Drug Dealers: Jail them tax them or ignore them?

An arrangement of psychoactive drugs
Image via Wikipedia

With this weeks media furore, substance abuse should once again be firmly fixed in the minds of thinking people.  But, irrespective of all the journalistic outpourings, the majority of commentators predictably posses opinions divided by extremes of polarity. But what is the real answer to the problem?

Writing in The Telegraph this week (see here), Sir Richard Branson pointed out that; just as prohibition of alcohol failed in the United States in the 1920s, the war on drugs has failed globally. I think most practitioners in the field of substance abuse and narcotics enforcement would tend to agree.

Over the past 50 years, more than $1 trillion has been spent fighting this battle, and all we have to show for it is increased drug use, overflowing jails, billions of pounds and dollars of taxpayers’ money wasted, and thriving crime syndicates living off the profits. Branson said; “It is time for a new approach.”

People should not be put in prison for taking drugs, as the war on illegal substances has “totally failed” to stop social problems says Sir Richard Branson…(telegraph.co.uk)

The Sentencing Council has now published a new definitive guideline on drug offences (see here). The guideline covers the most commonly sentenced offences – importation, production, supply, permitting premises to be used for drug offences and possession. All drugs from class A to C are covered by the guideline, which will be used for sentencing in both the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts.

Those who have come out on the critical side of the new guidelines, have probably had several of their opinions motivated or influenced by the media. As usual, many journalists seem to have operated in a manner that is true to type. They have seized upon snippets from the recommendations, the parts that easily lend themself to producing emotive headlines – Heroin Jail Dodge – but, many are right when they say that (some) people involved in the drugs trade should go to jail. Even if they actually come from a political viewpoint, an example of which can be seen in the Daily Mail.

Sentencing guidelines should provide a clear deterrent for drug dealing.‘These people are not just dealing drugs, they are destroying people’s lives…(Priti Patel MP)

Chief Constable Tim Hollis, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead on drugs “welcomed” the new guidelines saying…

Police take the issue of tackling drug offences seriously and the sentencing of offenders provides part of the overall approach to combating such crime and reducing harm to local communities…(CC Tim Hollis ACPO)

Recently Inspector Gadget confirmed – It’s all going horribly wrong – the blog may sometimes appear partly cynical & caustic but what it does provide is; a totally accurate barometer of the social issues impacting upon front-line policing. He wrote in his blog – “I have been saying the same things over and over again. Prison works if the sentence served is long and austere. Everything else is seen as a sign of weakness. There are not enough police on emergency response teams.”

Both Hollis and Gadget are correct however; the war against drugs isn’t simply a problem for policing. But despite many espousing the values of a more holistic approach to the undoubted impacts of drugs upon our society, much of that methodology tends towards hot air rhetoric, as opposed to any tangible action.

As with so many of the matters adversely impacting upon our society, those who direct and drive the restorative actions to combat them are often too far removed from the everyday realities of the issue. They may understand the theories but are totally out of touch with the practicalities of applying them.

Sir Richard Branson is also right when he suggests, most of the legal action against those who take drugs is actually puerile. The concerted effort, from a legislative and enforcement perspective, must always be against those who produce, import and supply the drugs. The substances which have such horrendously negative impacts upon our society, from both health and financial aspects. Action other than healthcare, education, support and advice for drug users is mostly futile; drug taking (as with drinking and smoking) is mostly a personal choice, all be it one compounded by a myriad of social issues.

The crux of the matter should always be to; look at individual cases on an individual basis, as opposed to trying to compartmentalise large groups of people. Simply sticking a label on someone before putting them in a box is insufficient.

Whatever your particular views on the matter you can rest assured; the negative impacts of drug abuse on our society are unlikely to see any real decline, at least not any time soon!

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