[fyeg_gen-l] Why we should legalise hard drugs
sascha at netzmomente.de
Sun Feb 23 19:46:55 CET 2003
Observer Comment Extra
Why we should legalise hard drugs
Online commentary: It is time to end a dangerous and unwinnable war
Sunday February 23, 2003
I was having lunch last week with a senior member of the Garda Siochana or
Irish police in Dublin. He is a man with 32 years of service fighting crime
in the Irish capital. Throughout his career he has witnessed three major
drug waves in the Irish Republic - the first heroin epidemic of 1980; the
explosion of ecstasy and cocaine use in the mid 1990s and now the
introduction of crack cocaine at the start of the 21st century. He is a
superintendent with some major successes under his belt including the
operation against John Gilligan, the drugs baron who ordered the murder of
my colleague, the reporter Veronica Guerin. He has seen millions of pounds
of euros in drugs seizures. But the officer was highly modest about the
scale of his achievements in the fight against drugs.
In his most candid moment of the afternoon he came across with a startling
statistic - the police only seize about ten per cent of the drugs that come
into the state at any time. When you press him about the success of the war
on drugs he is dismissive. This is a war, he states, that cannot be won.
The drug sub-culture still fills me in equal parts with disgust and ennui,
but there seems to no logic to prolonging what is arguably the most futile
conflict in human history: this so-called war against drugs. This war,
equivalent to fighting a thousand Vietnams at once, can never be won. Even
the United States, with its superpower monopoly and infinite military
resources, has failed to stem the narcotics flood. Dictatorships, whether
of the Islamic fundamentalist variety as in Saudi Arabia or the
Leninist-capitalist model in China, have employed brutal methods to
suppress drugs, respectively beheading or blowing the brains out of alleged
dealers. The latter means of dispatching drug peddlers is also used by the
IRA on the streets of Belfast, Derry and even Dublin.
But neither the Saudi and Chinese cliques nor the IRA can put an end to the
production or consumption of drugs. That is because since the time of the
ancient Greeks - and quite possibly even before - the iron laws of
economics have operated: a permanent demand creates an inevitable supply.
Dealers are prepared to continue risking their lives on the streets of
Belfast, Beijing and Riyadh to meet that demand.
Prohibition, as the Americans found with alcohol in the 1920s and 1930s, is
counter-productive and only gives rise to a vast criminal sub-culture. The
monopolisation of supply in criminals' hands hikes up the price of drugs to
the point where consumers can only feed their habit through larceny or
prostitution, thus further fuelling crime.
Then there is the enormous and totally unnecessary cost to the state of
prosecuting those individuals who choose freely to take drugs as a means of
entertainment or escapism. The Economist magazine has estimated that
between 1996 and 2000 the British taxpayer paid out £36 million to lock up
people who were tested positive for cannabis. The figures for jailing those
consuming hard drugs are reckoned to be even higher.
Then there is the one drug which is widely available, legal and socially
acceptable. Families are ripped apart and lives shattered through the
fermentation, advertising and distribution of the most popular legal drug
in the free world - alcohol. How many young men for instance will end up in
the casualty wings of Irish and British hospitals this weekend due to
obscene bouts of boozing? What are the odds of someone getting mowed down
on an Irish or British road by a drunken driver?
Despite this we persist in glamorising drink while demonising drugs. In
Ireland more people are killed by drink and cars than drugs. These are
indisputable facts yet we never hear calls for the prohibition of alcohol
or driving. Nor does society ban dangerous sports such as hang-gliding, air
boarding, bungee jumping and so on. These activities are taken up by
individuals exercising personal freedom and choice. The state does not
intervene in these choices.
Opponents of legalisation claim that drug takers are not free individuals.
This is because the moment they consume a drug, any drug, their minds are
altered and thus their ability to act as free thinking individuals. But if
you apply this logic consistently then what about the moment that someone
takes a sup of his first pint, then his second, third, fourth and so on?
That individual's mind is also being altered by chemicals. Are our
opponents seriously suggesting that we should therefore ban alcohol because
it stops us from being rational individuals the moment we put pint or glass
to our lips? I think not.
Legalisation of course contains inherent dangers. The sale of narcotics
should be regulated but definitely not controlled by the state. The
prospect of the state selling drugs to consumers brings to mind Aldous
Huxley's Brave New World, where the regime kept the masses docile by doling
out Soma. Nor should legalisation imply hedonistic license. The minimum age
should range from between 16 for soft drugs and 18 for harder substances;
those who sell to children must suffer the maximum penalties.
There are pitfalls over price fixing. An exorbitantly taxed product will
result in what has already happened with tobacco in Ireland, where the
paramilitaries have flooded the market with cheaper illegal foreign
cigarettes. Tax revenue from drugs should be funnelled into drug treatment
programmes and preventative education aimed at de-mystifying drugs.
None of this is to suggest a solution to the drugs problem because there is
no solution, only the pragmatic management of it. A reasonable tax on
narcotics can help fund education programmes aimed at reducing demand for
drugs. Furthermore, decriminalisation would wipe out far more effectively
than the Criminal Assets Bureau the profits earned by loathsome beings,
such as John Gilligan, who control supply.
With apologies to The Verve: the drugs don't work but the ban on them just
makes us all worse.
· Henry McDonald is Ireland Editor of The Observer. This piece is extracted
from a speech at the Cambridge Union on Thursday in support of the motion
"This House would legalise hard drugs". The motion was defeated by 80 votes
henry.mcdonald at observer.co.uk
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