By Danny Kushlick Director, Transform Drug Policy Foundation
The chances are that most of us will live to see drugs prohibition replaced with a system of regulation and control.
By 2020, if Transform's timeline is right, the criminal market will have been forced to relinquish its control of the drug trade and government regulation will be the norm.
Users will no longer "score" from unregulated dealers.
Instead, they will buy their drugs from specialist pharmacists or licensed retailers.
Or those with a clinical need will obtain them via a prescription.
At its simplest, this is all legalisation, control and regulation will mean - shopping and visiting the doctor.
It is simply a question of transferring the policy paradigm of management to currently illegal drugs.
Cut the drama
One of the problems for those wanting to dramatise a world where currently illegal drugs are legal is the distinct lack of drama involved.
Drug prohibition, in collision with vast numbers of users, creates a situation where drama underlies the entire business.
By abrogating responsibility for the trade through the failure to prohibit it, the market is gifted to organised criminals and unregulated dealers.
The UK drug market is valued at �6.6 bn.
The global market could be as much as �100bn, dwarfed only by the trade in oil and arms.
The consequent deregulation of the market at the international level spawns violence, corruption and political and economic destabilisation - witness Afghanistan, Latin America, the Caribbean and south east Asia.
At a national level, our prisons are twice as full as they would be without prohibition, property crime is doubled, and the cost of prohibition-related crime is �16bn a year (more than the entire Home Office budget).
Your taxes - that the government spends on prohibition - actively make your environment a worse place in which to live.
And you are being duped into supporting a policy that makes drugs more dangerous and more chaotic.
At a community level prohibition-related street prostitution is endemic, street dealing and turf wars are the norm in larger cities, and prohibition is responsible for more than half of all burglaries, shoplifting, thefts from vehicles and robberies.
Drugs and their misuse are not responsible for this mayhem and misery.
(Note that there is no property crime related to fundraising to support a tobacco habit, even though users require up to 60 hits a day and tobacco withdrawal and abstinence are difficult to deal with).
With regard to tobacco, gambling and drinking, both John Reid and Tessa Jowell [AW - Who???] have clearly stated recently that prohibition doesn't work.
A useful question to ask is: what are the successful commodity prohibitions of the last hundred years?
If you are struggling to remember any successful prohibitions, it may be because there are none.
Politics, not evidence, drives the war on drugs.
You may well ask why we persist with prohibition if there is no evidence that it is effective.
In short, the answer is politics - with a very big "p".
The war is not fought because it is effective; it is fought because it suits politicians to fight it.
US and UK domestic and foreign policy are now intimately intertwined with prohibition.
With regard to domestic policy, prohibition identifies convenient scapegoats and drug-war enemies to rally the electorate around.
Many law enforcement agencies have an investment in prohibition.
Prison builders, police, customs, CIA, MI5, and the FBI are funded to a great extent to fight the war on drugs.
The drug war is also enormously useful to the US in continuing its adventures in foreign countries in which it has an interest - see Latin America, Afghanistan, the Middle East, south east Asia and the Caribbean.
Global prohibition is enforced through the UN (for which read US). It is supported by more than 150 UN member states, many of whom - including the UK - do not wish to fall foul of the US.
Prohibition will end when the enormously destructive consequences of its continued enforcement become too much for the system to bear, despite its attractive political benefits.
And all the evidence points to the fact that we are approaching that point.
Transform estimates that 15 years maximum is as much more prohibition as we can all stand.
When it goes we will wonder why we did not end it earlier, and our trust in our politicians will take yet another dive.
We can only hope that it happens sooner rather than later and that we can pass on a less melodramatic drug policy to our children. [ January 11, 2005: Message edited by: Adrian Wallace ]
Joined: Jun 30, 2004
..In the interests of balance the oposing view to that set out above is here:
I actually think the "pro-legalisation" argument is a bit unreasonably heavy on the US foriegn policy side - I'm not quite sure how prohibition of drugs is supposed to help US control Afghanistan (or even quite why they would want to)? I think this guy is losing his marbles a bit - been reading too much gloabl conspiracy stuff!!
