VULNERABLE young lives could be saved if the government ‘grasped the nettle’ and legalised cannabis, a veteran anti-drugs campaigner has claimed.
Seamus Davis, chairman of Antrim Citizens Advice Bureau and a long-stranding member of the Policing and Community Safety Partnership, has been a thorn in the side of local dealers for a quarter of a century.
And he has paid a heavy price for his outspoken opposition. He has been threatened and his house in Springfarm has come under attack. At its height, he was virtually a prisoner in his own home and was forced to put bars on his windows.
Down the years Mr Davis has railed against all sections of the underworld trade, but he now believes there is only one sure way of releasing the grip crime gangs are exerting on entire communities - by cutting the supply lines by legalising their product.
“I’ve been going on about the drugs trade in Antrim for 25 years now and the situation is just getting worse,” said the local community leader in the week when it emerged that cannabis-based medicinal products will become available in Northern Ireland for the first time.
“Young kids are being drawn into the web of abuse and then they are being brutalised and terrorised by the scum peddling God knows what to them.
“The gangsters are getting rich on the misery of our children, and they are maintaining control of their patch through brutal violence and intimidation - and that is contributing to the heart-breaking increase in teen suicides in this area.
“The downward spiral has to be broken, and we can only move forward if we get real and realise how deep the problem is. And in my opinion that means accepting one hard fact - that the war on drugs has been lost.”
It is a startling admission for someone who has spent decades on the frontline, and Seamus Davis accepts he will have his critics.
“There will be people who will disagree with me. People who still believe that the police can somehow stamp out the trade.
“I know because for years I believed that too. I was totally opposed to the idea of legalising blow. But now? I don’t see any other way forward.
“The drugs trade is a ruthlessly efficient money-making machine. They chew up young people and then spit them out.
“They lure them in with Class B drugs and then wean them on to harder substances.
“But what if we took them out of the equation altogether? What if cannabis was on sale like a packet of fags at the supermarket?
“The government would be able to tax it, the users would know exactly what they were taking and the drugs kingpins and their criminal empires would fall. Everyone’s a winner.
“I accept that many would not be comfortable with it, but what other choice do we have?
“Drugs have been a terrible blight on this town for many years and the impact will be felt for many more to come - but we’ve already seen too many coffins, too many promising young lives cut short.
“Don’t get me wrong, I still abhor drugs but it gets to a point when that’s just not enough. We’ve tried a blanket ban and it has failed.
“Other places have tried legalisation and it has worked. I feel that the time has come for us to follow suit.”