Letter: Drug experiences from New York

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Sir: Is it as unrealistic as you suggest, in your leading article 'The fix that isn't working' (21 September), for our politicians to think about the decriminalisation of hard drugs? Drug-related crime is increasing, but fortunately not yet to the levels that prevail in the US, where there have been vigorous but remarkably unsuccessful attempts to suppress it for many years.

This does not surprise me. When I was working in New York in 1954-55, the late Robert Loeb, a senior and much respected physician of those days, predicted that an increase in police efforts to suppress drug traffic was doomed to failure. The more the police attempted to suppress the illicit trade, the greater became the profit from the trade and the more ruthless the operators who engaged in it. He had seen the same situation arise when the prohibition of alcohol was enforced in the US.

I think that illicit drug taking is a stupid and self-denigrating activity, but I believe it should now be made legal and that those who wish to take hard drugs be able to buy them from pharmacies under appropriate controls. Drug addiction would remain a serious problem, but I doubt that it would increase greatly, because the 'pushers' would no longer be pushing.

There are two advantages in decriminalisation. Drug addiction would be predominantly a problem for an individual and it would damage the community less than it does now. And a law that cannot be enforced would no longer bring our laws into disrepute.

A U-turn by politicians for a rational reason would, I agree, be surprising, but that does not make it less desirable.

Yours sincerely,




19 September