Sunday, February 25, 2007

Thinking The Unthinkable

The 'Independent on Sunday' claims to have obtained a leaked Home Office document that considers a limited relaxation of the supply of drugs to addicts. For many years this has been the Great Unsayable for politicians. Tough but meaningless talk about the War on Drugs has been the stock-in-trade of successive Home Secretaries for a generation. I was still at University when James Callaghan rejected out of hand the Wootton report. Sunny Jim had first-class political antennae, and whatever common sense arguments were in the report he was having none of it. Nearly 40 years later the courts have dropped into an uneasy twin-track approach; cautions and small fines for cannabis users, pretty much the same for small personal use quantities of Class A heroin and cocaine, and enormous prison sentences for importers and commercial-scale suppliers - only last week a cocaine importer was given 18 years.
I am no expert, but I have seen a lot of drug users. I have seen people apparently wrecked by cannabis-induced psychosis, and by heroin and crack addictions. Legal, illegal, or under government control these drugs are damaging, but so is the collateral damage, at the lowest level from 90-plus percent of shoplifters being users, to the enormous amount of money that has been poured into the big-city gangs, bringing murder and intimidation in its wake. Rich countries' hunger for cocaine and heroin has wrecked the economies of Colombia and Afghanistan too - no Fair Trade there.
It is important to know that there are realists in the Home Office, but what really matters is whether Ministers will grasp this nettle at last, or whether the research goes, like all its predecessors, into the 'too difficult' basket.

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