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The losing war against drugs

14th February 2011

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Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK are one of the fastest growing youth organisations involved in student politics at the moment. SSDP UK aims to open the debate about the current drug policies enforced by governments across the world, encouraging people to support alternatives to America’s War on Drugs. Forty years after the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, SSDP UK will be hosting a European Drug Reform conference at Manchester University. There will be seminars from prominent speakers within the drugs field, workshops on how you can make a difference, and bringing together people who believe the current system has failed.

2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This last 50 years has seen governments across the world enforce harsher penalties for the supply and possession of illicit drugs, an increase in police powers, and strings of drug awareness campaigns all with the aim of creating a drug free world in the name of America’s War on Drugs. Not only has the War on Drugs not succeeded in its aims, but it has been counter-productive. Drug related deaths have soared, the levels of drug-use are unprecedented, and the availability of drugs is freer than ever before.

The simple act of banning drugs, prohibition, abdicates the control of drugs from our elected officials to the hands of criminal organisations. These criminal organisations enforce their control through violence, with the more money to be made the more violence they are willing to use to control their market. This violence has led to over 35,000 people being killed in Mexico since 2006 and piles of decapitated bodies being left in school play grounds in Columbia. America’s attempts to control the drug market in Columbia have resulted in it being pushed into Peru, Bolivia, the West Indies, and West Africa, very poor and politically unstable countries. With America’s aid these countries must therefore implement America’s policies under the threat of withdrawal of aid. Policies which would rather see a drug user die than stay healthy.

In Russia over 1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS because its government refuses to provide needle exchanges and methadone treatment. The War on Drugs creates a barrier to treatment by stigmatising those unfortunate people who are afflicted by drug addiction. We live in a society where a smoker or an alcoholic is suffering from an illness and can easily access treatment on the NHS, but it’s believed that the sufferer of a cocaine problem should be locked up in prison for 14 years at a massive cost to the tax payer. Over 50 per cent of America’s prison population are incarcerated for drug-related offences. At a time of such deep cuts to the UK budget, saving more than £10billion a year on enforcement and prison costs could mean that vital services which the current government are cutting could be saved.

It is ironic that the War on Drugs has been pushed for the protection of young people, apart from being patronising, it has increased the harm that drugs and the drug market has on them. Many young people grow up without a parent or siblings who are imprisoned for drug possession. They are often caught in the cross-fire of gang violence, get involved with drug dealing as a way of gaining status within certain social groups, and their ability to get hold of drugs has increased; a drug dealer does not ask for proof of age. We can no longer continue to accept the horrors that are perpetrated supposedly to protect us, it is time for us to make a difference.

Tickets for SSDP UK’s European Drug Reform Conference are now on sale at;

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