The 'War on Drugs' in Belfast


Early this year, members of Belfast WSM and ex Black Panther Ashanti Alston met representatives from Concerned Families against Drugs (CFAD)
CFAD was formed in the Ardoyne area of North Belfast September 2008 as a community based, radical campaigning group which aims to tackle what it describes as “drug dealers, through an effective anti-drug campaign and raising awareness about the dangers of drugs.”

Since its inception the group has picketed the houses of alleged drug dealers and organised awareness workshops. Their activities have attracted hostile attention from local political parties, police and local press who are obviously more concerned about working-class communities taking action themselves, rather than addressing underlying problems of social and economic deprivation.

It is beyond question that drugs, including alcohol, can have negative repercussions in families and the wider community, feeding into a cycle of hopelessness, dependency and crime. This was quite evident in inner cities areas in Dublin and London during the height of the heroin crisis. In fact, alcohol kills more people every year than drugs with the exception of tobacco but this does not erase the social impact of drugs in working-class communities.

To date the ‘drugs debate’ is based around fear and misinformation rather than a rational and informed debate. The criminalisation of drugs in most countries has been an absolute failure in terms of its objectives. Criminalization has encouraged the growth of criminal gangs and the availability of illicit drugs has never been easier. In Portugal, the decriminalisation of a small possession of all drugs since 2001 has unblocked a hopelessly overcrowded court and prison system, and evaluations of this approach have shown a broadly positive impact on recidivism and social reintegration. Mexico has also followed suit after decades of following a ‘hard line’ approach.

Instead of a war on poverty we have a war on drugs from the mountains of Columbia to the streets of Belfast. This war on drugs is a means of social control and repression. For example, during the height of the Black Panthers, elements of the US intelligence services helped to spread the availability of drugs to build fear and division. In Plan Columbia, the livelihoods of coca farmers are eradicated while the real robbers and criminals sit in Government.

Drug dealers can be easily replaced. The key to building an effective campaign is one which pushes for the de-criminalization of drugs and the setting up of rehabilitation clinics which treats the illness as a health issue.

While we live in a society divided by social class and maintained by violence and the domination of the few over the many, there will always be the desire to escape the everyday excesses and pressures of a capitalist society.