization, without regulation, e.g. total free market.

While I am personally open to arguments for purely libertarian systems, I doubt that that would do well at the polls or be very saleable to most people, especially given that nothing else in our society is treated in that way. My understanding is also that this concept has not done well in polling, but I don't have the details yet.

Sun, 08/22/2010 - 2:45pm Permalink
Carl Darby (not verified)

In reply to by borden (not verified)

Think vegetable gardens, home brewed wine and beer, even pot luck dinners. It is amazing to me that people haven't been sweet talked by the State into having sex between consenting adults taxed or regulated; it makes about as much sense. Just think how much money could be raised if we were willing to prostitute ourselves to such an extent!

Many things in our society are still completely free we just need to work on expanding that envelope and not get caught in a pessimistic trap of "this is all we can do". Decriminalization is a model that can and should be tried. Tax and regulate has its own set of problems.

Sun, 08/22/2010 - 6:44pm Permalink

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