I started using recreational drugs in 2001 aged 13 and in those 14 years since that first toke on a joint I have learnt a lot about them, and myself. It’s been a wild ride and there’s been ups and downs along the way but I can honestly say if I had the chance to go back in time to that day I had that first toke I would still take it. Drugs opened up a whole new world for me and bred a new consciousness that I wouldn’t change for anything.

Of course using drugs isn’t for everyone. Some people can’t handle the side effects and are put off doing them, some end up in bad places through addiction and for some people it escalates pre-existing mental health issues. But I believe that if people want to experiment with drugs then it is up to them and nobody else to make that decision.

The ‘war on drugs’ was announced by the then-president of the United States Richard Nixon 44 years ago on the 18th of June 1971 at a press conference with the stated aim being to define and reduce the illegal drug trade. Just the day before he had sent a special message to the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control declaring drug abuse “public enemy number one”. It also included text about devoting more federal resources to the “prevention of new addicts, and the rehabilitation of those that are addicted”.

This has failed miserably and continues to do so. An estimated $51 billion is spent annually on this “war” on drugs, a huge percentage of the prison population in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries in the world are serving jail sentences for drugs related crimes and it is plainly clear to see that something needs to change. There needs to be a different approach as to how to deal with drug addiction as the method of treating drug users as criminals blatantly doesn’t work. Locking someone up for possessing or even distributing drugs is only going to turn them in to institutionalized people who are still going to use drugs when they come out of jail. This time served behind bars will only rehabilitate a small minority of the “offenders” and most of them will still be using drugs in jail anyway. This has been proved time and time again. Treating drug use and addiction as a criminal matter just doesn’t work. It needs to be treated as a public health matter and anyone with an ounce of sense can see this.

We need to look at other countries that have decriminalized the possession of drugs and the undisputed positive effects it has had. Portugal decriminalized the possession of all drugs in 2001 and the stats are there for all to see that it’s drug situation has improved significantly in several key areas. Most notably, HIV infections and drug-related deaths have decreased whilst the feared-by-some increase in new drug users has failed to materialize. Portugal’s shift towards a more health-centred approach to drugs, as well as wider health and social policy changes has worked. Levels of drug use are below the European average, drug use has declined among those aged 15-24, the number of people arrested and sent to criminal court each year for drug offences has dropped dramatically from over 14,000 in 2000 to around 6,000 now  and between 2000 and 2005 (the most recent years for which data are available) rates of problematic drug use and injecting drug use has decreased. This is clear progress isn’t it? So why hasn’t anything changed?

This “war” on drugs clearly hasn’t done any good and 44 years later it still goes on. Most drug addicts are mentally, physically and spiritually very ill and need help and support to overcome their problems and get their lives back. Branding them as criminals and scum isn’t helping them one bit. Locking someone up for a couple of years isn’t going to get to the cause of the problem and magically make them stop using drugs and that has been proved time and time again. Things are slowly changing now and cannabis has been legalized and decriminalized in states such as Colorado, Washington, North Carolina and I really hope this begins to start happening in the U.K soon.

The war on drugs has failed.

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