It is questionable whether the medical model of addiction can ever really become accepted as long as possession of drugs for personal use carries criminal sanctions. Given the involuntary nature of drug-taking for many addicts, and the heavy penalties they suffer already, it’s inhumane to put them through the criminal justice system for doing something over which they have very little control. The experience of Portugal shows that when policies are consistently based on the belief that a drug addict is a sick person, rather than a criminal or delinquent, huge improvements can be made in their lives, and to society as a whole. Rather than dismantling methadone treatment programs, which are a vital lifeline for some extremely vulnerable and disadvantaged people, perhaps our politicians should look across at the Portuguese example?
The story of cocaine also illustrates that we need to find an approach to drugs which neither involves making them freely available in the shops, nor prohibiting them altogether and driving the trade into the black market. When cocaine was legally available as a salt, and was being widely consumed in Mariani wine, there was a significant increase in harm and addiction, which we certainly don’t want repeated. But since international prohibition, we’ve seen not only environmental destruction and huge profits handed to criminal gangs and corrupt governments, but also the invention of crack, an even more addictive and deadly form of the drug, as a direct result of the economic pressures of forcing the trade underground. Addiction is one of the greatest hazards of drug use, and harm reduction measures must always have reducing addiction as a principal aim.
As long ago as 1604, King James I of England described smoking as a “custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain [and] dangerous to the lungs”.