Newsbrief: British Magazine "The New Statesman" Calls for Drug Legalization 5/31/02

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The right-of center British magazine the Economist has for years called for an end to the drug war and the legalization of the drug trade. Now a venerable magazine of the British Fabian left has joined the call. In its May 27 issue, the New Statesman, which has been published since 1913, bluntly demanded, as the headline of its editorial put it, "Drugs: Legalize, Regulate, and Tax."

Spurred by the less-than halfway recommendations of the parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee on drugs last week (, the editorial referred to most of its recommendations as "tinkering." The New Statesman turned to the philosophy of John Stuart Mill to argue that "when it comes to individual behavior, the onus of proof is always on those who wish to legislate."

The New Statesman, which is more typically shrouded in the soft socialist values of George Bernard Shaw or Beatrice Webb than Mill, argued that prohibitionists had not met that burden.

"The government's drug policy is not working," wrote the magazine, "and nor is any other government's. Governments have declared a war on drugs. Politicians love to declare wars: on terrorism, crime, litter, teenage pregnancy, street begging, hooliganism -- just about anything generally agreed to be bad. Wars allow politicians to inflate their importance and to strike dramatic, decisive poses; dissenters may be dismissed from public debate as traitors who undermine the war effort or even enemy agents. But these wars are rarely won. The war on drugs has been a Waterloo for almost every government on the planet. The victims, as always, are not the governments themselves, but the poor."

Better to regulate and tax, the New Statesman concluded. "The argument for the legalization of drugs is not about their safety but about the best way of controlling their dangers. The various classifications should determine not a hierarchy of criminal penalties but different forms of supply: prescription only, say, or wide availability on specifically licensed premises. The argument should be about degrees of regulation, not degrees of criminality."

The New Statesman looked at the estimated $6.6 billion pounds generated annually by the British drug market and, reverting to its Fabian inclinations, saw a potential revenue boost. "The Chancellor [of the Exchequer] can work out for himself what the duty from a legalized drug supply would yield, and how many of his public spending problems it could solve," the magazine noted.

The New Statesman joins The Economist in an increasingly crowded pro-legalization camp in Britain, including former Blair government drugs minister Mo Mowlam ( and Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament Dr. Jenny Tonge (

Read the New Statesman editorial online at

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