I’m increasingly of the opinion that legalising drugs is the only way out.
At the moment, alcohol is often dearer than drugs, and tobacco carries more warnings, so the current situation clearly does not work.
There is an excellent blog posting in The Devil’s Kitchen about this topic.
Here are the three reasons he lists in favour of legalisation:
The first reason is that, like the US, a large part of Britain’s criminal activity—especially gang activity—is associated with the supply of drugs. Remove this trade and you remove a good deal of crime from our streets—or, rather, the motive for the crime. I am fully aware that criminal gangs will probably move onto something else but—given that we have limited law enforcement resources—whatever they move onto may be easier to police than drugs (which are relatively easy to smuggle).
Second, much of the damage done to individuals by drugs are a factor of their illegality. Although some drugs are strong and should be treated with caution (and at least with respect)—I would favour retaining some idea of drug classification to give users an idea of their potency—they are generally speaking short-lasting and put a small strain on the body’s resources. However, it is the brick dust with which heroin is often cut that blocks the capillaries and leads to amputations; it is the warfarin with which cocaine is mixed that all to often leads to severe bleeds in the brain (accentuated by cocaine’s raising of the heart-rate).
Third, although providing services to addicts is a reasonable thing to do, it is still a strain on the public purse. If drugs were legalised, they could be taxed. This is, by the way, a perfectly free-market policy (and not only because I favour consumption taxes to pay for any state): it is not a “sin tax” but is based on the concept of Pigouvian taxation—that is, you are using tax to reflect the true costs of goods on the market that would not otherwise be reflected in the price (internalising market externalities).
Unlike the author of that blog posting, I don’t have any experience with hard drugs, and I’m not tempted by them either.
But I think legalisation would actually lead to less drug consumption.