The legalisation of drugs has been a controversial topic for many years. This very question been asked more frequently across the globe, especially after some states in the United States of America legalised cannabis for recreational use in 2012.
Today in England and Wales, the Misuse of Drugs Act is the foundation of all drug legalisation, which emphasises the criminality of the use of drugs. The efficacy of a punitive approach, such as the one in England, is hotly debated as it fails to address the root causes of drug abuse.
In 2001, Portugal changed the offensive nature of using drugs from a criminal, to an administrative one. This meant that Portugal redefined addiction as an illness and decategorised all drug classifications. While there is much criticism of the Portuguese method, by 2018 Portugal’s number of heroin addicts dropped from 100,000 to 25,000, had the lowest drug-related death rate in Europe and saw a 90% drop in HIV infections from drug use injections.
Public Health and Harm Reduction
Those who advocate for the legalisation of drugs use Portugal as an example of how regulating the production and distribution of drugs can enhance public health outcomes. By ensuring that there are clean and safe places to take drugs, monitored by trained staff, the risks associated with taking drugs diminish.
Shifting the focus of drug taking from a criminal issue to one of health and rehabilitation fosters a more compassionate and effective response to public health challenges.
The illegal drug trade is a very lucrative market, worth an estimated £9.4 billion a year. Legalising this market could generate substantial tax funds for the government.
Economically, drug legalisation could have profound implications. The illegal drug trade is a lucrative market, and bringing it into the legal sphere could generate substantial tax revenue. Redirecting resources from law enforcement to drug education, treatment, and prevention programs could lead to a more cost-effective and socially beneficial approach.
Moreover, the creation of a regulated industry through drug legalisation could stimulate job growth and economic development. Shifting funds from prosecuting low-level drug offenses to addressing more pressing legal system issues would be a potential positive outcome.
Public Opinion and Social Impact
Any proposed change in the legal system will first have to fight through the court of public opinion.
While some people are becoming more open to the legalisation of ‘soft’ drugs like cannabis, a 2022 YouGov survey found that 86% of people were in favour of keeping ‘hard’ drugs illegal. However, this does not necessarily translate into support for strict penalties: The same survey found that if a person were to be found with drugs for personal use, the top two most voted penalties for this offence should be treatment (54%) and a fine (49%).
If a government did ever decide to bring about the legalisation of drugs, it is important that it aligns with the UK’s societal attitudes towards drugs and their use to legitimise the change.
Counterarguments and Challenges
In spite of the possible benefits outlined above, there is a significant concern over the legalisation when it comes to how this might impact vulnerable populations and the increased strain on an already struggling healthcare system.
There are also very reasonable concerns regarding the commercialisation of drug manufacturing and the ethics of advertising such addictive substances.
Legal disclaimer: Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is accurate at the date of publication but please note that the law is ever changing and evolving. If you require advice in relation to any matter raised in this article please contact a member of the team.