Intended for healthcare professionals


The war on drugs

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 23 December 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1655
  1. Richard Smith
  1. Editor BMJ, London WC1H 9JR

    Prohibition isn't working—some legalisation will help

    Drugs, says psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, have taken over the lead role from sex in the “the grand morality play of human existence.”1 “No longer,” says Szasz, “are men, women, and children tempted, corrupted, and ruined by the irresistibly sweet pleasures of sex; instead, they are tempted, corrupted, and ruined by the irresistibly sweet pleasures of drugs.” Because dealing with drugs is viewed as a moral problem, politicians tend to compete in their zeal to banish the evil from the kingdom. Those who talk of legalisation are dismissed as mavericks, and whipped back into line. The British government's drug strategy for the next three years states baldly “There will be no legalisation of any currently controlled drugs.”2 But some legalisation would help.

    The politicians fighting the jihad against drugs want to obliterate the enemy. They, of course, make an exception for legal drugs like alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine; indeed, the British government last week recommended tee totallers to take up drinking alcohol for the good of their health.3 Yet a world devoid of drugs seems as unlikely as a world devoid of poverty and sin. Thomas Sydenham observed 300 years ago that “Among the remedies which it has pleased Almighty God to give to man to relieve his sufferings, none is so universal and so efficacious as opium” (4); and Aldous Huxley wrote “That humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with Artificial Paradises seems very unlikely. Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so …

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