An unwinnable war

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The Independent Online

The war on drugs is just as unwinnable as the "war on terror". In both cases, the language and assumptions of "war" are misplaced and counterproductive. Neither terrorism nor the consumption of mood-altering drugs can be contained by ever-harsher repression.

The war on drugs is just as unwinnable as the "war on terror". In both cases, the language and assumptions of "war" are misplaced and counterproductive. Neither terrorism nor the consumption of mood-altering drugs can be contained by ever-harsher repression.

Away from the hot lights and greasepaint of the hustings, most politicians know this. But as the election campaign cranks up, the sensible part of the Government's policy is being squeezed out by the desire to sound "tough". Yet it was Tony Blair who once so brilliantly made the point that toughness on crime must be matched by toughness on its causes. No one doubts that drug addiction is the most important single cause of crime. But in order to be tough on drug addiction the Government must also be tough on the causes of drug addiction. And that requires a policy that puts at least as much emphasis on treatment as on punishment.

The Drugs Bill that was the centrepiece of the Queen's Speech has the emphasis all wrong. All the measures to increase the penalties for trafficking and dealing are got up purely for electoral purposes. It is not the weakness of legislation that has caused the collapse in the prices of illegal drugs over the past decade that The Independent on Sunday reports today. This is the result of the market, albeit an illegal one, responding efficiently to huge demand.

The Prime Minister makes much of his plans to extend the testing of suspects - taking a drugs test himself for the benefit of the cameras ("My drugs test was negative"). But more testing of those arrested by the police is irrelevant while there is such a dire shortage of services to help people to stay off drugs. The Government is already increasing the provision of such services, and the only test of the Bill's intent when it is published next month will be the extent to which it speeds up that process.

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