Magazine article The Spectator

Dead Children Are Not Reliable Counsellors: It Is Time to Legalise Herion

Magazine article The Spectator

Dead Children Are Not Reliable Counsellors: It Is Time to Legalise Herion

Article excerpt


They were heart-rending photographs.

A young girl, whose sweet face sang of the hope and joy of youth; a couple of years later, she is a broken, beggarly creature, who perishes in squalor and despair. What is this hideous strength which can transform good into evil? Surely we must deploy all the power of the law to curb its malignancy.

If only the drug question were that simple. But emotion and dead children are not reliable counsellors. If prohibition could have solved the problem, Rachel Whitear would still be alive. Her death was further evidence that our present policy has failed and is doomed to unending failure; that however well-intentioned its authors may be, they are adding to the sum of human misery.

Let us take the hardest case: heroin. A generation ago, there was no heroin problem in Britain. A few doctors, most of whom were themselves junkies, kept a few thousand addicts supplied with heroin, on prescription. In those days, there was, if anything, a negative correlation between heroin addiction and crime.

Then the Americans agitated for a tough UN Convention on heroin. Like most proposals to erode our national sovereignty, this appeared to emanate from high-mindedness; it is not easy to generate the political courage to dissent from a widely supported proposal to tackle drug abuse. So the UK agreed, thus creating a heroin problem and a crime problem.

It became almost impossible for doctors to prescribe heroin. Instead, the addicts were offered methadone, which is almost as dangerous, but much less pleasurable. In response, the junkies went elsewhere.

Their consumer demand then created an industry, whose annual turnover is now estimated to be almost L5 billion. There are some 270,000 addicts, and most of them resort to theft to pay for their drugs. The best estimate is that the average addict steals about L13,000 a year, but that understates the problem. If an addict is stealing goods rather than cash, it needs an awful lot of mobile phones to raise L13,000.

In response to all this, the law has not been silent. The criminal justice system is eloquent with heroin-related pains and penalties: up to seven years in prison for possession, a possible life sentence for supply. But it is not working. The rewards for trafficking are so great; the craving of the addicted is so intense. The cash and the customers pour into the black market, giving dealers and addicts, some of whom raise money by recruiting new customers, every incentive to prey upon the vulnerable young, like Rachel Whitear.

There are two further issues, one practical, the other philosophical. A heroin addict who has the equivalent of a lucky liver can live an almost normal life for an almost average lifespan, as long as he only indulges in good-quality heroin. But if the trade is illicit, there is no guarantee of quality. Addicts who sell to other addicts are especially likely to deal in adulterated heroin, and those who inject themselves with adulterated heroin are playing Russian roulette with their blood supply. That may have helped to kill Miss Whitear.

But there is a more fundamental objection to the present arrangements. They are based on no coherent theory of the state. The anti-- libertarians have a clear and respectable case; it is possible to argue that the state should regulate the private behaviour of adults. If so, however, why stop - or start-- with the currently illegal drugs? Nicotine addiction is responsible for more deaths than all other drugs combined and multiplied; broken families create far more human misery; abortion is a much greater moral evil. …

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