Drugs and Alcohol

Young people's views on drugs and the law

Young people we spoke with had different views about whether drugs should be legalised. Some had strong views for or against legalising drugs but most people felt it was a complicated issue that needed careful consideration.
The difference between legalisation and decriminalisation
It is important to understand the difference between ‘decriminalisation’ and ‘legalisation’ of drugs.
‘Legalisation’ means that drugs would be completely legal with some controls in place.
‘Decriminalisation’ would mean that it would no longer be a crime for a person to have drugs in their possession but they may be fined or given some sort of small penalty. 
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 sets out the laws in the UK around possessing and selling illegal drugs. The Act of 1971 says that not all drugs are equally dangerous, so are categorised into three classes of risk; A, B and C. Class A drugs such as heroin, cocaine and ecstasy bring the most severe penalties.
Arguments against legalising or decriminalising drugs
Some young people were against changing the laws on drugs. Tara and Leah said ‘drugs are illegal for a reason’. They consider all drugs to be dangerous and said that they can lead to mental health problems or other issues.
The main argument against legalisation was the risk to health associated with drug use. Some young people argued that illegal drugs are worse for a person’s health than alcohol. Several people, like Craig thought that cannabis would lead on to other drugs (a ‘gateway’ drug) but others disagreed with this.
Arguments for legalising or decriminalising drugs 
A few people were in favour of drugs being decriminalised or legalised but regulated by the Government.  They argued that, if drugs were legal, the Government could regulate the purity of drugs to make them safer and charge tax on them like they do with alcohol and cigarettes. They also thought that legalising drugs would make it easier for people to get help for addiction problems. They felt that drugs are often talked about drugs as a moral (‘right’ or ‘wrong’) issue but it would be more helpful to see them as a health issue.
Charlie and Chloe said that politicians are ignore what they are being told about drugs by scientists and base decisions on what the general public think.
Questions were raised as to whether drugs being illegal actually made any difference to the numbers of people who use them. Sam said that drugs are so easy to get hold of means that their being illegal doesn’t stop young people from using them. He gave the example of mephedrone, which was made illegal in the UK in 2010. In his opinion, people have continued using it and he’s seen no indication that it has become more difficult to get hold of mephedrone since the ban.
Some talked about whether drugs were more appealing because they’re illegal. 
Some said that wars, child exploitation, cheap labour and prostitution were directly connected to the illegal drugs trade and they wanted no part in it. This was mentioned as a reason both for wanting a change in the law and for personally not wanting to use drugs.
Mixed views
Several were undecided about the legalisation of drugs. They agreed that legalisation would mean better control over what goes into drugs, making them less risky, and take away power from drug gangs. But on the other hand, they were worried about the negative impact of drugs, for example on mental health.
Young people also talked about the difference between what they saw as ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ drugs. Cannabis was seen by some as a ‘soft’, more socially acceptable, drug so they could see no harm in legalising it. They thought it necessary to draw a line for other, ‘harder’ drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy and heroin though.  They felt that these drugs were more likely to wreck lives and that more people would take them if legalised.

Last updated: January 2015
Review date: January 2017


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