Why I disagree with drug prohibition

By Sanj Chowdhary

Sanj Chowdhary

Sanj Chowdhary, Exec Director NORML UK

I’ve not had internet access for a while due to some recent setbacks, and as I live in a tiny Peak District village, accessing a library or carrying out any proper research is difficult to say the least! So it seems for my first ever NORML UK blog entry I am going to have to write about something of which I have personal experience–which if I’m honest is what I prefer to write about anyway! As today marks a year since I was busted for cultivation and also began campaigning for a change to existing drug laws, I thought I would begin to share with you the reasons why I fundamentally disagree with the laws of drug prohibition.

Below you will find the argument I had planned to use in court after my first ever arrest for cannabis (or anything else, for that matter). As it turns out, for one reason or another, I’ve never had the opportunity to share this beyondDarryl Bickler of the Drugs Equality Alliance and a few others last summer. SoI thought I would share it on the NORML UK blog in hopes that it might stimulate some discussion and debate regarding the questions and issues raised.

What aspects of Human Rights, due to the nature of prohibition, do the UK authorities unavoidably infringe?

  1. The right to privacy. There is no way to investigate or criminalise a person for possession or personal use without infringing the human right to privacy.
  1. The freedom to manifest one’s religion or spirituality. Many groups use various substances during the practice or manifestation of their religion or spirituality, e.g. Rastafarians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and those from my own religious background, the Sikhs.
  1. The right to practice one’s cultural and indigenous traditions. My culture has used cannabis for thousands of years for food and medicine; it is such an ingrained component of Indian culture that the Indiangovernment licenses the sale of cannabis and cannabis products.

All of these Human Rights appear to be violated. I accept that these rights are not absolute; it would be absurd to think otherwise, so therefore the question that must be asked is when does a legitimate infringement of human rights become an illegal violation?

In order to help answer this I intend to apply a well known and accepted test set out in international law. It is commonly known as the proportionality test, and it asks three fundamental questions:

  1. Is it prescribed by Law? Yes.We are signed up to the single treaty on the misuse of drugs, so we have a legal (I would also argue a moral) obligation to control any potentially harmful drugs.
  2. Is it in pursuit of a legitimate aim?Yes, of course the health and welfare of people/society is legitimate. The protection of the young, of the vulnerable, and of wider society is a perfectly legitimate aim. I would find it difficult to argue otherwise. However, fighting the drug trade is not a legitimate aim in itself. It is not a requirement of International Law. Fighting the drugs war was meant to be a means of achieving legitimate aims and not an aim in itself. Current drugs policy has lost sight of this and continues to promote an approach which has clearly failed to protect the young, the vulnerable, and even society on the whole.
  3. Is it necessary in a democratic society in order to achieve the aims?

In order for us to consider the answer, we again need to explore a couple of further questions:

  • Are there less intrusive means available to achieve the stated aim?The duration of this infringement of rights is perpetual, and the scope of the infringement is total, i.e. everyone in the country is affected.

Because everyone’s rights could theoretically be violated, it means that the law itself is not discriminatory. But as we know from extensive Home Office reports and evidence, it does have significant discriminatory effects in its practical application.

  • Has the law been imposed arbitrarily?

Has a full evidence base been taken into account? Has a full and proper scientific evaluation of the current law and other options been explored?

Whilst there have been a number of Parliamentary Select Committees and Scientific Advisory Groups who have repeatedly researched and highlighted the failings of existing policy, successive governments have refused to acknowledge the findings and recommendations, even going as far as sacking the Chief Government Drugs Advisor for deviating from the government’s own preferred line.

When considering whether UK drugs law is arbitrarily imposed, we must also question whether the current system of prohibition has achieved any of the stated aims.

I would contend that not only has prohibition failed to achieve its own stated aims, but by every measure conceivable it has made the potential harms of drug use significantly worse, for both individuals and wider society.

Could the current system ever hope to achieve any of its aims in the future?

This is a question I have asked numerous politicians innumerable times and so far not a single person has been able to supply the evidence to suggest that it could. A standard principle of international law holds that the burden of proof rests on the State to justify why it has violated the human rights of its citizens. They must justify why their system is the best possible solution to both protect human rights and also achieve legitimate aims.

I would conclude that current drug policy, taking the form of prohibition, is far from necessary to achieve a reduction in the potential harms that might stem from the use of various ‘controlled substances’. In a democratic society I believe that there are various existing structures and mechanisms that would be better employed in order to achieve legitimate aims. (Maybe give a tiny summary? It’ll help people get to talking)

After having, as objectively as possible, considered all of the above points and issues raised, I would summarise that whilst there may be legitimate reasons to infringe upon Human Rights, the UK government’s drug policy is indeed inunwarranted violation of at least three fundamental human rights. The government’s continued unwillingness to acknowledge the evidence regarding drug policy and its refusal to accept a succession of recommendations from its own experts and scientists has meant that the current law has been arbitrarily applied. It fails the test of proportionality on the basis that prohibition has not been shown to be necessary or even successful at controlling the potential harms from drugs.

I would readily waive my violated human rights if just a single person could articulate a rational and evidence based argument to show it was for the greater good. I’m yet to come across a single person who has been able to adequately justify their support of prohibition with hard evidence and so I will continue to fight the injustice and persecution that results from the government’s blind allegiance to what is so clearly a failed paradigm.



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  1. I can definitely agree with this. Why should we have our basic human rights violated when the government and everyone they rely on cant actually provide evidence to show that what they are doing by prohibiting drug use is actually helping anyone at all? It makes you wonder if the government officials are actually putting these measures in place so that they can take everything for themselves to make even more money or for their own personal use.

  2. this is a great argument prohibition does not help the public, it helps fill the prisons and line the pockets of the dealers, unfortunately it seems to be an easy topic for politicians to gain support from, but people are beginning to wake up and public opinion is shifting something has to change soon. Prohibition just separates and victimizes people, we should be able to make an informed decision about which drugs we want to take and not feel judged for it. WE SHOULD BE PROUD 🙂

  3. Very well written Sanj, but could also, the governments continued reluctance to allow citizens to freely use the properties within the cannabis plant for their own personal illness’s
    be construed as being an infringement under Article 2, the “Right to Life” in the European Human Rights Act. I appreciate that this Article relates primarily to abortion, but it also states that a government can only deprive you of your life in the case of legal execution. I would argue that my “right to life” is being jeopardised by the fact that this government will not allow me to “treat myself”, thus alleviating them of their responsibilities in my health-care and at no cost to them either, yet are prepared to give me treatments costing thousands of pounds, that in the end may only prolong my life, but not cure my illness, namely advanced lung cancer. I want the freedom to do what I want to do, it’s my life, it does not belong to the state, but by their refusing to legitimise the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, they are in fact, depriving me of my “right to life”….here endeth the lesson!!

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