British Medical Journal: Legalize It All!

By David Jenison on May 14, 2018

The British Medical Journal declared that illicit drugs should be legalized, regulated, taxed and sold for both medical and recreational purposes. Moreover, this surprise proclamation refers to all drugs, not just cannabis.  

Dr. Fiona Godlee, the journal's editor-in-chief, explained, "This is not about whether you think drugs are good or bad. It is an evidence-based position entirely in line with the public health approach to violent crime."

She notes that the U.K. prohibits both recreational and medicinal cannabis even though it's actually the world's largest exporter of legal cannabis. How does that make sense? She also cited a recent BMJ study that looked at countries like Portugal, which decriminalized non-violent drug possession. The move did not increase consumption, but it did cause a plummet in the rate of drug-related deaths. Regulated markets also produce significant tax revenue, which can be spent on infrastructure for addiction recovery and social programs.

Dr. Godlee noted that the illicit drug trade is worth about $320 billion globally. These profits empower organized crime and spread human misery. The editorial asked, "Why should it not instead fund public services?"

"When law enforcement officers call for drugs to be legalized, we have to listen," she argued. "[We must also listen] when doctors speak up. Last month the Royal College of Physicians took the important step of coming out in favor of decriminalization, joining the BMA, the Faculty of Public Health, and the Royal Society of Public Health in supporting drug policy reform."

The journal first called for drug legalization in the November 2016 editorial "The war on drugs failed." Dr. Godlee co-wrote the piece, which said, "The effectiveness of prohibition laws, colloquially known as the 'war on drugs,' must be judged on outcomes. And too often the war on drugs plays out as a war on the millions of people who use drugs, and disproportionately on people who are poor or from ethnic minorities and on women."

The U.K. spends vast sums on prosecuting its citizens for non-violent drug crimes and in "vainly" trying to stop the flow of drugs, and prohibition promotes drug-use practices that are more dangerous. Ending prohibition, on the other hand, would hurt organized crime, allow the public to seek help more freely, and help fund government recovery programs.

"The BMJ is firmly behind efforts to legalize, regulate, and tax the sale of drugs for recreational and medicinal use," the editorial concluded. "This is an issue on which doctors can and should make their voices heard."

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