Arfon Jones, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales, has faced calls to stand down from his post. The reason? He said that we should consider legalising drugs.
He suggested there would be potential benefits in doing so. Among them are: taking a billion pound market out of criminal hands, moving valuable police resource away from non-violent offenders and directing it towards more serious crime, shifting from a criminal justice to a health based approach, and reducing stigma so people who need help have the confidence and piece of mind to ask for it. Consider an example like Portugal who made a success of decriminalising all drug use in 2001, winning over early critics to their reformed laws. A number of states in America have legalised cannabis for recreational use, and more have legalised for medicinal use than haven’t. Injection galleries for heroin addicts are being introduced in various countries across the world, with the UK opening its first facility this year. Countries worldwide are increasingly looking at new ways to reduce harms caused by drugs, and harms caused by the illegal drug trade.
Arfon Jones is simply joining this global debate. There is a wealth of new evidence and examples for us to draw from. Of course different people will have different views covering the full spectrum of the debate, but attempts to shut this conversation down through calls for his resignation demonstrate extraordinary arrogance and ignorance. These calls are in opposition to challenging the status quo, opposition to free speech, opposition to an open mind, opposition to reviewing the evidence. And given that the Police and Crime Commissioner is elected by the people, these calls are in opposition to the democratic process.
It seems highly unlikely that people who try to shut this conversation down are actually in opposition to any of the above mentioned, but it also seems part of the brain is often shut down when debating drug policy. Fear mongering rules over rational thinking, anecdotes rule over evidence, and opinions rule over science. The worst examples of drug use are focused on in astronomically disproportionate levels. If we applied this thinking to other walks of life, we would never get in a car, never light a fire, never go out at night.
If we want to reduce the harms caused by drugs and the illegal drug trade, it cannot be a taboo topic. We must be able to discuss it with an open mind, and without fearing the repercussions of doing so. The more people that join this conversation the better, but attempts to silence people in this way should be called out for the regressive, ignorant and small-minded rhetoric that it is.