Never underestimate the misery, pain and violence that drugs cause in working class communities such as those I supported as a youth worker. I am not just talking about drug addiction, which ruins lives and destroys families, but the illegal, dangerous trade itself causes.
I have seen how young Londoners who were deprived of opportunities and work became too easily enrolled into a life of crime by manipulative, drug dealing gangsters. They employ the young poor for a pittance to deliver cocaine to the middle classes, making a quick profit from the excesses of those who should know better.
To stop the crime, we must understand the profile of the customers. A drug dealer’s ideal client is not the penniless addict begging on the streets but the rebellious middle class kid. They are students, young professionals and older high-fliers. These people may require drugs on fewer occasions than addicts, but they’ve got the funds to buy in large quantities.
The drugs market was smaller when I was growing up, and the dealers did not seem like the hardened criminals they are today. But as London gentrified, poor streets started to neighbour rich ones and a new financial relationship arose between them. With middle-class money came serious criminals.
The consequences of this phenomenon are clear as day. Gang warfare has seen weapons flood the streets of this capital. Children have been recruited to distribute the drugs. Hospitals have become war zones with thugs trying to finish their injured opponents off while doctors and nurses attempt to defend wards. No wonder so many Londoners feel afraid.
That is why we cannot afford to go soft on the issue now. The war on drugs isn’t “old fashioned” or “outdated” but necessary. During the last mayoral election, I planned on asking all firms with more than 250 employees to sign up to a drug-testing charter to expose the level of recreational drug users, because recreational drug use, like recreational drink-driving or recreational knife-carrying, is still a crime.
Debates that focus on decriminalisation and legalisation, without stressing the damage caused by the drugs trade, shift what is socially acceptable in the completely wrong direction. It’s a crying shame that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, set up a Commission to investigate legalising cannabis instead of cracking down on illicit drugs. It signals that the authorities will turn a blind eye and perpetuates the myth that buying illegal highs is a victimless crime.
While it is of course true that addiction is a scourge which society cannot solve through strict policing alone, breaking the supply chain is among the most important steps towards improving rehabilitation rates. The impact of which will bring benefits for all, since nearly half of all burglaries and robberies are committed by England’s 300,000 heroin and crack addicts.
It is not too late to get a grip on drugs. Our country needs a broad and uncompromising approach that targets everyone from the violent criminals at the heart of the enterprise to the white-collar worker who purchases their product. Let us tackle it with a new urgency.