Drugs law enforcement causes violence and dosen’t stop supplies, so let’s have more of it.

A sure sign of a failing policy of repression is the constant need to make it ever more repressive; to widen its scope and to make it less dependent on evidence. The moral panic over the the past week with mephedrone has put the misuse of drugs act under pressure like never before and those who support the idea of prohibition are calling for just the sort of broadening of scope and abandonment of evidence that characterises a failing policy.

Fact is the government really want to ban Mephedrone but because of the way the Misuse of Drugs Act works it requires evidence and so makes that impossible. The advisory body, the ACMD, hasn’t been able to do its work in large part due to the sacking of Prof David Nutt last year, which caused others to resign making the ACMD inquorate.

Of course, as we know with the cannabis debacle, having been given the evidence the government is under no obligation to take any notice of it but the act does require the evidence to be collected first. So the government is busy recruiting people to the ACMD who will then be able to sign off the official study which will allow the government to do what it wants, which is almost certain to be extending the Misuse of Drugs Act to prohibit Mephedrone.

But the drug warriors are claiming all this isn’t enough, what we need, they say, is a whole new approach whereby anything can be banned until such a time as the government says it’s legal. as Kathy Gyngell wrote in her Centre for Policy Studies blog

If the government is to retain any credibility it must react now. Alan Johnson must come out fighting again. He must bypass the archaic and abjuring ACMD and ignore their liberal sensitivities about using the criminal justice system for effective drugs law enforcement. He must give direct powers to the police, as is happening in Sweden, to detain any substance and to treat it as illegal for as long as it takes to investigate it.

This is seriously dangerous logic and would be a huge leap into the abyss of a police state. Prohibition is under threat due to the impracticality of dealing with the flood of new drugs coming onto the market designed to sidestep the prohibition legislation and so the only way to go is down the slippery slope towards authoritarian repression.

So now seems a good time to ask a simple question: How effective is prohibition at achieving its stated aims? The answer of course is not encouraging for people like Kathy Gyngell.

Regarding the level of violence associated with the illegal drug trade, this week saw the publication in Canada of a report entitled “Effect of Drug Law Enforcement on Drug-Related Violence: Evidence from a Scientific Review” – download it here. The study tested a simple hypothesis which is at the heart of the justification for the enforcement policy:

The hypothesis was that the existing scientific evidence would demonstrate an association between drug law enforcement expenditures or intensity and reduced levels of violence.

Now of course, that is a pretty fundamental reason for the enforcement, the whole justification for the policy is built on the fear of crime and the threat to society is poses. The results?

Contrary to our primary hypothesis, 13 (87%) studies reported a likely adverse impact of drug law enforcement on levels of violence. That is, most studies found that increasing drug law enforcement intensity resulted in increased rates of drug market violence. Notably, 9 of the 11 studies (82%) employing regression analyses of longitudinal data found a significant positive association between drug law enforcement increases and increased levels of violence. One study (9%) that employed a theoretical model reported that violence was negatively associated with increased drug law enforcement.

Whoops indeed. As Mark Haden note on his blog

The review concludes that the available scientific evidence suggests that drug law enforcement efforts will not meaningfully reduce drug supply or drug-related violence and may paradoxically increase violence in Canadian communities.

But at least prohibition is reducing the supply of drugs and allows us to know what the true picture is? Well, no it doesn’t do that either. The U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center issued its annual report entitled  “National Drug Threat Assessment 2010“. Americans do have a way with words, what this report is all about is the levels of availability of prohibited drugs in the US. Remembering that it’s nearly 40 years ago Richard Nixon introduced the “War on drugs”, it’s truly revealing to see just how little “progress” has been made. The cannabis – or marijuana as they call it – section is very revealing:

Marijuana is widely available, in part as a result of rising production in Mexico. The amount of marijuana produced in Mexico has increased an estimated 59 percent overall since 2003 (see Figure 14). Contributing to the increased production in Mexico is a decrease in cannabis eradication

There is less eradication going on in Mexico because

The reduction is the result of the Mexican military’s focus on antiviolence measures rather than illicit crop cultivation.

That “focus on antiviolence measures” actually means the open warfare and mass murder taking place close to the US boarder caused in large part by the smuggling of cannabis into the US. So despite spending greatly increased amounts of money trying to prevent the trade, more and more is getting through, more is being produced and the violence level is increasing.

The amount of marijuana produced domestically is unknown.

So much for “drug control” if they don’t even know something as basic as that. But anyway the lack of data doesn’t stop them coming up with some trends

However, eradication data and law enforcement reporting indicate that the amount of marijuana produced in the United States appears to be very high, based in part on the continual increases in the number of plants eradicated nationally. In fact, eradication of plants from both indoor and outdoor sites has more than doubled since 2004.

So increased smuggling and increased home production.

