Legalizing Drugs, the most recent title in New Internationalist’s nifty NoNonsense series – which also features Feminism, Globalization, The Money Crisis, Isis and Syria and Renewable Energy – is an uncompromising, thorough and proactive approach to the topic. It is an un-fussy, extremely readable and informative book that sets down in black and white (both literally and figuratively) the facts and figures, ins and out, and whys and wherefores of legalising drugs.
Steve Rolles, a key figure in the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, is a persuasive author with all the data necessary to argue an extremely powerful and very interesting case. He begins with the tenet that humanity has always taken drugs, in one form or another, and that, for as long as drug use has been a part of our culture there have also been restrictions placed on drug use by those in power, possibly because they view drug use as a threat to their control.
However prohibition, quite simply, doesn’t work and has never worked. In fact it has only caused the illegal drugs industry to grow – currently to one worth over $320 billion a year and impacting, largely, the marginalised and vulnerable in society. Laws supposed to safeguard health have, in fact, achieved the opposite through the unregulated market, increased criminalisation and stigmatism of anyone who uses drugs.
The argument of the book is simple and undeniable: prohibition and criminalisation don’t work – they neither deter users nor help those with problems; in order to take control drugs must be legalised so they can be regulated.
We must do this not because drugs are safe, but precisely because they are risky. César Gaviria, Former President of Columbia and member of the Global Commission on Drugs
Rolles is keen to point out that there is a significant difference between legalisation and decriminalisation (with the former being the only way to truly regulate) but neither means there should be an open market for drugs, and he stresses that getting the regulation process right is the most important step. Already over a hundred countries have made steps towards redefining their attitudes to drugs and around twenty-five have decriminalised the use of cannabis – including, most recently, Portugal, Uruguay, Jamaica, Canada and certain US states.
The book is neatly divided into five succinct chapters – a brief history of the ‘war on drugs’; counting the cost of 50 years of drug war; what would a post-drug-war world look like; drug-law reform practice around the world, and finally obstacles to reform.
Legalizing Drugs reasons its case, but the argument is not just one-sided. Rolles carefully considers the difficulties of implementing the necessary regulations. One of my favourite sections even addresses a question I never imaged would be tackled – what will all the criminals do if drugs are legalised and taken out of the illegal market?
This short but highly informative and exceedingly well-thought out book is an excellent guide to all the benefits of legalising drugs. Be sure to check out the rest of the NoNonsense series too.