However, the counter arguement that organised crime networks would use their resources to bypass regulation in a legal market and provide goods on a tax free unreguated black market doesnt seem to gel with the experience of alcohol prohibition - where is the organised crime providing tax free beer, wine & whisky (or cigarettes for that matter)? surely by this argument they should be lucrative markets.
Also questionable to me is the assertion that "total harm" would be increased by legalisation - He doesnt seem to account for the harm caused to society by the existence of organised crime, harm caused by treating people as criminals (a self-fulfilling prophecy once you send people into penal institutions it would seem)
AW: where is the organised crime providing tax free beer, wine & whisky (or cigarettes for that matter)?
Tobacco smuggling is a favorite organized crime activity in the US and worldwide. Same thing with alcohol.
Joined: Nov 09, 2000
I'm convinced that most of these pro-legalization people really have no clue as to the real effect of drugs on people's lives in our society.
I wonder how many of these people have seen a woman who disappeared from her family for a couple of days to go on a drug binge, whacked out of her mind on heroine running around a McDonald's parking lot at 6 in the morning wearing nothing but a T-shirt and covered in feces and blood?
Or how about walking into a bathroom that looked like a murder scene, walls and floor covered with blood, with a naked blood soaked man high on heroine sitting on the toilet who decided to take a knife (or some sharp object anyway) to his penis and anus in order to try and dig out the spiders he was convinced were crawling around inside him?
I could go on, but I won't. At least those people lived.
I don't even remotely buy into the legalization arguments. Most of the time the arguments hinge heavily on comparisons to tobacco and alcohol, which are faulty arguments. Just because two things which have a negative effect on our society and people's lives in general are legal (alcohol and tobacco) does not mean that further substances which are even more harmful in every way should be legal. Such arguments don't hold water. Prisons full because people insist on breaking drug laws? At least I know my tax dollars are being put to good use.
Bottom line, I don't want to live in a society where these things are legalized. I don't want to live in a society where these things become acceptable.
Irrespective of the merits, I don't think legalization is likely to happen in the U.S. It's too subtle an argument to be politically defensible, even if it is logically defensible.
Things may be different in the U.K., though. The U.K. government seems to be significantly more willing to let people decide for themselves what risks they want to take than the U.S. governments generally are.
Joined: Jun 30, 2004
Originally posted by Warren Dew: The U.K. government seems to be significantly more willing to let people decide for themselves what risks they want to take than the U.S. governments generally are.
Really? I would have thought that European politics would have been far more interventionist than US? Isnt the laissez-faire approach and "minimalist government", self regulation etc etc more of a US style?
Joined: Jun 30, 2004
Originally posted by Jason Menard: I'm convinced that most of these pro-legalization people really have no clue as to the real effect of drugs on people's lives in our society.
.. Just because two things which have a negative effect on our society and people's lives in general are legal (alcohol and tobacco) does not mean that further substances which are even more harmful in every way should be legal. ...
In my experience I've generally found that most people who discuss the "pro" side of the drug legalisation debate tend to be *very* familiar with at least some illegal drugs and have some first hand experience of the culture... but perhaps I've not met a representative sample!
Anyway - The point being made is not that drugs are not considered bad (forgive the double negative)- its that prohibition is not solving any problems and *may* in fact be causing more harm than it prevents.
I dont think anyone wants to see more people out there getting into heroin abuse - its just there are disagreements about how to go about reducing and controlling the numbers. One such argument is to suggest that removing the criminal elements from drug culture goes some way to reducing the most harmful effects of drug useage on 'society' (although not protecting users from any harmful health effects).
