Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The times they are a changing?

Those countries that have open debates about their drug policies around the world are coming to similar conclusions: that repression has not led to the drug-free world we were hoping for, that it has in fact made things a lot worse. They are also finding that law enforcement can no longer afford to go after drug users and small retailers because budget cuts are affecting the police and the judiciary too. According to a recent report by the UK Drug Policy Commission, more than half the forces in the UK will scale down their "traditional" drug work and look to concentrating on the higher levels of the drug trade and on asset forfeiture (i.e. taking away the BMWs from drug dealers).

Similar developments are happening all over Europe. It is hard to imagine Greek policemen - many of whom are now on 800 Euro monthly salaries - from being either committed to or equipped for intercepting the flow of drugs that comes through from Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. Most of it is on its way to North Western Europe anyway.

Belgian Police (sitting in the middle of the West European hub for illicit drug distribution to the region) are struggling with internal political problems and an outdated training system. The Dutch Parliament has recently held an expert hearing which advised strongly against some of the present government's flirting with more authoritarian approaches.

Drug policy is not, it turns out, about "solving" the drugs problem, but about reducing the damage that drugs do to people and the crime that prohibition creates. It is about preserving our law-based societies based on the rights of the individual from the growing fashion of making intractable societal problems into "security" issues. The unexpected ally in this effort is the rate at which security budgets are going to suffer in the coming years. It will force governments to follow more effective and evidence-based policies as they will dig deeper into citizens' pockets to service the sovereign debts we now have.

As the indignati or idignados camp in Madrid, London, New York and elsewhere, politicians are also well advised not to go too far in reading the riot act to electorates which are beginning to call into question the relevance of the current political system to their individual lives.

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