Georgia L Gilholy is a journalist.
On Wednesday, Rishi Sunak told the Conservative Party Conference that, under new plans, smoking cigarettes is to gradually be made illegal.
Yet while the Prime Minister shuffled his speaking notes in Manchester, across the country in Glasgow preparations were being made to open the UK’s first consumption room for drugs that are already illegal. The Scottish Government greenlit the plans last week.
That it comes just months after the SNP urged Westminster to amend the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act to decriminalise possession of drugs suggests that this move is part of a wider trend of tiptoeing toward full-fat drug legalisation. This is arguably already the de facto reality in this country, but our participation in several international treaties currently makes it officially impossible.
The UK’s devastating spiralling drug use and death figures – Scotland has the worst drug deaths in Europe – are not a result of the mystical war on drugs, no matter how many times pundits say so. Britain has not properly enforced its drug possession laws since the early 1970s, and drug use has soared exponentially since.
This must change so that there is an incentive against becoming hooked on these life-ruining substances in the first place.
Countries like South Korea and Japan have strict possession laws which, unlike the UK, they actually enforce. South Koreans and Japanese citizens know there is a genuine possibility they will be jailed if they use drugs; thus, far fewer of them do. The law is not a tool to lock up swathes of people, it is a deterrent.
Social media is awash with visitors to such countries waxing lyrical about how Seoul and Tokyo appear so much safer, especially at night, compared to London or Los Angeles. Differing drug laws, and therefore cultures, are obviously not the only factor, but they are surely important ones.
As the BBC coverage of Glasgow’s blandly-named “consumption room” delves into, many of these drug users seek to dull their senses due to dealing with psychological traumas and social distress; they are human beings who deserve real help and charity, not a government that may feel it is easier to simply try and keep them out of sight.
As any recovering addict will tell you, doping yourself does not solve your problems, and is much more likely to multiply them.
To me, the installation of this facility is reminiscent of Canada’s assisted dying policy, under which people with chronic illness and physical disabilities are being ushered toward an untimely suicide by the state, all under the guise of kindness and liberation. (Access will soon be expanded to any adult with mental health issues.)
It is so much easier, and cheaper, to kill or hide suffering than invest time, money and effort in tackling it as best we can.
Given that the purpose of drugs is to make us passive and dull our senses, it certainly suits the interests of often short-sighted and selfish corporations and governments to turn a blind eye to them. Much better to have millions of people hooked on deathly substances than to have them holding you to account.
Drug use is not just physically and psychologically dangerous to oneself and one’s ambitions, but to others. The idea that substances such as cocaine and heroin can be taken safely is a fantasy. The physical and mental harm these substances offer wreak havoc not just on the user, but the family and friends forced to watch the horrors unfold.
Cannabis, which so many people love to pretend is harmless, evidently plays a huge role in encouraging mental disturbance and violence, not to mention pacifying the senses of long-term users to the extent that they are far less likely to strive toward their own personal and professional goals.
The SNP and many other political parties and pundits often hold up places like sunny Portugal, trendy Amsterdam, and glamorous California as models for liberal drug policies. The reality, however, is grim.
Drug deaths in Portugal recently reached a 12-year high, drug use has risen, and even liberal politicians admit their full decriminalisation project has been a failure. Across these jurisdictions, touted as freedom-loving paradises, whole streets are cordoned off where troubled addicts are left to mind their own business and whole communities are abandoned to become dens of hopelessness and fear.
Many British settlements already mirror them. Yet with law and order in disarray and NHS waiting lists at all-time highs, it seems unlikely that the Government is willing to put aside time and effort to approach this issue any time soon.