The result? Not policy overhaul, but the sacking and public mauling of Nutt as a man who had overstepped his remit as a drug policy adviser who dared question government policy whilst in office. The entire episode ruined the British government’s reputation on drug policy and began the push towards deregulation. This year the controversy emerged again in the form of the first television investigation of ecstasy in Channel 4’s Drugs Trial. The mauling of pro-government Andy Parrott in the show underlined how dramatically the tide is swinging away from the government prohibition-style policies.
The main obstacle is the developed world’s most powerful voting demographic, the over-55s. In the last few decades the only remaining group to have grown up before the huge liberalisation of the 1960s has grown disproportionately large, hoarded huge amounts of the national wealth and completely dominated the electoral polls. Despite the over-65s making up only 15% of the population they take up 25% of the votes in Britain and the over-55s seize almost half the votes alone. This disproportionately rich and influential group also leads the opposition to gay rights, voting and constitutional reform, and medical policy changes such as abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. However it is also a shrinking demographic, one which halves every two decades to be replaced by generations who grew up in a more liberal period than their predecessors.
This demographic swing is emboldening reform-minded politicians who will always require support from the over-55s to enter office. British PM David Cameron spoke out against government drug policy in his first year in office and the Liberal Democrats have drug policy reform as one of their top priorities. Nor is this a British-centric shift. The War on Drugs is a world issue and one which is facing collapse in many countries. This week the US state of Washington became the first to decriminalise cannabis and Colorado will soon follow, flouting federal laws in doing so. Amsterdam in the Netherlands struck down a new law which would have closed its own drug freedoms to visitors from other countries. Portugal continues to report the huge successes of its own blanket decriminalisation and other countries are beginning to notice.
Many underestimate just how huge the cost this collapsing war has levied on its participants. Thousands of criminalised youths and trillions spent by demand countries, with over one million incarcerated in the US for a cost of $1 trillion in that country alone. The US could save or make up to $80 billion from decriminalising and taxing presently illegal drugs. Thousands dead in distribution countries, with up to 100,000 dead in Mexico alone since the beginning of the US-backed drug cartel crackdown and no signs of success, a figure equal to that of the entire Iraq conflict and significantly higher than Afghanistan. Civil war and devastation in countries of supply such as Afghanistan and Columbia where the drugs fuel militant movements and finance the even more dangerous trade of guns.
Trillions spent, hundreds of thousands of lives lost. For what? Drug policies which over the last decade have been mauled by dozens of experts from science and politics, levying a price voting populations have no idea they are paying. The taboo of taking a critical look at the world’s third most valuable industry and its most expensive conflict is finally being broken to reveal policy based more on ignorant hardheadedness and fear of the tabloid press than any true grasp of the war they are even trying to fight. The momentum is swinging away from prohibition and towards David Nutt, and he may yet get to have the last laugh in the collapse of the War on Drugs.
Photo Credit: NYC-Metro Card