I have removed the search box because it was not working but the search box in the title bar seems to.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Limiting the Harm

The effects of all recreational drugs can be harmful. Everyone agrees.

Cannabis can lead to psychosis - but not very often. How many of the cannabis users you know are psychotic? Clearly, it's fun.

Drunkenness is responsible for a huge proprtion of A&E attendances. Alcohol makes you unproductive and accident-prone. It's bad news in the workplace and in the bloodstream of drivers. Lots of it over a long period can rot your liver. At the same time it contributes massively to conviviality. There is no way that we would ever contemplate a repetition of the US prohibition experiment.

Tobacco use is unpleasant for non-users and it's really bad for your lungs. All the same, smokers, like everyone else, are living longer. Most smokers don't get lung cancer. I'm a smoker but not an advocate of smoking. Nor do I advocate criminalising smoking.

The use of pure heroin with clean needles is not very harmful. Nearly all heroin users give it up and eventually die of something else. Street heroin is almost never pure. Injectors do not always use sterile needles. I wouldn't want a blissed-out doctor or accountant dealing with my health or my taxes.

Recreational drugs permeate our society. We deal with them in different ways. Some are taxed and regulated. We do what we can to keep even the legal ones away from children.

We are never going to send people to prison just for using or selling booze or fags. Of course, we do send people to prison for smuggling booze and fags.

For centuries we muddled along with all manner of recreational drugs. There were some good effects, some neutral effects and some harmful effects. Common sense prevailed. Drunkenness was tolerated but getting into a drunken punch-up was not. Spending money on gin or opium rather than food for your kids was agreed by all to be bad. Most kids did not starve.

In the twentieth century, while the customs, incentives and laws regulating sexual behaviour were steadily relaxed, the state turned its attention to regulating the way we were allowed to use chemicals for fun. Prohibition in the US was a manifest disaster and was eventually repealed. But more and more drugs which had been legal were prohibited with what I believe were similarily catastrophic effects.

The Eighteenth Amendment did nothing to reduce demand. The same has been true of of other prohibitions. Prohibition of alcohol in the USA had a number of consequences. The first was to put money and power into the hands of the worst people in society, those who were prepared to flout the law for their own profit. The accompanying corruption of the justice system followed inevitably.

Huge resources were ineffectively committed to frustrating the bootleggers. The explosion of violence as the villains fought back and with each other could have been predicted.

Prohibition was repealed. A lesson had been learnt. But the lesson was not applied elsewhere. Anti-marijuana and anti-heroin and anti-cocaine and anti-exstasy legislation rolled on and on with predictable results. Crime and drug use became conflated just as crime and alcohol use had been during the years of prohibition.

Huge numbers of thinking people have concluded that enough is enough. Demand cannot be suppressed by the criminal law. The 'war on drugs' is lost. I don't believe that it is defeatest to admit this. Reforming drugs legislation is overdue. The answer is regulation. Just as we attempt to minimise harm from alcohol by regulating (and taxing) its use, so should we regulate and tax the drugs we now prohibit. Harm will remain but the harms caused by criminalising drugs (money and power to crooks, deaths from impure supplies, massive waste of resources, lives ruined by crime) will be mitigated.

Below is a link to a website dedicated to reducing the harm caused by recreational drugs, Transform Drugs Policy Foundation. It is packed with information.

No comments:

Post a Comment