The Economist du 6 juin 2002


Le prix des drogues illicites en GB n'a jamais été si bas. Le message devrait être clair : la prohibition a échoué.

The Economist constate que les drogues illicites sont de moins en moins chères, "ce qui confirme que les ressources croissantes utilisées pour dérégler le commerce illicite des drogues ont très peu d'effets (les saisies représentent moins de 10% des drogues introduites)".

Conclusion :

"La plupart des gouvernements investissent dans des politiques antidrogue coûteuses. Ceux qui soutiennent de telles politiques mettent l'accent sur les dommages occasionnés par les drogues sur les individus et la société.

Pourtant, la guerre antidrogue qui en résulte (qui est perdue en GB) possède un coût sans doute bien supérieur. Non seulement des vies sont perdues, mais la corruption et les politiques mal menées empiètent sur les libertés individuelles.

La légalisation de la possession des drogues et de leur commerce devrait probablement accroître le nombre d'usagers. Mais elle devrait aussi réduire le crime et la pauvreté, et résoudre beaucoup d'autres problèmes."


L'intégrale de l'article, en anglais.


Pubdate: Thu, 06 Jun 2002

Source: Economist, The (UK)


Copyright: 2002 The Economist Newspaper Limited







The street price of illegal drugs in Britain has never been lower. The message should be clear--prohibition has failed


IF THE government is looking for evidence about how it is faring in the battle to stop illegal drugs flooding Britain's streets, it need look no further than what is happening to prices. When Home Office officials and police chiefs meet next month for crisis talks about the exploding use of crack cocaine, they will have to confront the fact that the drugs they most fear have never been cheaper or more plentiful.

The threat of crack, the most dangerous and unpredictable of illegal drugs, has been fuelled by the easy availability of cocaine. During the past ten years, the street prices of both hard and soft drugs have fallen sharply. Cocaine and heroin have declined by nearly a third, while ecstasy has dropped by more than half (see chart).

In real terms, the figures, compiled by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), represent an even sharper fall. While whisky and beer prices have doubled and cigarettes almost tripled in price over the decade, illegal drugs are now often cheaper than a night out in a pub. The cost of LSD, a hallucinogenic drug, is less than a packet of cigarettes.

These figures confirm that the increasing resources employed to disrupt the illegal drugs trade are having little impact. Over the past five years, heroin seizures have more than doubled and cocaine seizures have increased five-fold. But Customs and Excise officials accept that they are intercepting only a fraction, probably less than 10%, of the drugs coming into the country. Terry Byrne, director of law enforcement at Customs and Excise, acknowledges that the street prices of drugs have never been lower. He also admits there is no evidence that the efforts of his and other agencies are "reducing availability or increasing the price of illegal drugs".

Neither Customs and Excise nor NCIS are willing to discuss the forces driving the market. But Home Office officials say that events in Afghanistan have had a key role in boosting heroin supply. The increasing use of cocaine appears linked to the West Indies. Large amounts are being brought in by West Indian "drug mules", often women who agree to swallow packets of cocaine and smuggle them in at high risk for a couple of thousand dollars.

Given that the streets are awash and that buying of both hard and soft drugs has never been easier, the government's national anti-drugs strategy set out four years ago looks increasingly like a work of fantasy. One of the government's main targets, to reduce the availability of Class A drugs by 25% by 2005 and by 50% by 2008, is so far adrift that an increase in availability is more likely to be recorded than a fall.

The Association of Chief Police Officers says bleakly that if existing drugs policy is to be judged "by measurable reductions of people who use drugs and the amount of crime committed to get money to buy drugs", then it is failing.

The Home Affairs select committee said in a report, published last month, that the government should concentrate its efforts in treating the estimated 250,000 hard-core addicts rather than pursuing criminal penalties. It called for "safe injecting houses" for addicts to be set up together with a large-scale trial of heroin prescribing. It also wants ecstasy to be downgraded to a Class B drug.

Predictably, this is all too radical for the government. But the home secretary, David Blunkett, has moved a long way from the policy of his predecessor who, two years ago, dismissed a demand by a distinguished committee of medical, legal, police and drug specialists for reform of Britain's archaic drug laws. A revised national drugs strategy is to be published next month which is likely to back many of the committee's recommendations. Mr Blunkett has already announced that he plans to downgrade cannabis to a Class C drug, which means the penalties for possession becoming nominal. He is also sympathetic to strictly monitored trials of heroin prescribing. The new strategy is likely to focus on treatment rather than enforcement.

A new approach is badly needed but whether this shift towards treatment will work is uncertain. One problem is cost. Prescribing heroin to hard-core addicts could cost more than ?250m ($363m) a year. But Transform, a pressure group in favour of legalisation, claims that the current regime costs at least ?10 billion a year, if the burden of dealing with drug-related crime and prisons are included in the calculation. Almost two-thirds of those who are arrested test positive for drugs. Doing nothing may be politically safe but it is not a cheap option.

The Background: Illegal Drugs

With retail sales of around $150 billion, the trade in illegal drugs is in the same league as consumer spending on legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol. Cannabis is produced in both rich and poor countries. Opium cultivation continues to spread in Asia, while coca is a major export of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. A growing sideline is in drugs such as methamphetamine and ecstasy, which are made from simple chemicals.

Governments haven't always cracked down on these substances. Indeed, some countries tolerate them today. But most governments invest in costly anti-drugs policies, none more so than America. Supporters of such policies highlight the harm drugs cause to individuals and society.

Yet the resulting drugs war is being waged (and lost in Britain) at perhaps an even greater cost. Not only are lives lost, but corruption and misguided drugs policies are encroaching on civil liberties. Legalising the possession of and trade in drugs would probably increase the number of users. But it might also reduce crime and poverty, and solve many other problems.