The countless ways to punish drug users

A key theme in my latest book, Pills, Powder and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs, is the absurdity of governments continuing to push futile drug war policies.

This week I was interviewed by the UK Telegraph about a new British policy that aims to punish drug users with the threat of losing their passport or license:

That consumption is booming is in no doubt. The question is why? As with any market there are two sides to the story – supply and demand. The latter has been fuelled, says Antony Loewenstein, film-maker and author of Pills, Powder and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs, by a host of issues, from a separate epidemic of mental health issues, to a collapse of stigma. “[Drugs] are socially acceptable,” he says. But crucially, he adds, they are also “highly accessible”.

Loewenstein says it is time to admit that half a century of war-on-drugs announcements like yesterday’s are not working, and simply provide political cover for policy failure. “Demand has never been higher, the cost has never been cheaper, access has never been easier. The stats are clear. Drugs are a normal part of many people’s lives.”

After he rings off, I try to find more details of the Government’s new plan. As if to prove his point, I am halfway through reading its policy document, setting out its priorities to intervene with young people, treat the most addicted, and stifle gangs supplying drugs. Then I realise I am reading the wrong 10-year plan. This one, near identical in many ways, dates from 1998.

The New Statesman also wrote about the new policy and the story is headlined, “The government is tripping if it thinks this renewed war on drugs won’t backfire”:

The war on drugs would probably have been halted years ago if it had the same impact in the rich world as it does in the poor one. As the investigative journalist Antony Loewenstein put it in his 2019 book Pills, Powder, and Smoke, the war on drugs “will never end until African, South American and Asian lives matter as much as white lives in the Western Heartland”.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

Site by Common