Just too late to join the row about the record-breaking illegal drug deaths in Scotland, here’s a letter I didn’t send to the press.
Recent correspondence is quite right to point out that the cause of the scale of the Scottish drug-related deaths is official denial, and it’s helpful to have a good understanding of what is being denied.
The “War on Drugs” is better understood as a multi-million dollar industry that gives and gives to its main protagonists: the businessmen running the supply side and the privatised prisons, many in USA, who have a very unhealthy coincidence of interest in keeping the trade illegal.
The police are set up to catch crooks, not to manage a marketplace. The police in Edinburgh publicly recognised this in the mid-1980s.
Politicians around the world are warned not to interfere. Some are rewarded for facilitating the trade. And too many have no wish to interfere – keeping drugs illegal can be useful in targeting the harassment and criminalisation of minority groups in the population.
The “War on Drugs” has ruined the economies and good governance of the supply countries (heroin is, at its least, a complicating factor in Afghanistan), and the transit countries (eg Mexico), much more than in the consumer countries (eg Scotland).
Portugal has shown that unilateral action can change all this. De-criminalising drugs – removing the illegal market – is a first step, to be followed by sustained health education, harm reduction and rehabilitation. It has been maintained for 20 years, with remarkably good results.
Illegal drugs are seductive and available. You might as well prohibit sex as prohibit them. Neither sex nor drugs will go away, whatever you do. They both need what Portugal is doing.
Scottish government support of the agencies doing this here is short-term reviewable. Agencies have learned it’s best not to imply any criticism of government policy. Denial is built into the system.