The war we should be fighting

We are, on account of abiding by certain inadequacies of the global community, fighting an ill-defined war, at home and abroad, which is tearing nation-states apart and dividing our own communities in abhorrent ways, and which without further strategic solutions beyond conflict, we will continue to fight perpetually and fail miserably. No, not the War on Terror, but a similar conflict against a poorly defined enemy: the War on Drugs.

British involvement with the conflict abroad has always been subtle and at points, secretive. The Foreign Office has often refused to comment on Britain’s involvement, and in that vacuum a great number of allegations have arisen. A Guardian investigation in 2003 suggests that in Colombia, the SAS trained anti-narcotics police and provided aid, equipment and advice for military units in the drug fields. There are numerous accounts of atrocities on all sides of the Colombian conflict, including by government sponsored paramilitaries. Worse still is the situation in Mexico, where the cartel versus government conflict claimed 6,000 lives last year, and in 2012 it was 18,000. With a cumulative death toll since 2006 of at least 60,000, the Mexican Drug War is the 8th largest conflict by death toll in the world, and the largest not associated with the War on Terror.

Whilst the government seeks to pass the regressive Psychoactive Substances Bill, we are about to debate considering a new legal framework for the regulation of marijuana at conference. I’m of the opinion that this is a welcome step forward for debate in the UK about reforming archaic drug laws. We are Liberals, we know why strategic legalisation, community strengthening, mental health reform and focusing on prevention is the only way we will ever come close to finding a sustainable solution for drug issues in the UK. The burden it places on our finances to sentence 42,000 people per year for possession is perhaps equalled only by the burden placed on our community services by an approach which ultimately fails to prevent abuse. But as I have outlined above, we should also remember the global aspect of this.

We are a country that despite a shifting world order, still has influence, and it is our responsibility not to use that influence to support a dogmatic and bloody status quo that has absolutely failed to halt the drug trade or deal with abuse. We could, alongside like-minded nations (notably Trudeau’s Canada), implement a global reform package through a robust legal framework which puts the cartels and drug lords out of business, makes a redundancy of vast swathes of the black market and reduces crime rates everywhere.

The greatest obstacle to this isn’t logistics, or a lack of capacity for reform, but the dangerous impact on our morale of the rising tide of regressive Conservative attitudes everywhere. It is easy for all of us to look to the attitude of our own government, and of the likes of Donald Trump and various new forces of the radical right across Europe, and despair helplessly at their stirring and manipulation of deeply anti-progressive sentiment in the electorate. But that is why both a British and global #fightback is needed, to square up these attitudes and win the argument as we know we can, because only then can we build the consensus for Liberal reforms that, with issues like drugs, we so desperately need.

* Guy Russo was the Parliamentary Candidate in Enfield North at the General Election and is an Ex-President of the Queen Mary University of London Liberal Democrats.

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  • Eddie Sammon 28th Jan '16 - 5:06am

    This is good, but it needs to be framed in a way that catches the public’s attention immediately. Present it in a way of saving money, perhaps, otherwise the majority of people who don’t talk these kinds of drugs are not going to be very interested.


  • James Ridgwell 28th Jan '16 - 7:59am

    Good article. Western countries’ (often ineffective) attempts to control drug use have been a major cause of carnage over decades in (especially) South and Central America and elsewhere,and this is ongoing with death counts in 5 or 6 figures per year. Arguably this is in fact morally wrong as our attempt to address drug problems (prohibition) causes such damage elsewhere. In those countries that have partly legalised drugs such a Portugal, problem drug use is down. In terms of selling significant (if not total) liberalisation of drugs laws to the public here, we could;
    – point to eg Portugal’s experience
    – predict that crime would fall as 1) less crime associated with drug supplier turf wars 2) £billions kept out of the hands of criminals and 3) the price of drugs, which would be regulated not prohibited,would fall drastically, so the minority of serious addicts would not need to steal)
    – note that police resources could be released for other tasks
    – note the increased tax take from taxed legalised drugs
    – suggest it would be easier for serious addicts to get official help with their addictions and
    point out that the overall effect of this would likely be to save the taxpayer many £billions per year.
    There might be another discussion to be had about whether there w/should be compulsory treatment for those who become addicted to drugs in such a way that they cannot contribute to society (or just the better availability of such treatment) in this scenario.

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