The renewed effort by Thames Valley Police to combat the selling of drugs may be admirable in its aims, but it follows in a tradition of failed drug policy that will do little to help those people most affected.
The focus on the supply-side of drugs has long been the norm, and has attracted public support because drug dealers seldom appear characters to be empathised with. In truth, simply trying to clamp down on the selling of drugs is not only ineffective, but also misses what should be the point of drug policy in the modern world.
Those who abuse drugs are likely to be members of some of the most disadvantaged groups in our city and country. In Oxford, it’s hard to ignore the huge growth of homelessness, a population who are more susceptible to the use of opiates and other devastating drugs.
Such groups are already alienated from wider society and face often unimaginable hardship. Clamping down even further will only sow distrust in those who use drugs in order to cope with their difficult situation. This is exactly what we need to prevent. These people need to be given help – temporary housing, adult education, and so on. Instead, funds are being diverted to focus on drug use, which is a consequence of these underlying issues. Given how much money can be made from the trade, and how addictive certain drugs can be, are we really to believe that additional policing will prevent drug dealing?
One should remember that drug dealers are not always the monster caricature we imagine.
They too are people trying to survive in dire socioeconomic conditions. Given the size of the drug market – the UN estimated the global drug to be worth over $300bn back in 2005 – additional action by the police is not going to dissuade a drug dealer who can potentially make thousands with no real employment alternatives.
Of course, not all the proposals by TVP are harmful. Support for children at risk of being groomed to traffic drugs is badly needed, but one must ask why the child would get involved in the first place. Could it be that the education offered to them, and the employment opportunities later, are lacking?
Until more life choices are offered, a flashy drug dealer is going to remain more convincing than a police constable to many. Given how desperate many users and dealers are, we should acknowledge that policing alone will not end this harmful trade. Focusing on drugs takes away from the underlying failures of our society to deal with unemployment, homelessness, poverty, and other social vices. Until we take a hard look at our failures, drug busts and pushing drug users further to the peripheries will do nothing to help our city and country prosper.