Believe it or not, there is quite a strong lobby to legalise/decriminalise drugs in the UK; mostly marijuana; despite its clear links to mental illness. Tobacco companies are heavily invested in marijuana and some misguided politicians believe it could be a significant contributor to the exchequer.
In the United States, a pattern exists in that those states which legalised medical marijuana, then went on to legalise recreational marijuana within a few years.
Central arguments to the legalisation of drugs are that they would be safer for consumers, the government would earn taxes from them, and the criminal gangs would go out of business.
So, as you marinate on that for a moment, let us look at two drugs which have been legal in the UK for many decades – alcohol and tobacco; and I should concede any bias I might harbour; I have never smoked, but do enjoy a small tipple from time to time!
The 2022/23 tax receipts from UK alcohol duties amounted to £12.4billion. Direct alcohol costs to the NHS in the 2022/23 year amounted to £3.5billion, in England alone. This number unlikely includes treatments for the consequences of drink related traffic accidents or violence. However, those figures will be included in the estimated cost to society from alcohol consumption, which has been put at £21billion, to include the criminal justice system, legal fees, police, prisons etc.
In the same 2022/23 UK financial year, tobacco duty tax receipts amounted to approximately £10billion.
The annual cost to the NHS and social care services for tobacco related illnesses amounts to £2.4billion, with a further £1.19 billion required from local authorities. Estimates of other social costs, loss of productivity etc. range from £12.6 billion to £17billion per year.
Given the immense costs to the public purse and the personal destruction these two drugs have the potential to inflict, one must really wonder why anyone would want to add to the problems by legalising drugs.
What is more, where drugs are sold in stores, such as pharmacies, as has been suggested, they are subject to taxes, making drugs sold by gangs much cheaper; and people will buy cheaper products. This also explains why so many cannabis shops are struggling to stay afloat.
In areas where drugs are legal to purchase, there is less of a police presence / enforcement, so in fact this allows for gangs to flourish, and certainly not go out of business. Indeed, when the UK government has suggested minimum alcohol prices per unit to help reduce alcoholism, a major argument against the move is that it would increase the alcohol black market.
One only needs to look at areas of the United States where drugs have been “decriminalised”, to see the destruction to communities, and peoples’ lives, having the greatest impact on those who can least afford the consequences.