Dr Hans-Christian Raabe: Our drugs dilemma is all in the mind. We just need the will to say No

Yesterday in my post I asked how the BMJ could possibly justify running a three-page article arguing the case for cannabis legalisation without making it clear that the key adviser to the article works for a drug-legalising lobby partly funded by the international businessman George Soros.

Today I want to consider why people like Dr Fiona Godlee, the Editor of the British Medical Journal, and scientists like Professor David Nutt always look to the legalisation of drugs as the solution to the drug problem. I find it fascinating they look no further than this option - that they will not even contemplate the possibility of any other approach.

It is, I believe, symptomatic of a wider defeatist approach taken today on many social issues and problems: when we don’t know what to do about a problem, we capitulate and legalise it! Starting from the beginning of life (abortion) and through right to the end of life (euthanasia) and applying to a few issues in between, be it pornography or  prostitution and, of course, drugs,  ‘waving the white flag’ too often appears to be the easier option and the only contemplated approach.

But could – and where could  - an alternative approach to the drug problem be found? Not I suggest, as the advocates of drug legalisation do, in countries like Uruguay, which has only just begun its drug policy experimentation, or in Portugal where drug use and problem drug use has risen since it decriminalised personal possession. Rather it is to be found in the countries that, unaccountably, the cheerleaders of legalisation never seem to mention - like Japan and Sweden - who have many decades of experience in drug prevention.

Whatever the pros and cons of other aspects of their respective cultures, the simple fact is that Sweden has among the lowest rates of drug misuse (including cannabis) in Europe and Japan has among the lowest rates of drug misuse in the world.

Their common  ‘secret’ in my view is simple: these two countries have a societal consensus that sees drug misuse as only a marginal phenomenon in society. Which of course is the factual case, contrary to popular perception,  worldwide. Drug use worldwide is a minority activity by comparison with smoking and drinking.

Nearly four decades ago, (after a catastrophic experiment with drug liberalisation) Sweden decided, as result of a cross-party consensus,  to aim for a drug-free society. That – for me – represents a responsible, courageous and forward- looking vision for a society. Nor has it proved to be a naive one. The result of it is that all parts of society, parents, teachers, politicians, the media and the criminal justice system pull in the same direction: to aim for this, a drug-free society.

The difference is too that rather than focusing on the alleged ‘right’ of the individual to take drugs as we seem to do here in Britain, they focus on a different understanding of the notion of rights, the right  of individuals and society to be protected from the destruction caused by drug misuse.  In Sweden – so my impression is – the focus is on the right of society to be protected from the damage that illicit drugs cause to individuals, families and communities and less on the right of the individual to harm himself if he wishes.

And this doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from a different sense of social responsibility.  When a few years ago I visited Sweden to look at their drug prevention work I went to a small town with population less than 100,000 where, among several groups active in drug prevention, was a group called ‘Parents against Drugs’ which had several  thousand members.

They knew that politicians, the law, and even the criminal justice system can never ‘solve’ the drug problem alone, but that they - civic society - could.

The Swedes' successful and essentially civic response to the drug problem shows that ultimately, the battle about drugs is a battle of the mind. If we accept drug misuse as a inevitable (like the legalisation cheerleaders at the BMJ seem to think) – then drug misuse will be inevitable. If we think that drugs are here to stay, they will. No surprise here!

However, if we want to see drug misuse as only a marginal phenomenon in society (like Japan and Sweden) then drug misuse will – eventually – become a marginal phenomenon.

The choice is ours - but don’t expect any help from the BMJ.

Hans-Christian Raabe