by Peter Hurst
Tuesday, 10
August 2021
Reaction
16:38

William Hague is wrong: decriminalising drugs isn’t the ‘only’ way

There are problems with Portugal's drug approach too
by Peter Hurst
There is a paucity of evidence on whether decriminalisation in and of itself improves the outcomes for drug users

In The Times today, former Conservative Party leader and Foreign Secretary William Hague proffers the opinion that “decriminalising drugs is the only way forward” and that we should “follow Portugal in treating addiction primarily as a health problem.” In the article, Hague praises the country’s approach to drugs — decriminalising use as far back as 2001 — and repeats a number of well-worn mantras relating to how the Portuguese approach could be applied in the UK also. There are a number of problems with this argument, however. 

Firstly, Hague fails to note any downsides in the Portuguese approach. For instance, since Portugal decriminalised drug use back 20 years ago, there has been a huge increase in hospitalisations related to cannabis-related psychotic disorders. This represents not only a sharp rise in the burden placed on public services but also a great deal of human suffering. Any argument that we adopt a Portuguese-style approach to drugs should contend with this fact, but Hague ignores it completely. 

Though the former Tory leader is right to mention the benefits of Portugal’s increased investment in treatment services, he devotes many more words of his piece to decriminalisation:

Portugal has not legalised drugs and still punishes drug-trafficking. But after decriminalisation, all major indicators in a variety of studies have improved, including an 18 per cent fall in the total costs to society after 11 years. By 2010, the number of drug offenders sent to criminal courts had halved. Less law enforcement work will have helped to pay for better treatments. Might this not be worth a try?
- William Hague, The Times

Unfortunately, there is a paucity of evidence on whether decriminalisation in and of itself improves the outcomes for drug users and society at large. Even the liberal New York Times recognises that. And the danger is that the decriminalisation debate becomes a distraction from more tangible benefits. Politicians should be focusing on expanding substance-use disorder treatment, but have shown no interest in doing so. More galling is that Hague is happy to reference Dame Professor Carol Black’s recent independent review into this country’s drug approach, but neglects to mention that she also highlighted that service provision for people with substance-misuse disorders has shrunk considerably during the last eight years, a period in which his party has been in government. 

In truth, the decriminalisation of drugs would not be sufficient to sever the link between drugs and the criminal justice system — there would still be drug traffickers and black markets to contend with either way. As Fordham University professor John Pfaff has pointed out: “Portugal’s decriminalization law is actually the same sort of law that the United States had during Prohibition in the 1920s. Drinking alcohol was never illegal during Prohibition; only its manufacture, transport and sale were. Portugal only decriminalized for drugs what Prohibition never made illegal for alcohol, and what was illegal for alcohol under Prohibition remains illegal in Portugal for drugs.”

The key problem with Hague’s piece is that it presents only a partial picture of what has happened in Portugal. He says that we should treat the UK’s drug scourge as a health, not a crime, problem — yet we already treat substance misuse disorders as a health-related problem in this country. It’s far easier for a politician to recommend liberalisation than to accept that the most humane response is to increase spending on public services.

Peter Hurst is a psychiatric nurse and political blogger based in Liverpool. He tweets @Post_Liberal

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Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

” treating addiction primarily as a health problem.””

I have been down with the addicts and dealers, and criminals, and the underclasses, and the greatly messed up people who tend to gravitate to addiction as they have no reason not to….

IT IS NOT A MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM. Addiction is a result of despair, of being without hope of ever being able to join the real world in being a success – knowing you will never have that nice flat, nice friends, clothes, car, nice girlfriend – but you are a loser and you are going no where.

Also these expensive rehabs – they have a 5% success – till the addict hits rock bottom and wishes to quit, they are very unlikely to quit because some Judge sends them to some rehab class.
If you do not understand ‘The Underclass’, or more likely not even believe they exist, and are trapped in it, you cannot understand addiction and drugs. A great many not of the underclass get addicted to street drugs, but mostly they are working class, and suffer from the same spectrum of issues. Then a great many not of the underclass are severely damaged by life in some way, and in their depressive and hopeless, and hurt, they turn to drugs. Then there is the ‘Community’ drug use gives – you have someone, some friends, who you have a common occupation with – instead of just sitting alone. This is not really Mental Health – it is hopelessness.

