Until recently, calling for the legalisation of drugs was seen as the pursuit of fringe libertarian radicals — an intellectually stimulating idea but one that was essentially hypothetical. No government, it seemed, would ever summon up the courage to confront the issue.
But the cracks are starting to appear. You can only prosecute a failing war for so long and, on both sides of the Atlantic, attitudes and even policy are moving in a dramatic, liberalising direction. Last November the states of Colorado and Washington voted to legalise the recreational use of marijuana, which would have been unimaginable only a decade ago.
On this side of the pond, Brighton City Council may become the first local authority to remove the fear of criminal prosecution from drug users. The idea would be to provide “consumption rooms” or “shooting galleries”, overseen by medical professionals. This is a tangible step towards accepting that the use of narcotics is a health issue, not a criminal one. Some estimates suggest that about 25 per cent of Brighton’s residents have taken illegal drugs. Prosecuting a war against a quarter of your civilian population is not likely to meet with success.
Indeed, the results of the “war on drugs” have not just been disappointing, they have been horrifically destructive. Over forty years, the United States has spent about $1 trillion on prosecuting this war with no victory in sight.
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