Who benefits from the drug laws?

By Simon Clare

Local police have had some recent success in their fight against drugs. Some of us may have been surprised to hear that crack cocaine and heroin are available in our soft little Sussex town. What I find most disturbing about this story is not that the drugs themselves are here, but that the organisations that profit from their sale are here too.

As recreational drugs are mostly illegal except for alcohol and tobacco, they can only be obtained from people who are, by default, criminals. Money paid to dealers in Horsham finds its way up the chain and into the bank accounts of some ruthless – and very rich – people.

Depending on where you look, estimates of the amount we spend on illegal drugs are around £6bn per year, none of which is taxed. The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) estimates that the illegal drugs industry costs the UK economy £17.6 billion annually. Not only is our economy missing out on the opportunity to tax this market, but the prevalence of potent drugs like crack and heroin means the cost of remedying their impact is high.

You have to look at the history of the issue to understand how we came to have such strong drugs on our streets. After fighting two wars against China in order to assert our right to sell them our opium, the UK itself eventually banned the drug. Horsham’s most famous opium user, Percy Shelley, would have been most upset about this had he been alive at the time, though he may have smirked that we erected a fountain in the shape of a giant opium poppy pod in his name.

Although the ban removed opium from visible society, an unforeseen effect was that it opened the door to a far more addictive and potent version of the drug: heroin.

Opium is bulky and one must take a lot of it in order to feel its effects. While it was legal, transportation was no problem but after the ban a ship packed full of opium was a risky investment. The industry eventually switched to transporting concealable heroin instead. Heroin was more cost effective for its suppliers and it had the bonus of being more addictive too; the drug with a built in loyalty card. So who benefits from the drug laws? As the song (almost) says; the laws don’t work, they just make things worse.


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