You cannot fix hopelessness really, it is just what is. A tiny amount can be helped by education, or luck – but otherwise, it is just their reality – they are stuck in a dead end, and there they are.

There is also criminality, and criminals go hand in hand with drugs. Being into crime is a Nihilist condition – you must be risk taking and also callus, and not have any plans or hope for a future – Drugs fit that mindset perfectly – this is not mental health – it is that they are F *ckde up people by how they grew up…

Anyway, watch this Youtube on Dellingpole, the guy who worked psychology in bad prisons for decades, and in bad hospitals – he says he has has 15,000 suicide attempts he has talked to in his work – that is hopelessness – and he will explain the culture of underclass, and how it is a pathology largely created and maintained by the welfare state – He talks to the world’s most popular psychologist, Jordan Peterson – watch instead of some dreadful Netflix and learn something of this…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ET7banSeN0

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Somehow reading this reminded me of a certain part of a Brass Eye episode on drugs years ago regarding the middle class and their use of them.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

yup, far cheaper and easier to label it a mental health problem than have to change the very basis of how we structure/run our societies-which inevitably results in ‘losers’ cos it’s a pretty damn tough ‘game’ to have to play !!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago

A little short on any stats or evidence this piece to change my opinion on the matter to be honest. The benefits of Portugal’s approach has been well documented, in the dramatic decrease of drug overdoses, cost savings and the freeing up of police and courts times dealing with low level addicts. Whilst an increase in the number of psychiatric disorders linked to cannabis use is troubling, the author doesn’t explain whether this is a problem simply for Portugal due to their new drug laws, or if similar problems are occurring in other parts of the UK and Europe due to softening attitudes towards cannabis use and the well documented increased strength of the drug over the last 20 years.
The war on drugs has been an expensive failure, penalising addicts at the bottom of society making it even harder for them to get clean and rejoin. To my eyes with the Portuguese experiment the positives outweigh the negatives quite comfortably

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

even harder for them to get clean and rejoin” – We have no idea how to assist addicts in getting free of their demons. It may be that psychedelics have promise by some rewiring of the brain, but it seems once an addict switch triggers, it’s hard to reset.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
1 year ago

There’s a thought experiment I always want to do with pieces like William Hague’s – which I’ve not read because paywall, but seems to be a reasonable representative specimen of the arguments. The experiment is to ask if you’d adopt the same approach with illegal guns, and if not, why not, given the similarities:

  • the supply of guns is controlled by gangsters
  • illegal guns are very unsafe
  • if we stopped treating the possessors of illegal guns as criminals, crime would fall
  • stopping people owning guns is ridiculous anyway because cars and baseball bats can be equally deadly weapons
  • guns should be licensed and controlled and their users supported
  • etc

You end up with a description, more or less, of US gun law. The biggest problem with that is the US gun situation is beyond being addressed by new laws. The gun genie is out of the bottle and never going back in.
Why wouldn’t that happen here?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The big difference is that guns are used against other people, whereas drugs primarily hurt the user

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Drugs primarily hurt the user. Plus their families, local mental health budgets and, when somebody tips over, society.

Mel Shaw
Mel Shaw
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Tell that to their families.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
1 year ago

Full legalisation is the way to go.
And punish only those who misbehave while intoxicated … like we do for alcohol.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago

I think it is a bad idea. I’ve dabbled in certain varieties through my life, but it was more careful experimentation and I recognised them as something to be treated with huge respect. Not everyone has this attitude to drugs and they can so easily get out of hand.
People also react differently. My husband is in the arts and some of his friends have been perfectly functional on huge quantities of daily cannabis over many years, yet I also know of some people who were lost to cannabis in their teens and never recovered their mental faculties. And this is just cannabis, not the hard stuff.
Then again, I am reading I’m Your Man, a biography of Leonard Cohen and it’s hard not to romanticise the reckless lifestyles of the tortured geniuses that inhabit the pages. Oh the 60s and 70s.

