Intended for healthcare professionals


An alternative to the war on drugs

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 13 July 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c3360

War on drugs is a war on some people who use some drugs

A very good study of the main issues and well written article.

I wish to encourage the shift in language away from drugs (ie
objects) to people. Sometimes we forget that the 'criminalisation of
drugs' is flipping the subject and object of control. This seemingly
innocuous shortcut, describing drugs as legal, illegal, calling for
decriminalisation of drugs etc are all examples of the manifestations of
the errors of law and thinking propagated by governments. In my view a
real problem lies with the critical discourse itself; this is because much
of it is couched in the given prohibitionist language paradigms that are
coercive and incorrect.

These expressions actually mean nothing in law or logic, although we
all know what is meant by them. Drugs are not declared illegal or illicit
in law at all - the law provides that property rights in some drugs (these
being ANY that cause social harm) are 'controlled'. This is quite a
different proposition to the one being fed to us that drugs are legal or

The [artificial]divide that exists between types of drug users is not
set in stone, alcohol and tobacco [users] are not exempt from the
legislation; they are [users of] drugs that are at this time not included
in the schedules because the government who administer the law choose not
to control them (quite arbitrarily). The explanation from govenment for
not controlling the most harmful drug use is because they are 'legal
drugs' with cultural / historic preferences. This explanation is legally
an entirely untenable in my opinion. The (neutral) law mandates that ANY
drug causing social harm is within the law's purview. The inclusion of a
drug as a scheduled drug does not mean that such a drug then becomes an
'illegal drug' - this goes to the heart of the language deception and

Drugs (ie drug users), ought to be proportionately controlled to
reduce the social harm they might cause. Powers exist to make such
possible, distinguishing abuse and misuse from peaceful or amateur use,
all this being possible within the existing legislative framework. But due
to the false meme of 'illegal drugs', the law works like an on/off switch.
Drugs (and of course I mean the users & traders of drugs) being either
criminalised outright, or not so criminalised and given full consumer
protections (drinkers and smokers). This situation of the executive making
errors of law is tacitly perpetuated by the language being adopted by most
reformist groups - they sometimes make the error of de-personalising the
subject of regulation, and effectively accepting prohibitionist policies
as the inevitable expression of the existing law by repeating the mantra
of this conceptual and legal falsehood.

Darryl Bickler


Competing interests:
Founder member of the Drug Equality Alliance

Competing interests: No competing interests

19 July 2010
Darryl Bickler
Drug Equality Alliance co-ordinator
48 Ridgeway, Leeds, LS8 4DF