Another argument states that a regulated business can introduce standards to actually improve the health of users by removing more dangerous additives and providing accurate dosage measures. This was the huge benefit of the legalised alcohol industry - all of a sudden, Whisky became relatively safe and people stopped suffering from Methanol blindness through poorly produced sly-grog. Of course regulated products can still be abused and a heroin user is still likely to be an unhealthy person - but at least controlled clean dosages should reduce the number of accidental overdoses and internal organ failures from toxic additives.
..and by the way I think trying to get into the "these drugs are worse than those drugs" debate gets very silly very quickly - anyone can argue that alcohol is far more socialy destructive than canabis, or that heroin is less addictive than nicoteen, or on the that crack cocaine turns users more crazy than coffee - but at the end of the day they are all drugs and can all be used to the point of abuse. (As can shopping, gambling, sex, posting on internet discussions - etc etc but very few people advocate prohibiting them)
I'd be for giving legalisation a chance since it seems impossible to keep drugs off the street. It'd be worth the risk in attempting to see if it really did allieviate the surrounding criminal problems of drug use and deny organised crime some of their profits. Unfortunately victims will exist in any scenario but we might get less "innocent" victims. The bottom line is that we can always legislate to ban them again.
I doubt excessive drug use will ever be acceptable either. No one would employ an obvious drunk, stoner or smack-head for example, whether their particular vice was legal or not. People who abuse any kind of drug are considered anti-social and stigma is still a strong form of social control.
If harddrugs are legalised their abuse will go up dramatically leading to massive loss of productivity at the same time the cost of the medical system goes through the roof even more than it already does.
A LOT of people at this time don't take harddrugs simply because they don't know where to get them or are afraid to deal with the criminals now responsible for their distribution. All these people would loose that barrier, leading to a massive growth of the number of addicts.
If you limit the distribution of drugs to these people you're in for a lot of armed assaults on distribution points as well as a continued illegal network which will be even more profitable as they no longer need to practice the system of giving the first few doses cheap or for free in order to get people thoroughly hooked.
Crime will skyrocket and so will the medical cost of dealing with the addicts. At the same time that flood of addicts who would otherwise be productive members of society will cause massive damage to the economy.
Originally posted by Adrian Wallace: In my experience I've generally found that most people who discuss the "pro" side of the drug legalisation debate tend to be *very* familiar with at least some illegal drugs and have some first hand experience of the culture... but perhaps I've not met a representative sample!
This is an interesting point - how much of the pro-legalisation effort is being done by people who would like their illegal actions to be legally justified? It would be interesting to hear the view points of non-drugs users who think it should be legalised.
The problems that many governments have with reducing the drug problem is the inability to stop it being worth while for dealers. Each drugs dealer does what we all do in life - a cost-benefit analysis. In the dealers case the benefits of dealing drugs (money) out weigh the cost (punishment and risk of punishment). One way to increase this cost and reduce the benefits would be largely increase the punishments for drug use and dealing. Personally I would give life imprisonment to anyone dealing in any class A or B drugs, and a very long community service sentence for anyone taking any.
Normally I'm fairly liberal, but when it comes to most drugs things are different. Many drugs are nasty nasty things. While it is a possible argument that people should have the liberty to harm themselves, many addicts are in a position where they have a lot less effective choice. People who are addicted to drugs find it hard to stop, and a large number end up killing themselves in a slow and horrible way. Anyone who has seen a family member or friend going through an addiction to one of the more despicable drugs will agree how much it can wreck not only the addict's life, but the lives of those close to them.
There are a small number of drugs that are not as bad - cannabis could possibly be legalised (although I would prefer it not to be as cannabis smoke has to be the most foul smelling substance known to man), but most others we are better off without. I'm not a big fan of "zero tolerance" policing strategies in general, but when it comes to drugs I think its totally necessary. The only problem is getting the public and political backing to do it.
Jason these incidents you speak of will happen wether its legalized or not. Prohibition does not stop people taking drugs. It's about controlling it.