Deborah B
Deborah B
1 year ago

Anyone who thinks drugs should be legalized should be made to spend at least a month working directly with addicts.
This is not a subject for sanctimonious intellectualising or academic studies. Those who turn to drugs to cope with life’s myriad challenges require understanding and practical help.
But the key issue is this. Once a person has experienced the powerful relief, pleasure, anaesthesia and excitement from drugs (and the sense of community and belonging) it’s no easy job to stop.
Drugs are super effective against pretty much all of the crap life throws at you, so not only is stopping horribly painful … You are totally unprepared to face even the most basic of life’s challenges. Such as getting out of bed to go to work. Or dealing positively with emotional difficulties. Or working through physical discomfort. The slope into dependency is made very slippery by the nature of the drugs.
Unlike alcohol, where a few glasses of wine can be slept off so you can get up the next day, drugs, including cannabis suck the get up and go out of a person and act as a gateway to opiates and other designer drugs.
And that’s why the end of this road is despair, homelessness, misery and hopeless addiction. Where only the next fix is important. So my message is this .. it’s the DRUGS, stupid.
They are the problem.

Earl King
Earl King
1 year ago

The War on Drugs has been a failure. Humans for millennia have used mind altering substances. Elephants get drunk on rotting fruit. I know CO in the US had an explosion of teen marijuana overdoses with eatable THC. That said, I completely agree legalizing drugs may be a better solution with a heavy tax devoted to drug treatment and education. Without drug treatment decriminalization is useless. The benefit of legalization would be to get rid of the black market. Making it illegal to purchase untaxed drugs much like cigarettes.

David Barnett
David Barnett
1 year ago

Decriminalisation is not enough. All the illicit profit caused by prohibition must be removed. Total legalisation is the only way to remove the harms caused by prohibition.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  David Barnett

Total legalization is like giving guns to children, it is a bad idea.

Read on China and Opium during the Opium Wars era. The opium was legal, taxed, weights and measures meant it was all above board, it was your choice, take it or leave it….. It was really bad.

I have heard lots of young people are getting mentally messed up by legal marijuana – but it is not written about much as it goes against the popular Liberal thinking. Much of the real violence in the world is done by people high on marijuana – in Central and South America and the Caribbean, and elsewhere, Africa with the child soldiers chopping off hands – these guys are mostly stoned wile ultra violent.

Just because marijuana is not known to increase violence in middle class stoners means nothing (It has documented harm mentally to middle class youngsters though). Habitual gang members very often do their worst wile high – there seems to be a point of habituation where it causes horrible tendencies – it sure messes up the brain if used too much. I have known a lot of total pot heads, and there is not much left inside, the pot eats the personality away over time.

My position, from seeing a great deal of the world, is drugs are bad. They may be OK as short term youthful rebellion and experimenting, but when drug use continues into adulthood it is almost always is a problem, same as very young using them, or anyone using drugs habitually. Drugs are bad for the greater extent – and should not be readily available to all.

“Total legalisation is the only way to remove the harms caused by prohibition.” sorry to be harsh, but this is an UTTERLY ignorant meme repeated by people who cannot think for themselves. For social good Prohibition worked very well in most of American society – Alcohol abuse was a big social problem which prohibition fixed in a great many areas – the problem was that people have always had alcohol in society, it is very much a human trait, beer making was one of the very first technologies discovered, 5000 years ago at least, people wanted to have drinks, so brought it back. – Meth, Fentanyl, Marijuana, Coke, crack, Ecstasy, heroin, this is just not the same at all.

