Peter Hoskin

Ainsworth has a point

Ainsworth has a point
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Much ado about Bob Ainsworth this morning, and his views on drug policy. The former defence secretary, and a junior Home Office minister under Tony Blair, has become the most high profile political figure to call for the legalisation of drugs. Or, as he put it:

"It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children.

We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists."

Take, for instance, the street prices of illegal drugs. The entire purpose of prohibition is to prohibit – but evidence suggests that drug prices have been falling for some time, a symptom of both market demand and looser supply. Here's a quick graph that I've put together for three of the most popular fixes:


Ok, a couple of caveats. First, this graph has been put together from a few sources, not least because the Home Office started using a different, more opaque metric for drug prices in 2007. Mixing and matching like this is never ideal – although the numbers should be directly comparable. But, in any case, the general trends are still clear enough.

And, yes, cannabis prices have risen sharply since 2006. According to Drugscope, this is due to factors including "an increasing trend towards smaller deals, which increases the price per gram, and the impact of police activity against large-scale cannabis farms, which increases the costs for traffickers." So, fair enough, it looks as though police action may be achieving something there.

But that's cannabis. Just look at the lines for heroin and cocaine, two considerably harder drugs. The price of cocaine has almost halved over the past decade. And heroin is cheaper by about a third. If that's what a war on drugs achieves, then perhaps – as Ainsworth suggests – it is time for a ceasefire.