Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The 100 Years War- On Drugs.

Apparently it is the 100th anniversary of the War on Drugs, not the actual slogan coined in the 1960s, but the founding of the International Opium Commission.

The Economist argues that the effort has failed and that drugs should be legalised, I am inclined to agree with them. Thankfully it avoids the utopianism associated with many advocates of legalisation.

To argue that the benefits will outweigh the costs does not mean that there won't be serious problems associated with legalising narcotics. In particular it will make drug use less costly and therefore more widespread. The people who chose to outlaw drugs a century ago didn't do it for its own sake, they were addressing a real problem, that a large proportion of the population was addling their minds on dope.

The costs of legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol are the increased rates of disease among users, addiction and in the case of alcohol an increased rate of violence. It is likely that similar effects would be seen if cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin were legal.

Having said all that, the effects of banning them are a lot worse, most of the harm caused by legal drugs is done to the users themselves, whilst it would be regrettable if more cannabis users developed schizophrenia, they have done it to themselves, however the hundreds of thousands of people gunned down in Latin America by drug cartels didn't choose to be killed. Inner city communities throughout the Western world didn't choose to have their neighbourhoods controlled by drug gangs. The children of drug addicts who contract hepatitis or Aids didn't choose to do so.

One thing I should add though is that legalisation is not the same as decriminalisation, which is a halfway house policy that encompasses the worst aspects of legalisation and criminalisation.

12 comments:

Sue said...

To be honest, in the 30 or so years that I have smoked pot, I have yet to come across someone who was violent or psychotic on it.. alcohol on the other hand..

Mark Wadsworth said...

"decriminalisation, which is a halfway house policy that encompasses the worst aspects of legalisation and criminalisation."

Agreed on that. As to the number of users, back in the day when heroin addicts could get the stuff on prescription, there were only a few hundred users in the UK. It's only since this tolerance stopped that addicts number hundreds of thousands.

asquith said...

The mistake which prohibitionists, especially ones which haven't thought about the issue, is to assume that those who support liberalisation approve of drugs or want them to be more widely taken.

In fact, we merely think that prohibition doesn't work & that drug-related violence, the adulteration & so on of drugs would be less if they were legalised & regulated.

You would also, of course, free up prison places currently occupied by those who have done no harm.

Yes, it's possible to disagree with these views, but Mail readers have to ask themselves why so many eminent people, including those who were charged with implementing government policy, think this way. You have the spectacle, also found with New Labour's authoritarianism, of people enforcing policies they know to do more harm than good.

Many of them came in as prohibitionists & learnt on the job that their work wasn't working.

I am glad to see right-wingers taking this point of view. It must be emphasised that one can support a tough criminal law, & even dislike drugs, without wanting the failed war on drugs to continue.

I am led to believe, from reading Cameron: The Rise Of The New Conservative, by Elliott & Hanning*, that call me Dave holds relatively liberal views on the matter himself & always has, alongside a lot of Tories I would have thought. (Perhaps more so than Labour, even, given the authoritarian puritan tendencies within Labour).

But then, he is obviously a politician, so to an extent his own views are irrelevant, & by the appointment of tits like Sayeeda Warsi & his statements on khat he shows there is little hope of sanity yet.

*No, I didn't buy it. But I read it from cover to cover in the shop. They tolerate me because I am quite a high-spending regular customer.

asquith said...

I remember magic mushrooms being criminalised by New Labour. What an utter disgrace that was.

Xenon said...

S'funny, I don't remember magic mushrooms at all.

TDK said...

(B)ack in the day when heroin addicts could get the stuff on prescription, there were only a few hundred users in the UK. It's only since this tolerance stopped that addicts number hundreds of thousands.

Surely you're not suggesting that intolerance has been the principle driver of the number of users? I understand the idea that there is a glamour in the forbidden but that alone couldn't have caused the massive rise.

TDK said...

A society that holds people responsible for their own foolish decisions can afford to allow its citizens the right to take drugs. However when society treats people who make bad decisions as being blameless victims in need of ever greater support then we have a vicious circle. Once you remove the consequences of foolish behaviour you make more it more likely.

As Mr Wadsworth is likely to say, if you want less of something, tax it, if you want more of it, subsidise it.

Ross said...