You say make vice legal as it is hard to control – and that is giving in to vice.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

” is very much a human trait, beer making was one of the very first technologies discovered, 5000 years ago at least, people wanted to have drinks, so brought it back”
Well, maybe. Although it seems to me notable that groups of humans that didn’t have alcohol until relatively modern times – such as the American Indians and Australian Aborigines – ended up having large numbers of members of their tribes rendered completely useless for hunting and gathering by it when they started buying it from Europeans from about the 17th/18th century. And it tended to have the effect of causing them to fall into decadence and listnessless within which many still wallow even unto the present day. It does not strike me as a coincidence that overworked Ancient Egyptian serfs were among the first to start producing and drinking beer.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ferrusian Gambit
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago

Most drug taking is self-medicating against anxiety and hopelessness (mine included though mostly under control). Humans will always (and have for a long time ) self medicate. What will change that is if they dont need to (unlikely) or if drugs are not available (unlikely). i am all for SOMA in the water supply and get rid of the rest……

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Another big deal is that if young people regularly take drugs BEFORE their brains mature (alcohol included) then their brains will NOT MATURE properly. Their frontal lobes will be undersized and their ability to think and act coherently will be compromised – and they will lose the game of life and be driven to self medicate -esp if drugs get cheaper and more available. What is a fun dabble for the middleclass is poison for the strugglers………….

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

I began drinking at 10, by 14 was drinking a lot, by 16 was drinking heavy, and did till 50+. At 14 I began drugs, during my year 18 I do not think I was not high a day – yet worked full time, and then drunk at night…..

By 20 I had pretty much given up the hard drugs, but still drank like a fish when ever I had money – but as I took to the road as a penniless drifter for many rears, that was not that often….

I have no ideas of how my frontal lobes are, they seem to still be functioning………I would have to ask anyone who reads what I write……

Peter Branagan
Peter Branagan
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

OK so Mr Artzen has given us a most graphic account of the despair (and for the most part, rational despair) of addicts. Now he also wants to deprive them of the only relief available to them.
Is he simply cruel? Or does he have any ideas about how to relieve the human suffering involved?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Branagan

I refer you to the link to the video I posted. FAMILY Family family, TWO parents Two parents 2 parents

If this happened addiction would drop 80%

The current dole system in UK and USA has removed any cost to abandoning children to single, and totally unfit, mothers – who then live in unfit dole community wile the unfit father passes through to have another child to another unfit mother, as to whole streams of unfit men pass through the child’s household as useless men, almost always abusive in some way. This cycle repeats as strongly as if it is genetic – it is multi-generational, and it is a trap which keeps its victims for ever.

This is the underclass. Add in criminality, drug addiction, violence, abuse, anger instead of love, predatory adults, alcohol always, loneliness, complete lack of hope, depression….

THAT IS WHAT THE WELFARE TRAP BRINGS, and the destroyed addicts and full prisons, and homeless, and poverty and crime are its fruits.

This is what Lefty/Liberalism has gifted society with – non-judgemental degeneracy.

Deborah B
Deborah B
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Thank you Sanford for saying something that is often ignored. The welfare trap. In a nutshell, our benefits system encourages and rewards people to make life choices that trap them in poverty. Not simply financial poverty but poverty of choice, aspiration, determination. Welfare makes you weak and dependent.
You have added specifics that I applaud you for.
It will take a sea change in government thinking to make access to benefits aspirational.
Rewarding restraint, rewarding getting a job. Giving points on the housing waiting list for getting married and staying married.
Currently welfare rewards weakness and failure. And every time you make another bad choice you get more welfare.
How is this the mark of a civilised society?

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Thank you Sanford. I totally agree, having seen at first hand the harm done by just cannabis alone : young people in mental health services with recognised diagnoses of Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia etc, who insist that “cannabis helps me cope”, never listening when warned that it is always only making things worse. Check out “Attacker Smoked Cannabis” to see how it has been involved in violent incidents. When those in power are visiting their own children on psychiatric wards, or prison, post-legalization, maybe they will regret this folly.

J Hop
J Hop
1 year ago
Reply to  David Barnett

So basically you want to bring the big tobacco companies back, except this time they’ll be selling meth. I’m sure it will be a trillion dollar business hooking kids on street drugs. Can Amazon ship me my order?