Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Battle, Lost

A significant part of the War On Crime is the War Against Drugs. Another un-winnable skirmish in an un-winnable war.

And a bloody expensive one. It is axiomatic that many prisoners have committed crimes which are 'drug related'. That is, robbed from Person A in order to buy drugs from Person B.

We could see the largest reduction in crime and imprisonment in human history if we simply - simply! - made drug use legal and affordable. The latest experience in Portugal reminds us of this unpalatable fact.

Another unwelcome bite of reality comes from the fact that prohibiting a product which is widely desired will inevitably lead to criminality. In production, supply and use, endless crimes will be committed. In response, vast resources are expended attempting to limit this activity, to no appreciable effect.

Opponents of drug legalisation demand that every possible problem that could flow from legalisation be answered. Well, it can't. The laws of unintended consequences always apply. But I assert, with some evidence, that the greatest harm that flows from drug use is the social response to it.

I have an idea. Drugs are not banned because of the social harm they cause. They are banned because - bear with me here - there is an innate urge within all Governments to assert control. They just can't stand people enjoying themselves too much!


  1. While I totally agree with you that prison is not the solution, we know from our own history, from the history of other ancient cultures (Japan) and what is going on now elsewhere (Afghanistan) that we still need to try and fight drug use in some way, albeit not by criminalisation.

    Where opium is freely available, totally legal and cheap people get hooked, spend their whole lives getting stoned and stop working. I completely disagree that drugs are banned because of a need to control by a government and I challenge you to produce an example of a government that started making drugs ileagal before they started to cause harm.

    Admittedly, making them ileagal is the first thing a government tries when they realise they have a problem; it is usually implemented poorly and it doesn't work well even when it is, but that's another issue. I suspect, for all it's faults, criminalisation still reduces the amount of harm drugs do across all of society when compared to complete deregulation and unfettered use.

    In other words, making drugs ileagal is a poor solution and we should try and find a better one, but it is probably a phase any developing society has to go through and is a step on the way to a more enlightened outlook. I doubt it's possible for a culture to jump from unfettered use to a program of education and regulation with controlled prescription use and therapy (or whatever does work) without going via a period of criminalisation.

    In summary, I agree with your conclusion but not your paranoia ;)

  2. Drug trafficking and trading has a long and sordid history, from the opium wars to today in Afghanistan where the invasion of the country has seen a massive rise in the trade. Drug trading has a lot to answer for, to say the least.

    Personally I believe that sobriety is the best, and I don't think that getting completely wasted or out of your skull holds any inherent enjoyment.

    However I do understand that people take drugs as an escape from their problems and downtrodden lives. Those that push drugs onto people are knowingly making those peoples problems even worse. Kind of like dragging people down into the hole that you are in.

    Drug use in Holland has been legalised and this has not lead to a massive rise in the taking of harder drugs, you can have a choice of what type of drug you want and the drugs are more safe (i.e not laced for example).

    I agree that drugs should be legalised and/ or de-criminalised so that the huge numbers of people who experiment can do so in a safer environment.

    Governments do seek to control the populations they govern, and even have a hand in the economics of the drugs trade, and they don't like to see the masses enjoying themselves either, hence the crack down on the rave scene with the criminal justice bill which outlawed the listening to 'repetitive beats' in the 1990's.

    There is so much double standards concerning the issue of drugs. Tobacco is the most harmful substance to people, yet totally legal and taxed to the hilt. Some tobacco companies in the US even sell health care insurance as well!

    Tobacco should be banned and drugs legalised. (probably making myself extremely unpopular here, ha ha)

  3. According to Theodore Dalrymple, the connection between drugs and crime, is that crime leads to drugs; owing to the group culture of young criminal gangs.

    The argument being that: junkies don't make good burglars or muggers; but good burglars and muggers, would have money and time for 'recreation'.

    Ironically, as drug addiction, especially opiates, can ruin peoples work effectiveness, so does it stymie a criminals capabilities. Therefore (effective) banning of drugs would improve the efficiency of criminal activity as well as legitimate economical activity.

    Hence a solution might be: to outlaw opiates, but not to prosecute antisocial users, such as burglars or muggers, just arrest the 'nice' people.


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