Tough enforcement of drug laws does NOT lead to lower levels of use, according to a recent Home Office report.
Looking into laws across different countries, the document contradicts the accepted wisdom that only harsher punishment can reduce drug use.
And the ‘hard-line approach gets results’ attitude has been the driving force behind 40 years of government policy.
But do Mancunians agree? Do they think drug laws need to be refocused onto treatment and rehabilitation, or will that only exacerbate the problem?
MM took to the streets to find out Manchester’s views on drug legislations, asking the following question:
Is a tough stance on drugs the way to deter people from taking drugs?
Sue Dominey from central Manchester argued that laws concerning Class A drugs are outdated, and not fit for purpose in a modern Britain.
The 59-year-old counsellor said: “The laws, I think, have been largely unsuccessful in stopping people from taking drugs. The whole spirit of drug laws is a bit Victorian, a bit draconian. They are laws from a different century.”
DRACONIAN DRUG LAWS: Sue Dominey thinks the legislation is stuck in a different century
She added that the laws are designed in a way which means low-profile criminals, drug dealers and users, get punished while the real problem lies with the larger suppliers.
“I’d say one of the biggest problems with the law, or the enforcement rather, is that they go after the wrong people, when they need to target drug dealers who prey on kids,” she said.
Barrister’s assistant Hayley Shelley echoed the sentiment, saying that drug addicts are usually unfortunate in that they’re the product of their circumstance, and yet the system offers them no treatment or care for their addiction – something many consider a disease.
The 24-year-old Oldham resident said: “You’re always going to have addicts regardless of what sentences are imposed by the courts.
“The main issues definitely need to be addressed more – there need to be more drug rehabilitation centres rather than prison sentences.”
However Altrincham banker David Keegan, 59, said drug laws must work, since there’s no culture of public drug-taking like that of public drinking.
“People of my generation, as we’re getting older find it frightening to come to the city centre with all the loose alcohol laws,” he said.
“But you don’t get random public drug-taking in the city centre the way it is with alcohol, so obviously the laws do work to a degree.”
SCARED TO COME TO CITY CENTRE: David Keegan thinks loose alcohol laws are the frightening thing
Mr Keegan disputed the findings of the Home Office report, saying if anything the punitive laws aren’t tough enough.
He said: “In the current system I think people are given too many cautions and you can get away with it too often.
“Whereas if it were nipped in the bud at the first offence and the consequences were more serious, the current laws would be more effective.”
Sales assistant Justina Puodziunaite, 30, agreed with him, saying: “It’s not about stopping the black market. That will always exist.”
“But what you have to do is put in harsh enough penalties to scare people off and that’s what I think we have at the moment,” said the Rusholme resident.
But 25-year-old Ancoats plumber Peter Lindfors thinks the nature of addiction means that no matter how harsh the penalty, people will always find ways of consuming harmful substances.
He said: “It’s not really a matter of the law and the actual punishment people receive – some people are addicted and will always take drugs.
“It’s comparable to guns, if someone wants a gun they’re going to get it. It doesn’t really matter what the law says and I think that’s largely true of Class A drugs too.”
Daniel Drennan, a waiter, expanded on this theme. He said: “People in a state of addiction are at the point where they can’t help themselves anymore and really it should the government’s job to protect rather than punish.”
“The laws aren’t strong enough to stop people from doing drugs and becoming addicted, but once they are addicted lives can be ruined by harsh sentencing,” the 19-year-old from Droylsden added.
PROTECT RATHER THAN PUNISH: Daniel Drennan said government should be helping addicts
“But I guess that more nuanced approach would be more expensive than the current system, and the government don’t want to pull their finger out.”
Northenden film student Ethan Potts, 19, made the argument for personal responsibility, rather than focusing on what governments should be doing to protect their citizens.
He said: “There’s got to be some level of personal responsibility and after a certain number of offences, no matter who you are, you should be thrown in jail.”
He also complained about the enforcement of laws, though, saying: “I think people would be discouraged by the laws, but they’re just not enforced very well at all.
“It’s not that the laws aren’t strict enough. I’d like to see less implementation of policies and initiatives and that nonsense, and more enforcement.”
Niamh Clarke, a 19-year-old Manchester student, agreed on that point. She said: “I’m from Northern Ireland and on a night out there you’d never be offered drugs but in Manchester even walking home after work you get vans pulling up trying to sell stuff.”
The Northern Quarter resident added: “What even are the laws concerning possession? Maybe the reason it’s such a mess is that no-one actually knows what crime gets what punishment.”
Martin Gedelas, 26, also made an international comparison, saying: “It’s certainly easier to buy drugs here than in Lithuania – I guess Lithuania is more strict.
“Even though drugs are forbidden everywhere, the law is not enforced the same everywhere.”
WHAT EVEN ARE THE LAWS? Martin Gedelas said no-one actually knows what crime gets what punishment
The Cheetham Hill car salesman added: “They’re definitely going after the wrong people. They target users but that just cuts off the bottom level of the ‘pyramid’ – if you take one user off the street, tomorrow another ten will replace him.”
Oldham student Mahmud Alshaer said there definitely is a drug problem in Manchester, but the current system is deeply flawed.
The 21-year-old said: “There definitely has to be some sort of crackdown. The police need more control over it, whether it is by enforcing it more thoroughly or whatever.
“And they need to target traffickers and suppliers rather than users, the current way of tackling the problem is very inefficient.”
Main image courtesy of Trey Burke with thanks