The so-called "war on drugs" is long lost. Our prisons are full with people who resort to crime (petty and serious) in order to feed their habits - as well as dealers and drug mules who serve as the foot soldiers for what is a truly global business.
All the harm done could be reduced significantly by decriminalisation of possession of all drugs for personal use, controlled sale by chemists and the provision of effective treatment programmes for those who wish to kick their habits. Decriminalisation of drugs, like the abolition of Prohibition in the USA, would be the biggest disaster for the cartels and kingpins who make billions from what is an evil, violent, socially destructive - and immensely profitable - trade.
Since most prisoners who are addicted to heroin are already prescribed free methadone supplied via the healthcare system during their prison sentences, the taxpayer is picking up the bill anyway - plus the average of £40,000 per year for each prison place. Decriminalisation of possession would remove a significant number of addicts from the criminal justice system and reduce the demand for illegal drugs (which is substantial inside prisons).
Registered drugs addicts who are not in prison, and who are unemployed, already receive free prescriptions to manage their habits. Pharmaceutical production of narcotics already takes place under government licence. This could be expanded to meet demand.
Decriminalisation is a radical change of social policy that seeks to remove personal use of drugs from the criminal justice system. The present policy simply fills our prisons with inmates who are addicts and does little or nothing to address these addictions, or the underlying causes. In fact, I have known people who have developed serious drug habits while incarcerated who had not been users prior to being imprisoned, owing to the ready availability of illegal substances inside prisons.
Controlled sales by chemists to over 18s who have a prescription would completely undercut the illicit street trade - which responds to market forces, like any other business - and essentially undermine the profit motive for the cartels and barons. In fact, global decriminalisation is the nightmare scenario for those who make billions from the international illicit drugs trade... it would put them all out of business.
Although I have never taken any illegal drugs in my life, I have seen at first hand the harm and damage that the use of illegal substances can cause drug users and their families. However, I am also convinced that the present legal position is neither sustainable, nor does it reduce the harms caused by drugs. Better to approach the issue from a medical/psychological stance, rather than criminalising choices - however misguided - that adults make about their own health and lives.
Strangely enough, I've discussed this issue at length with some of the most senior police officers in England and with a very well-known senior judge who is currently serving on the Supreme Court. They all agree with this analysis and accept that decriminalisation is the only way forward, but none of them feel they can go public for fear of the political fall-out and the likely end of their careers.