Joined: Nov 09, 2000
Originally posted by Christopher Docherty: Jason these incidents you speak of will happen wether its legalized or not. Prohibition does not stop people taking drugs. It's about controlling it.
Point being they will happen with much greater frequency if we were to collectively lose our senses and legalize drugs. As I mentioned before, I've been to places where drugs were practically legal. Walking around one night I was accosted several times by people offering to sell me drugs. That's what's in store when drugs are legalized or the police look the other way.
We want to control drugs? Lock up the dealers and the hardcore users, do a better job sealing our borders, and don't offer up a culture where such activities are acceptable. Controlling drugs through legalization and reaping a taxation benefit would simply make us all culpable. I refuse to contribute to (through legalization) or benefit from (through taxes and tariffs) the narcotics trade. It seems to me that any society that does this has lost its way.
Remember in 1920s alcohol prohibition was even written into a US Constitution amendment. It took another amendment to get rid of it.
And in 1980s in former USSR there had beena similar movement. Mr. Goerbachov's failure, to some researchers, was partly due to the failure of this movement.
The told us: at some point of history, alcohol has been seen to be probably the same dangerous thing to society as heroin being seen today.
The only difference is alcohol ban failed so disgracefully that it was forced out of laws, while heroin ban is still written in the laws.
Let's base our argument on morality, if people use morality to justify this ban or that ban. This type usually goes like this: "I don't allow you to do this because it's not good for you; or I have to force you to do this because it's good for you". The fundamental question here is NOT whether or not it's good for me. The fundamental question is: do I have a right to do something to my body of which some other people think bad, or not to do something others think good? Does that you think something is not good for youself give you the right to stop others doing it to themselves? We are discussing morality argument here, so it does not matter even if here this "you" may be comprised 99% of the whole population. I guess to most people, the bottomline of morality is you have the right to do anything to yourself as long as it does not affect others. And it's those who think of themselves on a higher moral ground and think they have the right to tell others what's good and what's bad who are immoral., according to whatever culture, bible or koran.
Months ago someone used insurance argument to support "smoking ban". That's an interest argument, not a morality one. An interest argument goes like this: "I don't allow you to do this because it affects me negatively, or I have to force you to do this because it's good for me". In this type of arguments, usually it uses the number of people in "me" to justify itself. See, what you do is not only bad for me, but for us, a big us! Usually any such argument is dubious that claims he represents a big "us". Something on the paper of laws does not mean it's a will of majority, as the tax stuff: nobody wants to pay tax (or almost nobody) but somehow somebody could make taxing you into a law!
Most arguments use both. It's neither good for you nor good for me... so...
In reality, it's all about some powerful "narrow interest". In the case of drug ban, they are some religious groups (as they were in alcohol ban), and political interest groups using this to makw themselves politically correct and powerful, and existing beneficiaries of drug bans such as government servants on this tasks and relevant academians, activists, lobbists, stc.
Jeroen Wenting: A LOT of people at this time don't take harddrugs simply because they don't know where to get them or are afraid to deal with the criminals now responsible for their distribution.
I am skeptical of that claim. The only benefit I see from the prohibition is that children are not bombarded with advertisements for heroin and cocaine on television. I would not want to legalize drugs unless we can somehow create a third category of products which are legal to sell but whose usage is illegal to promote (despite Freedom of Speech).
Jason Menard: I've been to places where drugs were practically legal. Walking around one night I was accosted several times by people offering to sell me drugs. That's what's in store when drugs are legalized or the police look the other way.
I oppose making drugs "practically legal." I would want them sold only by responsible capitalists or civil servants, which would require their actions to be completely legal. I don't want criminals to profit from the trade. By the way, I suspect that minor drugs like poppy seeds and coca leaves were first concentrated in to hard drugs specifically in response to the challenges of smuggling.
