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Sep
11
2009

Drugs prohibition

Simon Jenkins wrote an exceptionally powerful piece in the Guardian on 4 September entitled “The war on drugs is immoral idiocy”. His title conveys the essence. He went beyond proposals to decriminalize consumption, to advocate decriminalizing production as well – to be replaced by licensing, regulation and taxation. The Guardian appears to be suffering a failure of nerve on this sensitive subject. Although Jenkins’ article generated an enormous on-line response – 602 comments the last time I looked – it published no letters, including mine!! So being my own publisher I reproduce it below.

Simon Jenkins says “The mountain that must be climbed is licensing, regulating and taxing supply.” The Sherpas have made a start. In 2004 the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit published a report entitled “Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England”. It had a foreword by Tony Blair. He said:

“Millions of us enjoy drinking alcohol with few, if any, ill effects.”

But: “The Strategy Unit’s analysis last year showed that alcohol-related harm is costing around £20bn a year, and that some of the harms associated with alcohol are getting worse”.

So: “The aim has been to target alcohol-related harm and its causes without interfering with the pleasure enjoyed by the millions of people who drink responsibly.”

“Ultimately” he argued, “it is vital that individuals can make informed and responsible decisions about their own levels of alcohol consumption. Everyone needs to be able to balance their right to enjoy a drink with the potential risks to their own – and others’ – health and wellbeing”.

He concluded: “I strongly welcome this report and the Government has accepted all its conclusions. These will now be implemented as government policy and will, in time, bring benefits to us all in the form of a healthier and happier relationship with alcohol”.

A cut and paste job on the alcohol harm report, replacing “alcohol” with “drugs”, would go a long way to producing a Drug Harm Reduction Strategy. It contains no mention of prohibition.

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