The authorities in the UK are coming round to the idea that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ cannot be won, at least in the forseeable future, and that the traditional law enforcement approach of arrests and seizures has no long term benefit on the situation.
The UK Drug Policy Commission, one of those ‘think tanks’, concludes that a policy of arrest and seizure can, in many cases, just exacerbate the situation by leading to gang wars, increased violence or the moving of a particular operation to a more sensitive area, such as outside a school.
The Commission recommends a different approach to tackling the drugs problem and even backs a policy of moving drugs markets from one area to another if it causes less problems, rather than going for arrests and seizure. The emphasis would be on assessing the actual or potential harm caused to a particular area by a drugs market.
In other words, if it is thought that the arrest of the drug dealer might cause more problems than if he were to be left alone, he would likely be left alone and evade arrest. Or be asked to move to a ‘more suitable’ area. A question of trade-offs based upon the prevailing situation.
The study also recommends support for the families of drugs dealers who do actually get arrested as a means of reducing what are being called ‘harms’.
So, exceed the parking limit by one minute would be: ‘That will be £75. If you refuse to pay, you will be arrested, taken to court and end up with a criminal record’.
Dealing drugs on the street corner would be: ‘Excuse me sir, would you mind gathering up your mountain of crack and follow me, I have a much better pitch for you, better neighbourhood if you ask me. Have a nice day, sir’.
If adopted, the policy could see drug markets moved to areas where they would cause ‘less harm’ than if they remained where they were. Not ‘no harm’, but ‘less harm’.
In Boston, the authorities saw a reduction in murder rates after the police promised not to prosecute drugs dealers on condition that they stopped killing each other.
It is patently obvious, and has been all along, that it is impossible to eradicate the supply of drugs, and therefore, the drugs market. Certainly not by traditional means. Arrest a dealer, another one takes his place. Stop one avenue of supply, another opens up. There is too much money involved in the drugs trade, and the market for drugs is ever increasing.
The problem must lie within the society we have built for ourselves, where more and more people feel the need to ‘escape’ from reality for some reason and by whatever means, be it drugs, alcohol or something else. We have obviously got something very wrong at some stage of our social development, and until we discover exactly what it is, we’re not going to solve any of our, far too numerous problems.
It is said that arresting a drugs dealer may have little or no long-term benefit as either someone replaces him or the dealer begins anew almost immediately. The authorities claim to be ‘tough’ on crime, but if a dealer is almost immediately free to start up again where he left off, it can’t be that tough!
Some say that ‘real’ sentencing might be the answer. Get caught, that’s 50 years. Might act as a deterrent, but might not. Yet even the ultimate deterrent, the death penalty, doesn’t appear to stop people killing each other. There’s too much money involved and people seem always willing to take the risk of not being caught.
There is no obvious answer, but whether being lenient on serious crime whilst at the same time prosecuting an old lady for putting her bin out on the wrong day is the right approach, who knows?