Anne-Marie is right. We need to legalise drugs

I’m going ‘off brand’ a little bit this week, although not too far off, given the music industry’s record when it comes to illegal drug use.

I’m supporting Anne-Marie Cockburn, whose daughter died because she took a dose of ecstasy that was so well made, a fraction of the usual dose would have been enough.

Because illegal drugs are so badly manufactured as a rule, there’s frequently very little of what you think you’re buying in there. So you end up taking more than you would if it was pure.

The tragic consequence of that is that when the drug is properly put together, and you take your usual quota, you’re actually overdosing. Which is what happened to 15-year-old Martha Fernback.

How is a 15-year-old supposed to know? And that’s why her mother, while acknowledging that no-one wants to think of their child dabbling in drugs, has called for legalisation.

Last year I posted a blog on this very subject in another guise (, my journalism website). Here’s an edited version of it.

I had planned before Christmas 2012 that my first Blog of 2013 would be to try to state a case for the legalisation of drugs.

Talk about catching the zeitgeist! In quick succession, with 2013 barely under way, Mary Wakefield in The Spectator and Eugene Jareck in a BBC4 documentary (The House I Live In – try to find it online) put the case for legalisation.

In the Sunday Times of January 13, Margarette Driscoll reported that economists and conservatives are coming round to the idea that there is a business case to be made for decriminalising all drug use.

Why the sudden change of heart?

Mexico provides some clues, situated as it is on the other side of a porous border with the United States.

It is scarcely believable that civilisation has broken down so badly in Mexico that people are being beheaded and their bodies (and heads) left in the street as a warning to others. This is a frequent horror that does not spare children.

Live skinnings are also reported. What level of barbarity have we reached where the very idea of removing someone’s skin while they’re still alive even enters the mind?

Police and politicians are powerless – the police, in fact, barely function. When they do, they are mercilessly executed, their bodies hung from freeway overpasses.

Little wonder that many of them now work for the drug cartels. A country which cannot even police its own streets is a country with no hope whatsoever.

The truth about the War On Drugs is that it has been lost, and that there is no hope, ever, of winning it.

If it is a war on drug users, it was lost before it began. People want what people want.

If it is a war on drug dealers, the ever-rising prison population in America tells you that even the prospect of life imprisonment is no impediment to succeeding generations of ambitious wannabees.

If it is a war on the drug cartels the past 40 years has demonstrated its futility. The incredible amount of money swilling around the globe from the proceeds of illegal drug manufacture has financed private armies bigger than those of their host countries. The cartel bosses live in ultra-luxurious fortresses that can repel anything short of a drone attack.

These people are more powerful than the democratically elected governments of the countries in which they operate. They have more money and set absolutely no limits on what they will do to protect their interests – an intimidating cocktail of torture, murder and political assassination.

When Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs 40 years ago the budget was around $80m. In 2010 it was officially £15bn, but – when state and local government expenditure is added in, not to mention the cost of the imprisoned population – the cost was closer to $40bn.

In the UK, we spend an estimated £14bn policing drugs.

Putting all moral arguments to one side, at today’s prices, Nixon’s original $80m would now be $440m. That means that the real cost to the American taxpayer, at $40bn, has increased 100 times in real terms.

And for what? America, with 5% of the world’s population has 25% of the world’s prison population. Half of these 6m prisoners are convicted of drug-related crimes.

In the meantime, drug consumption has increased and the drug cartels have become richer and more powerful. At the same time, the drugs themselves have become either more powerful and, consequently, more dangerous or are adulterated with disgusting and sometimes fatal additives.

Spending one trillion dollars (the cumulative cost over 40 years) on a losing battle is utterly indefensible. There is now no moral or economic argument against legalisation.

At a stroke, by owning the manufacture and sales, society can control quality and distribution, benefit from tax revenues, dramatically decrease the criminal element within and decimate and hasten the decline of the drug cartels.

A side benefit would be that we could start spending the ‘war on drugs’ budget on what Nixon originally intended it for, which was (surprisingly) mostly about treating addicts and rehabilitating them.

If you keep your eyes and ears – and your mind – open, you will see in the coming months and years that this is, finally, an idea whose time is coming.

If you want to fight against it, start marshalling your arguments now. They had better be good: the moral and economic facts are stacking up overwhelmingly against you.

No song this week, because this is not about me.


  1. I have two initial responses / reactions – and that’s all they are.

    One is that if a Nation like Mexico has dreadfully lost its way, then (1) it is Mexicans that need to initiate the turning of that dreadful tide of catastrophic awfulness, subject (2) to those initiators knowing that decent people in the rest of the world will actively support them.

    But it is Mexico’s massive problem, and their plight should not be allowed to have an impact on decisions made elsewhere, where some aspects, at least, of Law and Order have not broken down..

    The second is that tonight I will be singing in a Divine classical concert, next to a young Chemistry Graduate with a heavenly Tenor voice, which is both inspirational and also massive fun for me.

    Last night, while still celebrating his very recent Graduation, he tried something not alcoholic that was not what he thought it was, and ended up not at home, but in hospital. Happily he is OK and singing today, but he acknowledges that he did something foolish, which was very unsettling but could have been much worse. There is an alternative possible approach to this dilemma, which is to advise and educate young people not to play with fire….

    Please note that these are just initial observations. But somebody has lost her child, which is as bad as it gets, and the first thing that she needs to do is to fully grieve that loss, and perhaps only then, after some years, contribute to such an important debate. It took me many decades to properly mourn some losses of mine.


    • It is, of course, not just Mexico’s problem. It is the world’s. Columbia, Afghanistan and Peru – to name a few – are other countries providing people with what they clearly want. Prohibition didn’t work in America, and yet we believe it will work today. Legalisation will allow us to clean up and regulate the supply, and cut global criminality massively. Once these drugs get into the hands of illegal dealers they are ‘stepped on’, to increase bulk and profitability. Additives at this stage include such awful things as kitchen scouring powder and baby laxatives. Education hasn’t helped; isn’t helping; won’t help. Sorry George. You’re just plain wrong.


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