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Should drugs be decriminalised? No

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 08 November 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:967
  1. Joseph A Califano Jr, chairman
  1. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6706, USA
  1. info{at}

    Recent government figures suggest that the UK drug treatment programmes have had limited success in rehabilitating drug users, leading to calls for decriminalisation from some parties. Kailash Chand believes that this is the best way to reduce the harm drugs cause, but Joseph Califano thinks not

    Drug misuse (usually called abuse in the United States) infects the world's criminal justice, health care, and social service systems. Although bans on the import, manufacture, sale, and possession of drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin should remain, drug policies do need a fix. Neither legalisation nor decriminalisation is the answer. Rather, more resources and energy should be devoted to research, prevention, and treatment, and each citizen and institution should take responsibility to combat all substance misuse and addiction.

    Vigorous and intelligent enforcement of criminal law makes drugs harder to get and more expensive. Sensible use of courts, punishment, and prisons can encourage misusers to enter treatment and thus reduce crime. Why not treat a teenager arrested for marijuana use in the same way that the United States treats someone arrested for drink-driving when no injury occurs? See the arrest …

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