Darryl Bickler is a co-founder of the Drug Equality Alliance and a former solicitor practicing in criminal law and human rights.Darryl has looked extremely closely at the 1971 Misuse of Drugs act and here he explains why ‘drug use is not illegal’.
The eradication of unapproved recreational drug use is arguably an impossible task. It is also unnecessary, irrational and unfair. Under the current regime of prohibition, an arbitrary decision has been made to encourage and sanctify certain drug users, while criminalising others.
The Misuse of Drugs Act exists to instruct the government on dealing with ‘dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs’. Under the imperative of this Act, all such drugs, including alcohol and tobacco must be included, and it is their ‘misuse’, rather than ‘use’ that it seeks to act on.
According to the law, drug use itself is not illegal. The law seeks to regulate people’s drug property to prevent misuse of drugs. The law should only be concerned when drug ‘misuse’ is deemed to have a ‘harmful effect sufficient to constitute a social problem.’ So if the law is neutral, and users are supposedly not criminalised until they demonstrate a propensity to misuse a drug, why is it that a cannabis user is always considered a ‘misuser’ and a criminal, but a tobacco user isn’t?
Prohibitionists have hypocritically created a divide between drug users through a belief in bodily and mental purity, which the use of certain drugs supposedly violates. But rather than relying on messages which are unsustainable in the real world, it would be just as effective to encourage a greater understanding of drugs, and for users to be empowered to make rational decisions. And of course, research and a more tolerant and safer context would improve the experience.
But from where does the divide in drug law policy arise? It comes down to supposedly moral questions concerning what are approved states of consciousness, and thus ultimately what it means to be human. Under the guise of there being a ‘war on drugs’, the arbitrary prohibition of certain drugs is in fact a war on human thought, a negation of our human right to access varying states of mind and ways of thinking. Through the criminalisation of peaceful drug use through the offences of possession and supply, there is an inherent denial that drugs could increase our potential, self-growth and benefit wider society. The government choose only to focus the power of the law on the users of some drugs, depending upon their personal drug preference or requirement. There is an obvious vested interest for pharmaceutical, tobacco and alcohol industries to maintain this arbitrary divide, and uphold their monopoly of the market. As it stands, if we choose favour for one drug over another, we automatically lay ourselves open to investigation. Even as responsible individuals, we cannot consider ourselves to have freedom in our choices, and our thoughts and decisions cannot remain private. Our desires and actions are watched over and we are subject to judgement.
The law should be there to help us, but in the case of declaring war on some drug users, the government have chosen to abuse their powers by actively putting drug users in danger. Prohibition means there is no regulation in the quality of drugs sold on the street. It really can be a risk too far to take some of the drugs that are supplied by dealers, and people often don’t seek the right help and support when they are in trouble with drug misuse. Drug misuse gets progressively more harmful as the state continues to deprive users of their safety by not developing proper solutions to misuse.
What the ‘War on Drugs’ really means is a protection racket for the drug dealers who sell tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical mind-altering drugs, and a complete loss of control over the markets for most other mind-altering drugs. Effectively this means that people are led to suffer the ill effects of alcohol and tobacco, sometimes denied safer alternative, and have no consumer protection with all other drugs. Policy is thus a disaster for drug users on both sides of the artificial divide. What is lost is beyond measure – not only the health and lives of all types of drug users, but the whole potential for society to realise the benefits of a rational drug policy, and to be able to access a wide range of safe and effective recreational and mind-expanding drugs.
Darryl Bickler is a co-founder of the Drug Equality Alliance and a solicitor formerly practicing in criminal law and human rights.