Disclosure: I have a book to sell and promote ‘Undercover: Operation Julie – The Inside Story.’ It is a true story of my undercover cop days infiltrating one of the world’s largest drug gangs. I make the disclosure in light of the words “vested interests” in the title of this piece.
I, unlike some others, have no vested interests in the debate on drugs. As I wrote in my book, “I am neither pro or anti-drugs.” I am all in favor of an intelligent, fact-based debate.
But other than that, I have no vested interest in advocating a view about the so-called ‘War on Drugs.’ It was the BBC who said that Operation Julie was the start of the ‘War on Drugs.’ As I wrote in my book “that’s strange because I was there and it didn’t feel like a war.” There is a chapter in my book devoted to this topic.
The phrase was first used by former President Nixon in a speech. It’s the only part of the speech that is remembered. No one recalls that much of it was about the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts. But, the media being the animal it is, the phrase has been the common currency of many a headline writer since Nixon’s days. I have even used it in the title of this article.
So, what brings me to write about this subject once more? Articles in Vice.com and in a local English newspaper featured a new book by Neil Woods, a former British undercover cop. The similarity between him and I stops there. I say that because he is now associated with an organization called LEAP. After having left the police service, he is now chairman of LEAP UK (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), a pro-drug legalization activist group consisting of ex-law enforcement officials. One may therefore ask if he has a vested interest in promoting his views.
I am all in favor of a revitalized debate on the question of the legalization of drugs but the problem is not helped by sound bites emanating from the likes of Woods. It appears his stance on drugs is not “thought through” all the way to all eventual consequences. Not only that, but there are two separate debates to be had and Woods conjoins the two making the issues clouded and confusing.
On one hand there is a debate about the legalization of cannabis and on the other is the “hard drugs” such as heroin and cocaine, not to mention the methamphetamine problem.
The sooner police officers and former officers learn to separate the issues, the better for all concerned. The same sentiment applies to all commentators on the drug legalization debate.
Woods is not alone. A senior officer of the UKs National Crime Agency (NCA) allegedly spoke to the journalist from Vice.com but under a false name. The article called him Mike Fisher. Fisher holds views close to those of Woods.
“Fisher” says in the article:
“If the NCA stopped targeting drug gangs, it would change nothing,” he explained. “You would see little change in the high street. Society would not collapse. As it is, drugs are freely available now. All that would happen is that dealing would be more open. But it may give us more of a chance to deal with crimes such as homicide.”
I find that incredibly naive. Drugs are but one part of organised crime hence part of people trafficking, sex trade, terrorism to an extent, etc. In addition many homicides are drug related.
And, what say he about the deterrent effect of prohibition? Nothing! He completely overlooks the fact that legislation and awareness of prohibition deters many people from even dabbling in drugs.
“Law enforcement against drugs is completely ineffective and has been since the Misuse of Drugs Act came into force in 1971,” says Fisher. “The idea of the state protecting you from yourself just doesn’t work. We’ve spent billions of pounds trying to prohibit drugs, but there’s less chance of it working than Canute stopping the waves.”
As I wrote in my book, there is a long history of drug prohibition in Britain going back to the early 1900s. Fisher dismisses “the idea of the state protecting you from yourself .” That displays a degree of ignorance as many laws imposed by the state upon its citizens are implemented on the basis of the welfare of those very same citizens and prevention of social harm. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was merely a step to codify Britain’s drug laws and fall in with international treaty obligations.
The article on Woods says, “the drug trade acts as a production line for the creation of ruthless gangsters.” I disagree. Those people are there anyway. If there were no drugs in the world they would find a substitute. But what do Woods and Fisher say should replace the current system of prohibition?
Woods it appears is in favor of a complete legalization of all drugs. The Vice article says this:
Fisher’s solution is to take the Portugal route: decriminalise personal use of all drugs, from cannabis to heroin, and look at legalising production and supply. “I believe consenting adults have a choice as to what they put in their bodies. It will also make it easier for heroin and crack users to get the help they need and free up police time to go out on patrol and deal with other crimes,” he says. “Ideally, production should be wrested from organised criminals and managed by governments.”
My views? I agree there is merit in trying the “Portugal route.” I agree that “consenting adults have a choice as to what they put in their bodies.” But they have the same choice irrespective of legalization or prohibition. No one forces you to “do” drugs.
The programs are in place now and have been for some years to help the users of heroin and crack cocaine.
As for, “Ideally, production should be wrested from organised criminals and managed by governments,” I cannot agree at all with that sentiment. It is (a) impractical (b) nonsensical and (c) morally abhorrent. It advocates a total abrogation by the state in its duties to minimize social harm.
I respect the views of all concerned in the debate on drugs including those of former and serving police officers. Yet, having been in the front line I am aware that it is not the best vantage point to see the “bigger picture.” Messrs. Woods and “Fisher” are too close to the action.
In addition, for me, “Fisher” somewhat loses credibility when the article says, “Surprisingly, he [Fisher] tells me around half of Britain’s elite drug detectives at NCA have similar “liberal” attitudes to the drugs problem.” Sound dubious to me! I have reservations about the accuracy of his statement and it is hardly the stuff of empirical research.
The input from both of these men is valid but contains flawed logic. There clearly is a bandwagon in the UK for government to reassess drug legislation.
PS One final thought and maybe Woods or Fisher will answer this – does legalization mean that an ice cream salesman can park outside of a school and sell drugs to your kids? Do you want your kids to use any form of drugs? Do you want your kids to sell drugs in school to earn some extra pocket money?
Maybe government knows a thing or two that you guys have overlooked?
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