A blog post by Duncan Stott at Split Horizons is garnering some interest today. It suggests that there may be some unwanted consequences of criminalising mephedrone, or as it is more commonly known here in Angus, bubbles.
Duncan suggests that:
Mephedrone users will continue to use mephedrone. They like the feeling that the drug provides, and will continue to seek (and may be addicted) to the high it provides. Instead of suppliers who were complying with the law, mephedrone will now be provided to them by criminal gangs, who will command an inflated, untaxed premium for the drug. Some addicts will turn to crime to fund their habit. The strength and purity of mephedrone will greatly vary, to the detriment of the health of users. Rivalry between the drug gangs will bring violence and weapons to inner-city streets.
Duncan is wrong on several counts. Speaking to Fiona Walsh of the Volunteer Centre Angus, I discovered that mephedrone is cheaper than booze. If mephedrone develops quality issues and becomes more expensive, kids will switch back to drinking alcohol. Secondly, addicts turn to crime when they cannot afford their drug of choice. Given how cheap mephedrone is, this is unlikely. He is also wrong to assume that the legal suppliers of mephedrone are not just a front for the criminal gangs supplying illegal drugs.
Mephedrone users will switch to more familiar highs, such as cocaine or ecstasy, that mephedrone attempted to emulate. They will be supplied by criminal gangs, with all the above problems.
Again, it is more likely that users will switch to alcohol or other cheap drugs such as cannabis, rather than more expensive, harder to come by drugs. Also, it might surprise Duncan, but being illegal does actually sometimes work as a deterrent for young people, who do not want to fall foul of the law.
Previously legitimate businesses that supplied mephedrone will be forced to close, with subsequent job losses. This is at odds with Gordon Brown’s statement that “every redundancy is a personal tragedy. Every lost job is an aspiration destroyed. Every business closure is someone’s dream in ruins.”
I do not count companies selling mephedrone, that has been specifically developed as a legal high as “legitimate businesses”. Duncan is being extremely naive if he thinks that the same criminal gangs that sell illegal drugs are not behind the legal ones that sell mephedrone. I doubt that you will find mephedrone on sale at your local garden centre.
Mephedrone users will switch to some of the many other legal highs on the market. Like mephedrone, the effects of these new drugs will not be known by science, and may be more dangerous than mephedrone, causing a new wave of deaths, and a new wave of calls for government action.
Here Duncan may be right. However leaving mephedrone legal will not stop new, more dangerous drugs being developed.
If we were to follow Duncan’s logic through for other narcotics and legalise them, we can look to our two legal drugs, alcohol and nicotine to see what the impacts on our society would be:
- Charity Turning Point claims that there are 1m children living with alcoholic parents. We would condemn how many more kids to a such an upbringing?
- Driving under the influence is a major issue across the country. There is no equivalent to a breathalyser for most drugs. How much would it cost to police Drug Driving? How many more police would be needed? More importantly how many innocent people would be killed on our roads?
- My father died of lung cancer. Seeing the other lung cancer patients on the hospital wards really brought home to me the impact of smoking on families, children and the NHS. Cannabis is primarily smoked, often mixed in with nicotine, in unfiltered joints. Legalising it will only increase the cost of treating lung cancer in this country
- Lost business hours. Already businesses lose time to workers who are addicted to alcohol or have smoking related illnesses. How much of an impact will legalising drugs have on our businesses and our economy?
Neither banning drugs, nor legalising them answers the fundamental question: why do people turn to drugs? The answers are complicated and the solutions even more so. I discussed this in more detail in my previous blog which you can read by clicking here.
What then is the solution? Well as I wrote in the blog post above:
Instead we must break the cycle of alcohol abuse and demonstrate to these children that there is a positive alternative.
We have to be serious about helping parents overcome their alcohol addiction, provide separate support for the children and then help to rebuild these families.
We need to get young people who have been drug and alcohol abusers themselves, to go and talk to children about their experiences. Just like the excellent Fiona Walsh is doing for the Volunteer Centre Angus, based in Arbroath.
And we must also ensure that children have places to go and things to do, that do not involve alcohol, like the Attic Project in Brechin or the CAFE project in Arbroath.
The problems we need to solve are “social exclusion”, for lack of an equally succinct phrase, a cycle of abuse in families and a lack of positive alternatives and awareness of a different way of living for young people. Criminalising drugs does not solve any of these problems. But nor does legalising drugs, or leaving news one legal and instead will have a massive negative effect on our society. The solutions to these problems are complex, difficult and will take a long time, perhaps generations. There is, unfortunately, no easy, quick fix.