Should we decriminalize drugs?

By Emma Brooks

With a report recently published on how to tackle the drug problem, it makes one wonder what exactly the right approach to it might be. The report suggests that the police should focus more on the violence surrounding drug trafficking rather than simply carrying out drug raids; and moving drug dealers from more residential areas to industrial ones so as to lessen their impact on the neighbourhood. However one can wonder whether or not this would really be efficient and if it isn’t, then what is the approach to be taken?

Drugs and drug dealing are always going to be a very prominent problem no matter where you are. There is a market for it and therefore it is difficult to prevent it from going on. Should the approach be one of zero tolerance and cracking down on drug dealing, or should it instead be a more tactical approach that would see drug dealing areas re-located, and perhaps even a decriminalizing of certain drugs in order to slow down the traffic?

Decriminalizing drugs would to some extent solve the problem of gangs and the fight for turf since there would no longer be a market to be in control of. This would in turn reduce the violence associated with drugs and therefore make areas and cities safer. It also means that because people would no longer be carrying out an illegal activity they would not be forced to work against the law and resort to crime in order to survive. One also mustn’t forget that by decriminalizing drugs they would certainly lose their appeal to potential customers and so reduce the drug market. Additionally, a zero tolerance attitude tends to antagonize the people concerned and make them over-determined to carry on their illegal activities, as well as more violent towards the police and the state in general. A case in point that proves the efficiency of being less aggressive towards drugs and drug users is Portugal, in which drug use has dramatically decreased since all possession of drugs has been decriminalized since 2001.

But on the other hand, a zero tolerance approach to drugs does serve to show that the matter is being taken seriously, and measures are being implemented to make sure it ends. It makes citizens feel their problems are being dealt with, and that the people who are at the origins of these illegal activities will be punished for it. And it hopefully makes people think twice before they decide to engage in any drug-related activity.

It is also important to think of what would become of all the people involved once the illegal drug trade stopped? The result would be that the state would end up with a mass of “unemployed” and dissatisfied people on its hands, and what would it do with them? Suddenly these people would be left with nothing to do and no money. This could result in a lot more crime that would be different from before, yet still indirectly related to the drug industry. What other illegal activities might these suddenly jobless people turn to?

It is also important to remember that decriminalizing drugs does not mean that suddenly all the problems related to the drug industry would disappear. This for me, is the main problem with tackling any illegal activity: if you are very tough on it you risk only to provoke the people involved and encourage them to find more ways to carry on their activity. But if you are more lenient and permissive, this does not mean that all the problems linked to the activity will go away of their own accord. We need to get to the roots of the problem and see what has caused it, why people resort to it and what can be done to change their situations. Only by doing this can we reduce demand and finally win the war on drugs.

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