The Obama administration signalled today that it was ready to repudiate the prohibition and 'war on drugs' approach of previous presidents, and steer policy towards prevention and 'harm reduction' strategies favoured by Europe.
David Johnson, an assistant secretary of state, said the new administration would embrace policies supporting federally funded needle exchanges. The aim, he said, was to establish a policy based on public health needs. 'This will result in a policy that is broader and stronger than the one we had in the past,' Johnson said on the sidelines of a UN drug strategy conference in Vienna.
I suppose this is a start, but they need to bring down the entire structure of prohibition and the criminality that structure creates.
Will more people use drugs? Perhaps, but it's not really hard to get drugs if you really want them now. Portugal has decriminalised possession since 2002 and the policy seems to have been a success.
On the whole I think relatively low harm drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy and mushrooms should be legalised and taxed. They should be sold at fixed strengths in regulated shops. Such "good drugs" would destroy the market in fake and over-strength compounds, not to mention the criminal enterprise around them. In the UK at most of Europe at least, despite higher penalties on the books, it's fairly unlikely that mere possession of these drugs would currently bring about a prison sentence. In the US the situation is some states is insane with hundreds of thousands of people arrested and imprisoned each year.
The case is harder to make with heroin/morphine/other opiates. Here I think sale should probably remain illegal, but declared addicts should be allowed maintenance amounts on prescription. This would at least reduce level "getting a fix" crime, but probably would not dismantle the international crime rings. Such rings might, however, make so much less money that they would wither. I suspect there are only a limited number of people who would even want to use heroin. After all, codeine is available over the counter in the UK, and it is possible to remove the APAP/Paracetamol from bought pills, but fairly few people do.
Cocaine is the hard one. Here there is no question the that the drug is dangerous, and there is probably not much individual resistance to the drug. In other words, a huge number of people would try and would like cocaine. But it's equally true that the War on Drugs on cocaine is causing the post political destabilistion in much of Latin America, and now some African states, not to mention huge amounts of violence in the US and somewhat less violence in Europe. I cannot make my up on this - I see the case for continuing prohibition, but it may be that the social cost in Latin America and Africa is too high. There might be case for legalising cocaine as well.