'Aggressive' war on drugs 'ruins lives' - alternative views on narcotics battle
PUBLISHED: 16:00 04 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:19 04 September 2018
Weston-super-Mare, like many seaside towns across the country, has been targeted by drug dealers in county lines operations in the past few years.
Gangs exploit young and vulnerable people to sell drugs on their behalf in towns hundreds of miles away from their location.
The use of a single telephone number for ordering drugs becomes the group’s brand.
Unlike other criminal activities where telephone numbers are changed on a regular basis, these telephone numbers are maintained and protected.
But could a change in drug laws, regulation and culture put a stop to this issue?
An international network of families whose lives have been wrecked by current drug laws are campaigning to change them.
Anyone’s Child wants the Government to be in control of drug regulation.
The charity’s project manager, Jane Slater, said: “By making drugs illegal, we have handed the market to criminals, rather than the Government, and these criminals don’t ask for ID, don’t care about who they sell to, and don’t care about what the drugs contain.
“A criminal record for drug possession destroys a child’s life, ruining job prospects, their status in society, and their futures.
“We believe drug laws need to protect our children, which is why we urgently need a new approach to keep all of our families safe.”
Neil Woods, a former undercover police officer who infiltrated drugs gangs and wrote a book about the experience called Good Cop Bad War, now campaigns for the charity.
He said: “The war on drugs and this ‘tough on drugs’ mentality ruins lives.
“We want drugs in safer hands, to provide education to children.
“County lines is a modern phenomenon, exploitation of children is a direct response to police success.”
The views of a former drug addicts
Alex Wolfe-Warman of Weston is a former addict who has been sober for more than 10 years.
Alex was addicted to alcohol and cocaine for 15 years, and after getting clean he became a supporter of Anyone’s Child.
He said: “We want drug laws and policies which protect people from, and not punish, addicts.
“The war on drugs is, as the name suggests, very aggressive, judgemental, unhelpful and counterproductive as billions of people are suffering either directly or indirectly because of the negative consequences.
“Regulation will take billions of pounds out of the hands of criminals and guarantee the quality of substances, which will reduce the harms caused by dirty, unclean and contaminated drugs.”
Another former drug addict who claims Weston ‘saved his life’ wants education and early prevention for youngsters across the country.
Paul Hannaford has given talks about his drug addictions to more than 400,000 children and wants to make the issue part of the national curriculum.
He came to the former Hope House rehabilitation centre in St Georges in 2006 from West London after a lengthy battle with narcotics and alcohol.
Paul said: “Drug dealers love vulnerable kids because they are easy targets but if we give them knowledge about this issue then their opinions will change.
“We will never stop addiction but we can reduce it through early intervention as one drug leads to another, harder drug.
“If we can give as many children in Weston awareness to this problem then we will save lives.”
What do Weston’s politicians think?
Drugs have always been a taboo subject in all facets of life, no more so in the world of politics.
Different countries have different approaches to narcotics – the recreational use of cannabis is legal in Canada and 11 American states.
In England, as recently as 2017 the Liberal Democrats said in its manifesto it would legalise selling and growing cannabis if elected.
Weston town councillor and Lib Dem Mark Canniford believes the battle on drugs is lost.
He said: “At the moment we are losing the battle.
“A lot of people who support this have been drug addicts themselves and are calling for market regulation.
“You only have to look out of your window to see drug dealing taking place on street corners in Weston.
“We should be looking at other nations, crime has reduced by 52 per cent in Switzerland since they began prescribing heroin over the counter and regulating drugs through medical professionals.”
Weston’s MP John Penrose does not think legalisation is the answer, but would listen to the advantages of market regulation.
Mr Penrose said: “Weston’s hard-fought progress in battling drugs has come by clamping down on dodgy rehabs and dry houses, so we don’t import addicts from everywhere else who then relapse and stay here, creating targets for drug dealers.
“We should fight tooth and nail against anything which might put that at risk.
“If Anyone’s Child has ideas to change rules and regulations so we can hit drugs dealers harder, or help addicts get clean and stay that way, then by all means let’s hear them, but just legalising won’t help the problem.”