Joined: Jun 15, 2004
As to Jason's example how a drug addict destroyed not only his life but those close to him. Then can we ask theis: isn't it more reasonable for those close to the addict to assume more responsibility for either preventing him being an addict in the firts place (if they also think this an addict will destroy their lives) or doing something to get him our of the addiction (if the addict is destroying their lives) or doing something to get themselves not so close to the addict? Using an interest argument, why should others shoulder this burden for them?
If I have a child being an addict, it's my problem. I can not just simply blame the society for it.
Somebody might say, "well, if the society had eliminated all the drugs, how could my child get it?" Well, many children stumble on the road and some hurt their bodies, how many parents blame soceity for not building more smooth and more soft roads? Many people don't finish high schools which are offered to everybody for free, how many blame society for "not educating him more correctly and more diligently?"
Buck got to stop somewhere. Personal responsibility is the key to any democractic society. Those so called intellectuals blaming everything on society are helping make a generation without any sense of personal responsibility by making blaming society for everything a pop culture and political correct practice. When people take their rights for granted and ask more than they are entitled and more the society can afford, the society implodes.
But so far, it seems that the society is sitll like the ocean big enough to hold all our dirty waters.
Joined: Jun 06, 2002
Originally posted by Jimmy Chen: Many people don't finish high schools which are offered to everybody for free, how many blame society for "not educating him more correctly and more diligently?"
Lots. Many people in my city blame the high crime rate on "insufficient funding for public education, poor teachers, and not enough educational opportunity" even though:
Bureaucrats they elect and their appointees steal much of the tax money that's allocated (which voters justify by saying, "You had corruption before our candidates took over; now it's our turn.").
The candidates they vote for support the teachers' union, which protects incompetent teachers.
Most of the students in the poorer schools refuse to sit quietly and listen to the teacher (much less do their homework).
The few children who _do_ try to learn are ostracized and beaten up by classmates for being "Oreo cookies."
Yes, they blame society, and there are lots of them.
Joined: Jun 30, 2004
Originally posted by Joe King: This is an interesting point - how much of the pro-legalisation effort is being done by people who would like their illegal actions to be legally justified? It would be interesting to hear the view points of non-drugs users who think it should be legalised.
Personally I would give life imprisonment to anyone dealing in any class A or B drugs, and a very long community service sentence for anyone taking any
OK - you want to hear the pro-legalise argumnent from a non drug user - Listen to me then! The only drugs I use are alcohol and prescription non-steroidal inflammatory drugs!. My recreational illicit drug use days are long behind me.
bit of history for you: 10-15 years ago a HUGE percentage of my peers were regular illegal drug users, most were at least occassional canabis users, but many of my friends were users of so called "Class A" drugs (LSD, Ecstacy, Amphetamines, Cocaine). Some of my friends even helped reduce the [legal] risk to us all on special occasions by "doing the dealer run" and effectively shopping for the group (not supplying for profit). Over the period of 5 years probably each one of a group of 20 of was at some time guilty, in legal terms, of supplying class A drugs. If I look at that same group of 20 people now they are lawyers, IT professionals, doctors, parents and generally law abiding, tax paying citizens who no longer indulge in recreational drug use. We all grew up and got bored of it. It is a MYTH that the majority of drug users are helpless addicts. I dont have stats in front of me but I'm sure I've seen plenty of studies that suggest that 60-70% of uni students indulge in recreational drug usage - about 30% with class 'A' drugs. How many turn out to be the life-time losers that have been referred to in earlier posts? The vast majority seem to be perfectly capable of managing recreation drug use in a responsible way!
Taking your suggestion for the treatment of users and suppliers above, I (and all my friends) would currently be serving long custodial sentences. Whilst some of you may well feel that society without my crazy "pinko socialist" views might be a better place, I seriously doubt that putting me in prison for many years (thus making me a tax drain rather than a source) would do anything to improve anyones life.
My argument would be that I am the *typical* case and if we accept that, then the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" attitude makes no sense whatsoever.
