Why are class-A drugs illegal?

The British government prohibits class-A drugs1. The reasoning appears to be that such drugs can cause premature death. The government claims responsibility for protecting citizens from known causes of harm. They exercise their responsibility by inform the public via advertising campaigns. With class-A drugs the protection goes further: they criminalise both users and suppliers. This demonstrates fallacious reasoning. Currently (2018) the 1961 Suicide Act is still valid. Consequently British citizens can commit, or attempt to commit, suicide legally. Knowing that class-A drugs might bring about premature death is neither here nor there. British citizens aren’t infants and may, quite legally, undertake any activity regardless of possible lethal consequences.

An unambiguous health warning

Tobacco use is commonplace in Britain. It’s readily available to adults. About 20% of British men are tobacco users, which is an astonishingly high figure considering the government’s efforts to eliminate usage. The management of tobacco use is interesting. Use is stigmatised with banning orders from public places, it’s punished through taxation and there is a pro-active campaign of health warnings. These tactics have failed. Anyone reviewing illegal class-A use could have predicted this outcome. Class-A drug users and suppliers are subject to active criminal prosecutions. There are about 13000 people (15%) in England’s prisons because of drug offences2.. Courts aren’t lenient to those committing drug offences but there hasn’t been a ‘victory’ in the War on Drugs. Campaigns against tobacco use and class-A drugs have failed to reach the gold standard of eradication.

Punitive taxation on tobacco

The dangers of tobacco are graphically illustrated on every pack. The purchase itself is furtive. Tobacco products are concealed behind the closed doors of a cupboard ensuring there aren’t any impulsive purchases. Government campaigns against smoking are sophistry. The subliminal message is that smoking is suicidal. This is implausible. Smoking this cigarette won’t kill you. Any suggestion that the cumulative effect of consistent smoking is certain death is also implausible. Churchill was an alcoholic smoker who lived until he was 90 years old and he isn’t unique.

Fidel Castro, a life-long smoker, died aged 90

It’s unsurprising that the government’s anti-drug campaign has failed. UK prisons are notorious for being ‘awash’ with illegal drugs3. Prisons allegedly have control of access with constant scrutiny of inmates. Beyond prison, control is wildly improbable. If drug use is unsuccessful in prisons then it’s unlikely to be successful in the wider community. Likewise campaigns against smoking are likely to be unsuccessful as tobacco is available 24/7 without criminal intermediaries. Public health campaigns can only go so far. Once those that are persuadable are persuaded, those who are left are incorrigible.

An informed decision

Why does the government want to control class-A drugs? Since the 1961 Suicide Act it’s been perfectly legal to kill yourself. Class-A drugs may well cause premature death but so what? It isn’t the government’s job to dictate lifestyle preferences. Once an effective public health message is delivered, the government’s task is finished. Autonomous people can and do make poor lifestyle choices but the joy of being an adult is that you live with the consequences of your choices. Inappropriate drug use is only one lifestyle choice which may cause premature death. Will government wage ‘war’ against other dangerous activities too?

Solo climbing on El Capitano- a potentially lethal sport

Class-A drugs cause harm whether legal or not. Once the veil of ignorance is lifted, with sustained public health campaigns, adults make their own informed decisions. Each decision has its own independent integrity. Tobacco use is usefully illustrative here. There is no ambiguity in the public health warnings and yet 20% of British men use tobacco leading to circa 80,000 premature deaths annually. Those 80,000 premature deaths are the price of autonomous behaviour, the price of freedom and the price of not being infantilised by government.

1For a UK list of prohibited drugs plus the penalties for possession/selling see http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/drugs/drugs-law/Class-a-b-c/ Class-A will be used throughout for sake of convenience but also means class-a-b-c drugs

For alcohol as a class-A drug see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-444081/Alcohol-considered-Class-A-drug-say-experts.html
For a USA analysis which demonstrates tobacco’s harmful outcomes see- https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm

2 There were about 3,744 deaths in 2016 in Britain in comparison tobacco caused about 80,000 deaths. Heroin use is c. 0.6% of the population (with cocaine at about 2.2%) see https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsrelatedtodrugpoisoninginenglandandwales/2016registrations

see also http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27235470

and http://reearchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN04334/SN04334.pdf

3 https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jan/17/uk-prison-drug-seizures-on-rise


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