Marijuana is produced in the United States by various DTOs and criminal groups, including Caucasian, Asian, and Mexican groups, but Caucasian independents and criminal groups are well established in every region of the country and very likely produce the most marijuana domestically overall.  Mexican, Asian, and Cuban criminal groups and DTOs, in particular, pose an increasing threat in regard to domestic cultivation, since their cultivation activities often involve illegal immigrants and large-scale growing operations ranging from 100 to more than 1,000 plants per site. In addition, these groups appear to be expanding and shifting operations within the United States

All in all this report shows a failing regime, there is simply no other way to describe it. Best of all though is the footnote which admits:

No reliable estimates are available regarding the amount of domestically cultivated or processed marijuana. The amount of marijuana available in the United States–including marijuana produced both domestically and internationally–is unknown. Moreover, estimates as to the extent of domestic cannabis cultivation are not feasible because of significant variability in or nonexistence of data regarding the number of cannabis plants not eradicated during eradication seasons, cannabis eradication effectiveness, and plant-yield estimates.

In other words, they don’t really have much idea what’s going on despite spending eye watering amounts of money, locking up millions of people and causing mass murder in some areas of northern Mexico.

Prohibition is a disaster of massive proportions. Just how much real world evidence do they need?


UKCIA is a cannabis law reform site dedicated to ending the prohibition of cannabis. As an illegal drug, cannabis is not a controlled substance - it varies greatly in strength and purity, it's sold by unaccountable people from unknown venues with no over sight by the authorities. There is no recourse to the law for users and the most vulnerable are therefore placed at the greatest risk. There can be no measures such as age limits on sales and no way to properly monitor or study the trade, let alone introduce proper regulation. Cannabis must be legalised, as an illegal substance it is very dangerous to the users and society at large.

6 thoughts on “Drugs law enforcement causes violence and dosen’t stop supplies, so let’s have more of it.

  1. Well written derrek I really do dispair at the Goverments attitude towards drugs to the extent that I almost toally ignore them as they are so dysfunctional on this subject. They lost all credibiltiy when they put magic mushrooms inot class A and its been downhill since then The psychosis round drugs seems to be predomianantly expressed by those that don’t use them

  2. If the police are given powers to arrest based on a substance they cannot identify I am not sure how often they would choose to use it. Firstly it goes against the assumption of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and secondly if they cannot identify a substance most officers would be afraid that their efforts would be for nothing if the substance (after expensive lab testing etc) is not on a banned list. (Remember the police like arrests that lead to charges and then a conviction – anything else is not good for them)
    Most officers if they find a white powder in a homemade ‘wrap’ would assume it was a controlled substance. If it was in what looked like commercial packaging they would tend to leave it unless they could get some corroboration from the suspsect (ie. “Is this your cocaine sir ?”, “What’s this then ?” etc). If, for example, you put your weed in a herbal high smoking mixture bag (especially if you crush up those big buds) and say nothing when asked – the police would be less confident in pushing the matter without other evidence.
    These sorts of seizure powers would only lead to a police state if they could charge you even if the substance was legal (which they cannot). This sort of law would not help the fact that police officers must be thinking very carefully about when and if to arrest for drug possession.

  3. i just came back from a trip to juarez (on the mexico/america border). it was very sad, such an amazing city full of vibrant warm people decimated by the ‘war’. 100,000 people have left the city, 5000 businesses closed and 1500 people shot. collateral damage in a war they didn’t have any choice about participating in.

    ironically the guns come from america. bought with the money from the coke/green the americans are so fond of.

  4. My spirit of mischief is piqued by the prospect of a general ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach to suspicious substances. There must be many people in the drug law reform movement who do not themselves use prohibited drugs, or do so only rarely. Surely it is within the power of such people to coordinate a ‘civil disobedience’ of ensuring that you always have on your person an unmarked, suspicious-looking bag of white powder which is in fact a totally inert substance (albeit not something that can be easily identified as not a drug by its smell). Some of these people will get searched by the police. When this happens, they can explain that they carry inert powder around as a protest against the war on drugs. The police must then either believe them and let them go, or arrest them and risk embarrassment when tests show that the powder is indeed not a drug, thus clogging up the whole drug enforcement machinery. The only legislative way out of this is to make it a crime to have any unidentified substance on your person, and good luck to any government that tries to pass a law like that.

    What do you reckon; worth a go? Taking the idea to its logical conclusion, we could even resolve to swallow condoms full of icing sugar whenever travelling across borders, though that is probably not something that most people would be up for…

  5. I should add, I suspect that to carry an inert substance in suspicious a suspicious-looking container and allow the police, if searched, to think that you think it is a drug, i.e. not tell them right away that it is a protest gesture, might leave you vulnerable to a charge of wasting police time.

  6. David, what an interesting suggestion! Now I’m no law expert, but I suspect that if you tell the policeman when he finds the bag of inert white powder that it is whatever it is (without saying it’s a protest of any kind) then you wouldn’t be wasting police time.

    “It’s baking soda officer”. I love it 🙂

    Now what looks like cannabis?

    “Oxo cube officer”….?

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