Joined: Jun 30, 2004
Originally posted by Frank Silbermann: I am skeptical of that claim. The only benefit I see from the prohibition is that children are not bombarded with advertisements for heroin and cocaine on television. I would not want to legalize drugs unless we can somehow create a third category of products which are legal to sell but whose usage is illegal to promote (despite Freedom of Speech).
Just like tobacco then?
(Looks like Frank and I almost agree on this!)
Joined: Nov 09, 2000
Originally posted by Adrian Wallace: My argument would be that I am the *typical* case and if we accept that, then the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" attitude makes no sense whatsoever.
Not at all. If your incarceration serves as a warning to somebody else, and they straighten out their life, then it certainly serves a purpose. I don't buy into the myth that the purpose of prison is to rehabilitate people. The point of prison is punishment.
If this is as you claim the typical case, then all the more reason to lock such a person up if they are caught. There's a greater chance that the people in their lives will learn something from their crimes and not repeat their mistakes. In my experience, most drug users are too caught up in their own selfishness to realize the greater consequences of their actions on not only themselves, but their friends, family, and the rest of society. And for the type of people you describe who should be on the ball enough to realize the greater effects of their crimes, then they have even less of an excuse in my mind then the poor uneducated person growing up in a bad neighborhood.
Society says it doesn't want you to traffic in cocaine or it's going to incarcerate you. If you know this, but go ahead and traffic in cocaine, then just like it promised, society is sending you away. The benefit on society is removing a person from it who refuses to live by its rules. Living in a society is a priviledge, and one that can be taken from you.AC
Joined: Jun 06, 2002
Originally posted by Adrian Wallace: 10-15 years ago a HUGE percentage of my peers were regular illegal drug users, most were at least occassional canabis users, but many of my friends were users of so called "Class A" drugs (LSD, Ecstacy, Amphetamines, Cocaine). ... If I look at that same group of 20 people now they are lawyers, IT professionals, doctors, parents and generally law abiding, tax paying citizens who no longer indulge in recreational drug use. We all grew up and got bored of it. It is a MYTH that the majority of drug users are helpless addicts.
When I was growing up, lots of people habitually drove drunk with no ill effect. Only a few killed themselves or their families or strangers. With drugs, there may be a genetic difference between people who get hooked and those who don't, so it's probably like playing Russian roulette. I see no excuse for it, and I consider it hugely irresponsible and anti-social to take those drugs. If you need to stay awake, drink coffee. If you need to calm your nerves, take Prozac. If you want passive entertainment, see a movie. If you want a girl who'll allow easy sexual access, instead of corrupting her with intoxicating drugs just visit a prostitute.
From a secular viewpoint, I consider drug use irrational; from a religious point of view, I consider it a sin. I don't think they solve any necessary human purpose (unlike, say, handguns, which can be put to good use by the general public in stopping burglaries, rapes and armed robberies).
That said, I tend to believe that the criminalization of drug abuse -- at least the way we're doing it -- harms society much worse than the drug abuse itself. It makes America a bully in that we demand that little South American countries fight civil wars against third-world drug cartels that are financed by American addicts.
Maybe I'd change my mind if instead of imprisoning users and dealers we simply caused them to feel intense pain for a while and then released them. Or if we could install a chip that would cause instense pain whenever they used the drug. But trying to cut off the supply to addicts is as fruitless an endeavor as trying to prevent violent criminals from having weapons. Short of spending $35,000 per year to keep each individual locked up and under supervision (and even that doesn't always work), the only reliable way to stop them is to kill them.
There's nothing to be gained by the use of lesser punishments. There is no prohibition that will make people of a violent criminal mentality safe to be around, and nothing short of constant physical coercion will long separate an addict from his drug. Destroy them, or let them have what they want. That's the choice. [ January 12, 2005: Message edited by: Frank Silbermann ]
Joined: Jun 30, 2004
Originally posted by Jason Menard: ... The point of prison is punishment...
ahh - I see. Here we have a good old fashioned fundamental difference of opinion! I though