The legalisation of recreational drugs

Some drugs can cause serious harm but the real problem is not the drugs themselves – it is prohibition.  The solution is control and regulation – in other words full legalisation with appropriate controls. I am delighted to be a patron of Transform, the campaign for the legalisation of drugs.

I write a blog for the Guardian CommentisFree I have written several times on drugs e.g.
After the war on drugs
Drugs policy must be based on evidence

Here are some more things I have broadcast or written on drugs. 

The world according to … (Independent 21.1.04) included the question
What’s the one thing you would do if you were Prime Minister?
Legalise all drugs.  Cannabis, heroin, ecstasy and cocaine are all potentially extremely dangerous if wrongly used and can be wonderful if correctly used.  At the moment they are in the hands of the nastiest criminals on the planet.  They have all the control and profits.  Prohibition means we can’t even educate our children on proper use.  We have only drug abuse.

BBC Radio 4 “You and Yours” debate on drugs policy 14 October 2003.
The debate asked whether the government was going about solving drug problems in the right way. I argued that current initiatives are no more than mopping up the problems caused by prohibition. The real solution is legalisation. Other speakers talked about removing money from the control of criminals, and needing more money for treatment. I suggested that with legalisation and taxation both these aims would be met.

Richard and Judy, discussion on kits for testing Ecstasy, 22.1.02

Submission for the Home Affairs Committee, meeting on 20 March 2003 at the House of Commons, London.

Short written submissions were invited from interested parties.

To the Committee,

Please consider the fact that every year in the UK billions of pounds are controlled by criminals instead of by legitimate traders and the government. This black market funds global terrorism, as well as enabling the control of prostitution by pimps, sexual slavery, illegal munitions trade and other appalling crimes.

Please remember that roughly a half of all crime in our country is drug related. Reducing this could free up our prisons and legal services to deal with real criminals.

Please consider the sad fact that by the time they leave school half of all our children have committed a criminal act by using drugs. This undermines respect for the law and prevents children from growing up in a world where drug use is sensibly controlled and advice is reliable.

I hope that one day my own democratically elected government will have the courage to take the obvious step. We should take all recreational drugs under state control to be sold in shops, taxed, and controlled by legislation.

Today our country is staggering under the weight of unnecessary prohibition. One day some country will have the courage to break out. I do hope it can be Britain.

Dr Susan Blackmore

Edge Question

Every new year the Edge Foundation poses a question to its community of famous scientists, philosophers and thinkers, and their answers are published on the Edge World Question Center at

In 2003 the Edge Question Center sent out a letter saying that “President George W. Bush is considering asking you to serve as his science adviser. He asks that you write him a memo addressing, “What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation
and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal
with them?”

My reply was as follows.

And see

Mr President

I have a dream.

I have a dream that one day we shall look back on today’s society with the same abhorrence with which we now view Victorian child labour, the oppression of women, and the evils of slavery.

We shall look back with horror on terrorist attacks, street crime out of control, and violence marring everyone’s lives—to a time when neither police nor the law were respected, and half our children were criminals before they even left school. And we shall wonder why so few people were prepared to stand up and shout “Enough.”

In my dream I can walk down any street in Bristol, Boston, Bogotá or Bombay and no one will steal my phone to get their next fix. No heroin–dazed beggar will plead for my change. No crack-crazed youth will kill me for my credit card. And why? Because in my dream they, like me, can walk down that street and buy any drug they like.

Cannabis and ecstasy, heroin and cocaine, LSD and aspirin, will all be sold – clean, legal, properly packaged in precise doses, with appropriate warnings and proper regulation. Tax revenue will be more than enough to treat addicts and to guide problem users. Scientists will be free to research the effects of any drug without fear. Children will be given true advice, and real drugs education that teaches wise drug use, not ignorant abuse. And global terrorism will have disappeared for lack of funds.

Our prisons will have room to spare. No one will be there for wanting the freedom to control their own mind. And no one will be there because gangs have lured or threatened them into a life of dealing and violence. Police will once more earn the respect of the majority whose lives they work to protect.

In my dream, the peasants of Afghanistan will work their poppy fields for legal wages, the farmers of South America will labour free of the fear of the drug barons, and the profits of world trade will not be siphoned off by the criminals but returned to the people who earned them.

Mr President, it is the United States of America who long ago brought the evil of prohibition upon the world, and still holds the power to prevent the rest of us from seeking freedom from prohibition. Mr President, you could win the war on terrorism, not by fighting, but by refusing to fight the war on drugs.

As your prospective scientific advisor on issues of mind and consciousness, I know that there is no more pressing issue than the problem of drugs. I urge you to act now to free us all.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Susan Blackmore

The Government’s Drugs Policy: Is it Working?

Memorandum prepared for the Home Affairs Committee.  27 September 2001

1.    I have a dream. In my dream all recreational drugs are sold, properly packaged, in accurate doses, for a reasonable price, in high street shops. Anyone over a certain age can buy them, together with all they need to take them safely, and with accurate health warnings based on fair and unbiassed research. There are no dealers on the streets. My children are not pestered by pushers, in danger of being sold poison by their own friends, or tempted to mix dangerous, dirty drugs in unknown quantities. Their school drugs education evenings are full of facts and helpful advice, instead of lies, ignorance and scare stories. Our house is not regularly broken into by kids trying to get their next fix by stealing our video again.

2.    In my dream world people use drugs more than they abuse them. They use them for pleasure and fun; for art and inspiration; for insight and therapy. They teach their children how to use them well and how to avoid trouble. There are sensible laws and tests to prevent drugged driving and unfitness at work. Those who do end up abusing drugs find help and treatment freely available, funded by the ample taxes raised from legal sales.

3.    In my fantasy future no dangerous armed gangs threaten minor dealers and drag them into ever-deeper trouble. No twelve year old girls end up selling sex for a pittance to get their illegal drugs – or, worse still, to get them for their pimp. There is no multi-million pound illegal drug business, and hence no easy way for terrorists to fund their crimes of destruction. There are no international drug cartels wielding vast power and controlling billions of pounds of black market finance while the governments of the free world stand helplessly by.

4.    All over the world farmers work in adequate conditions to supply good clean drugs for legal and controlled supply. They are paid a proper wage for the work they do and no one (neither law enforcement agencies nor criminals) threatens them with death or torture for their part in the illegal business — because the business is all legal. People look back on our current ‘war against drugs’ with distaste and contempt. They see prohibition as the ultimate cause of endless human misery and suffering, and cannot understand how we could have tolerated it for so long. For the sake of myself, my children, the whole of my country and the people of the third world, I hope it will not be too long in coming.

5.    I am a scientist and university lecturer, doing research in psychology and neuroscience. I know that human beings have always taken drugs — indeed we evolved along with many naturally occurring psychoactive substances. I know that many drugs have positive effects as well as negative, although it is hard to do the necessary research to learn more while prohibition is in force. I know that people will always want drugs, and that fear rarely stops them finding the drugs they want.

6.    In my opinion decriminalisation is not the answer, but it may be the best step we can practically take towards the only truly effective drugs policy, which is full legalisation with proper taxation and control. I am sure you know better than I all the facts and figures that lie behind the points I have made here. My purpose in writing to the committee is to do something, however small, rather than stand by while our society is strangled by drug prohibition.