"in the 30 or so years that I have smoked pot, I have yet to come across someone who was violent or psychotic on it."

Sue, they do say that modern pot is more potent than the traditional kind and therefore more dangerous, how true that is I cannot say.

"As to the number of users, back in the day when heroin addicts could get the stuff on prescription, there were only a few hundred users in the UK."

Mark, I'm aware of that but like TDK I can't see any mechanism by which criminalising caused the growth in addiction.

"The mistake which prohibitionists, especially ones which haven't thought about the issue, is to assume that those who support liberalisation approve of drugs or want them to be more widely taken."

Asquith, that is mostly true but I'd say that a minority of legalisation supporters are basically people who do take drugs recreationally and tend to downplay the negatives of the substances they enjoy.

"But then, he is obviously a politician, so to an extent his own views are irrelevant"

Yeah, banning things wins a politician more votes than legalising them.

"Once you remove the consequences of foolish behaviour you make more it more likely."

Even with drugs being illegal there is relatively little risk from the police and courts for users. Most of the worst consequences fall on the suppliers, who are portrayed as forcing their product on unwilling victims, and the risk to the suppliers is adequeately compensated by the profits.

asquith said...

Yes, supporters of legalisation take drugs & want their pleasures to be easier. But things like marijuana are quite widespread, so is it not just a reflection of how common they are amongst the general public?

Myself, I've never done anything illegal. I took magic mushrooms before they were banned. But I was too much of a coward & not streetwise enough to get any pot or owt.

I might smoke if it were legal though.

TDK said...

Even with drugs being illegal there is relatively little risk from the police and courts for users. Most of the worst consequences fall on the suppliers, who are portrayed as forcing their product on unwilling victims, and the risk to the suppliers is adequeately compensated by the profits.

Well I was considering the consequences for the drug takers. Just as many people can drink without getting into trouble, I recognise that many people take drugs sensibly (for want of a better word). However some don't.

The current system is very much geared towards seeing them as blameless victims in need of understanding and support. My view is if someone drinks to excess and beats their spouse, they should be held responsible. It's the same with drugs. If someone is violent due to drugs or breaks and enters to get funds then the drug taking should not be seen mitigation but as demonstrating irresponsibility and hence compounding the crime. There's too much blaming society.

Ross said...

"If someone is violent due to drugs or breaks and enters to get funds then the drug taking should not be seen mitigation but as demonstrating irresponsibility and hence compounding the crime."

Until a few years ago Japanese courts used to treat being drunk behind the wheel as a mitigating factor rather than an aggravating one, this was widely viewed by the West as absurd, yet we apply the same reasoning to every other category of crime.

Umbongo said...

Re MW's point about the 600 or so registered drug addicts in the early 60s: government policy then was both tolerant and realistic. The change in drug "culture" from an insignificant aspect of British life to one affecting millions and with a huge criminal aspect seems to me to have its roots in at least two phenomena:

1. The commercialisation of drug abuse.

In the 60s you could go to Boots in Piccadilly Circus at midnight and get your daily/weekly heroin dose from HMG for 1/- on the back of a prescription issued by any GP in the UK. When that avenue was effectively closed down (by the late 60s?) and prescription restricted to approved clinics which were mandated to effect "cures" of the addicts, a wholesale commercial (illegal) supply chain was created whose interest was to encourage addiction rather than just tolerate it.

2. The protest vote.

The "me" generation of the 60s and 70s viewed drugs (cannabis, of course, and harder drugs eventually) as part of an alternative life-style. Another part of that alternative was a contempt for government and law and thus a, by now, drugs-intolerant government had the effect of encouraging drug use as a form of protest.

Combine the above with schools - and society in general - losing interest in incalcating any self-discipline in young people and there's the recipe for an explosion in drug (and other) abuse. I suspect though that had governments continued with the previous policy of benign neglect, the numbers on drugs would certainly have increased as long as the other pernicious aspects of the 60s penetrated society.

However, the explosion of criminality connected with the drug trade would have been severely curtailed as long as druggies could get "illegal" drugs from the state. As to cannabis - which was never, I believe, on prescription - maybe it too should have been made available by the state or under state auspices. I must say I've surprised myself by suggesting a non-market solution to (and a market-related cause of) the drug problem.