There was a big two page spread in the Evening Post recently given over to the question of if the Bristol Drugs Project and its aim to set up a 'Shooting Gallery' in Bristol for addicts to use. This is not an unusual project and there have many many similar project in the UK and world wide. What was depressing to read alongside this was the Post's editorial with their emotive language and ramblings on the evils of drugs. It was rubbish and unhelpful hyperbole from a newspaper with a right-wing ideological stance. It was also wrong on a number of counts. It advocated a tougher line on dugs – tougher penalties for dealing etc – the usual right-wing rant;
"So what should we make of the suggestion for a so called 'shooting gallery' - a place where drug addicts can inject their poison overlooked by people who can help them if something goes wrong."
Now I'm no bleeding-heart-liberal on this issue – I live in St.Pauls, so see the results of drug addiction every day, have family who have been impacted by addiction – I am well aware of its problems, so when I read the post's resistance to the 'Shooting Gallery' on the grounds that;
"Those who work with drug-users say it is better than leaving addicts to inject themselves in squalid alleys, public toilets or or under flyovers. But what of the rest of us who surely have no contact with drug users? Surly man will view this proposal as a vision from hell, a place where, effectively, society is turning a blind eye to an illegal practice that endangers life?...Some may even say that such an establishment could be an encouragement to them to continue using drugs."
It makes me angry. This kind of sub-'reefer-madness' view of drug policy is wrong headed and dangerous. The Post are living in a dreamworld if they think that drug policy should be dictated by those who 'have no contact with drug users' – perhaps that is the problem, the way we live our lives is hostage to the views of newspaper editors in their plush homes in affluent areas who have no idea of reality. To them the 'message we send' via policy matters more than the practicality. Well here is where I stand – I am sick of seeing the problems created by drugs, I want something to be done that WORKS. We have been pushing prohibition for over 50 years and drugs are easier and cheaper than ever before. Don't take may word for it, ask the people on the frontline. Here is what the Colombian Vice President had to say;
"After a five-year frontal attack against drug trafficking, the results aren't the most successful or the ones we hoped for...at the end of the day, the benchmark is whether the street price of cocaine in New York, London or Madrid rises or the quality falls. So far, we haven't found any statistics that bear this out."
Now this is a country who benefits via the millions of dollars pumped into the military to fight the 'War on Drugs' and if they are saying it is not working – what would? How bad is it really? We have troops on the ground in Afghanistan and has this impacted the supply of drugs (Bliar gave this as one of the reasons to intervene there) – not a bit. Here's Steve Rolles of the Bristol based Transform Drug Policy Foundation;
“This week's alarming UN reports on the Afghan opium crop, showing that it now accounts for over 93% of global illicit production, prompted much debate. A Guardian leader (The drugs don't work, August 27) acknowledged the futility of eradication efforts...The government has spent billions trying achieve this through supply-side enforcement and coerced treatment. And yet UK heroin use rose from 1997 to 2001 before stabilising at its current historic high.”
The war on drugs was lost a long, long time ago. For a newspaper that claims to be the 'voice of the city' pushing the same tired old line is doing us, especially those of us who live the areas most effected by drug abuse, a massive disservice. I'd like to end on a quote;
"So, what can you say about a policy that has cost about a trillion dollars, resulted in the deaths of numerous law enforcement officers, and countless citizens? I say it has failed. I also say that it is time for the Congress of the United States to acknowledge that the war on drugs is a disaster and to bring it to a swift halt."
Who wrote that? A hippy pot-smoker, an ivory tower professor? No, a cop wrote it. He's part of LEAP – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – a US based group of former and serving police types, and if the Post's comment writers did some real journalism they might learn a thing or two beyond wrong-headed hyperbole.