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TOMMY SHERIDAN COLUMN: Change the drug laws to save our lives.

Byline: TOMMY SHERIDAN

LET'S be brutally honest. If only half of the 382 deaths from illegal drug abuse were from Bearsden, Newton Mearns, Morningside or any of Scotland's other leafy suburbs, we would be gripped by mass hysteria.

The toll of death is now higher than even the worst years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

And it's climbing higher and higher.

In 1997 - the year Labour came to power at Westminster with a promise to stamp out drug abuse - there were 74 heroin deaths.

In 1999 - the year Labour came to power at Holyrood with a promise to stamp out drug abuse - the toll rose to 167.

In 2001 - there were 216 drug-related deaths. And last year the figure soared to 382.

MOST of these young people would still be alive today if it were not for the cowardice of Scotland's mainstream political parties

They ignored evidence from countries such as Switzerland and the Netherlands, which successfully challenged hard drug abuse by modernising their drugs laws.

They ignored appeals for a change in the law from frontline drugs workers and police chiefs.

Instead they buried their heads in the sand and kidded themselves on they were clamping down on the illegal drugs trade.

No matter how you look at the situation, the feeble and futile strategy of the big parties has failed Scotland miserably.

Over the last ten years, the number of addicts has grown relentlessly while drug-related crime has soared to new heights.

Addiction rates in Scotland are rising faster than anywhere else in Western Europe.

Yet, in each of the past five years, 80 per cent of all drugs convictions have been for possessing cannabis, a drug which is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco.

The so-called war on drugs was always an unwinnable war. In 1920s America, prohibition failed while gangsters flourished.

In Scotland's cities today, there are dozens of Al Capones, creating misery in our communities while turning themselves into multi-millionaires.

For a thousand and more young Scots, any change in the drugs laws is already too late.

They're already dead.

But, make no mistake about it, thousands more will die unless we adopt a sane and sensible drugs policy.

For a start, we should be legalising cannabis and licensing it for sale to over 18s in regulated premises.

NO longer would young people be forced to trudge up dingy closes to get their cannabis from the same people who are dealing heroin.

We should then go further and scupper the illegal hard drugs trade by providing safe, clean heroin on prescription to existing addicts.

That's what's already happening in countries like Switzerland, Germany and Holland.

It stabilises the lives of addicts. It cuts petty crime drastically. It removes the motive that drives many young women into prostitution.

And it pulls the rug from under the feet of the criminal drugs gangs who no longer have a market to exploit.

There are those who say they want to get drugs off our streets... and there are those who mean it!

The Scottish Socialist Party means it.

That's why we're under attack from two sides.

We're under attack from evil drug dealers who recognise that our drugs policies would bring their lucrative empires crashing down.

And we're under attack from narrow-minded politicians and newspaper editors whose stupidity has left the criminal godfathers laughing all the way to their villas in Marbella.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 3, 2003
Words:566
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