Enforcing drugs prohibition is a waste of money

Unless we are sorely mistaken, one area of expenditure that will not be subject to cuts in the spending review will be drug law enforcement, writes Danny Kushlick

Danny Kushlick (above) says current drugs policy is expensive, lacks any evidence of success, and is politically driven

Unless we are sorely mistaken, one area of expenditure that will not be subject to cuts in the spending review will be drug law enforcement.

This is despite the fact that by anyone’s reckoning, supply side prohibition is high cost/low benefit. However, normal auditing procedures do not apply to a policy area that is predicated primarily upon populist grandstanding.

See full special report on social work and drug misuse

The accounting process that ministers use for applying evidence-based reform in this policy area, is not based on value for money, but on balancing political expediency with expenditure of political capital.

Research has shown that every pound spent on policing the drug laws results in further reactive costs of dealing with the unintended consequences of criminalisation.

The current policy, with its heady mix of expenditure on enforcement and treatment is creaking at the seams.

The fact is that the drug treatment industry is a major beneficiary of the prohibition-based system.

Treatment provision amounts to almost £1bn a year, as the government attempts to reduce drug-related offending among the 300,000 problem users of heroin and crack.

Alcohol treatment receives far less to treat an estimated two to three million chronic drinkers. Why? Because alcoholics don’t steal.

So, a prohibition-based system will persist through one of the toughest CSRs ever. It will continue to push problematic users toward committing acquisitive crime to support their habits and then use the criminal justice system to reduce their offending.

And we, the taxpayers, will continue to foot the bill for this perverse regime.

However, the economic crisis is not going to end anytime soon and, with two Latin American presidents calling for a debate on legal regulation and the polls moving inexorably toward legal regulation, it is difficult to see how prohibition can survive two more reviews.

Danny Kushlick is director of Transform Drug Policy Foundation

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