Drugs policy is always controversial and people hold very different views on how our society deals with the problems that illegal drugs create. Politicians shy away from asking the bold questions that need answers. Many people believe that using the criminal law is the way to “deal” with drugs. I do not share that view. We have been “fighting the war on drugs” for many years now and we have been losing. We know that drugs like heroin are highly addictive, people die as a result of overdose, people get progressively sicker as drug dealers add all manner of harmful substances to the drug to increase their profit, those addicted resort to economic crime or to prostitution or to introducing others to the drug to fund the habit.
And of course, we have allowed the creation of criminal gangs who with increasing levels of violence fight for territory and fight to keep their “customers”. And people get injured and killed as a result. We’ve seen this in Rochdale. This government has been cutting back on the police numbers needed to even pretend to control this and have underfunded drug treatment centres.
Yesterday the government announced a major boost for drug treatment services, and I welcomed that in Parliament. But MPs rightly asked the government to go further and consider prescribing heroin to long term users. It’s radical and some do worry about it. Years back there was an experimental treatment service which prescribed heroin in Widnes. Crime went down as a result and drug use went down. And it took a high value commodity out of the hands of the dealers weakening their control.
I asked the Minister if we would look closely at countries in Europe and States in America where cannabis use has been decriminalised but regulated. Cannabis is now so widely used and accepted that the criminal law has failed to control it and frankly never will. But it provides rich rewards for our drug gangs.
Let me be clear, I want to see our police arresting and locking up those dealers who prey on those who use drugs. I want to see our police freed up to seize illegal drugs. But I don’t want to pretend we can ever win the “war on drugs”.
It’s time we worked intelligently to break the control of the gangster, treat drug dependent users as addicts with a health problem and that way we can begin to make a difference to an issue we have simply got wrong.
This article was originally published in the Rochdale Observer on 11 December 2021.