Monday, 17 December 2012

In a War on Drugs, Why are Humans Going to Gaol?

Read this excellent post. Ewan Hoyle is a Liberal Democrat from North of the Border, likely an endangered species. But at their best, the Liberal Democrats are prepared to say what they think, hoping in vain that being right somehow correlates with being electable, which in the main, it doesn't. In doing so, he asks one pertinent question:

The passage up the lower slopes of the political mountain is getting increasingly smoother, as can be seen in the substance of the Home Affairs Select Committee report that was published last Monday. But when the arguments reach the political pinnacle, they are met with the usual intransigence and a gentle nudge off the nearest cliff-edge
The reason is of course the cost-benefit analysis. The UK is a signatory to the UN conventions on Narcotics. Much of the Popular press is extremely hostile, as is the majority of the (voting) public. As soon as something other than the simplistic 'war on drugs' is suggested, Leah Bett's parents will make damn sure that which ever politician introducing the changes will be Personally associated with front pages like this.


Never mind that the Rachel Whitear was killed in an environment where the strictest penalties are enforced for supplying heroin, and that it seems likely that while there may be more users (and in a liberal drug environment, I doubt even that), there is a simplistic cause/effect narrative that will be played upon HARD by opponents of reform. Ewan argues passionately in his post that a new narrative is needed and that confronting the political class with the need to admit failure is the stumbling block.

I disagree.

To take an extreme example: The German people collectively admitted guilt after WWII, and now they are model Global citizens, dominating others only with the excellence of their engineering the hardness of their work-ethic, economic prudence, and environmental concern. The drug warriors need to be demobilised, just as completely as the Wermacht in 1945 because they are WRONG, and nearly as murderous, destabilising entire continents in a utterly futile attempt to stop people self-medicating.

So why don't I think there would be more Rachel Whitears in an environment of legal and readily available supply? Because she died because of an overdose due to an unusually pure dose of street smack. This isn't going to a problem with a legal supply chain producing medical-grade products of known and predictable strength. But won't there be more people tempted to experiment? Ask yourself this: If you could get cocaine or opium, why would you experiment with injecting yourself with Heroin, something that is associated with catastrophic social outcomes? Very few people want to become junkies. Ultimately the reason there are 330,000 problem heroin addicts in the UK is the highly efficient criminal supply-chain which sees mid-level users recruiting new addicts in order to fund their own use. There weren't this number before the misuse of drugs act. If you cut out the criminal supply-chain, remove the profits and the incentive to recruit new users, we would go back to Heroin being an addiction of a small number of people, most of whom in pre-prohibition days became addicted in Hospital. Opiate addiction used to be known as 'the soldiers disease' for this reason.

 Where Hoyle skillfully deploys libertarian arguments, I agree wholeheartedly with him.
The 21st century war on drugs should instead take inspiration from ancient history and adopt a distinctly Roman style of capture and enslavement. It should be defined by the goal that drugs can be be our slaves but never our masters
Yes. Why do people share a bottle of Chilean Merlot after work. Because the alcohol is a relaxant. A bit of alcohol in the blood feels nice. Funnily enough, that's why people smoke pot too.
And that goes for all drugs. When a hard-working citizen returns from work on a Friday night and demands a soothing head massage from their servant drug, who are we to dictate whether that drug be a glass of red wine or a cannabis joint. The state has a role in educating on how a drug best be handled, and if a drug looks like it has ambitions to become a citizen's master, the state and citizen need to be able to work together to put that drug back in its place
However where I part company with Holye is where he takes the prohibitionists "research" at face value. The link between cannabis and psychosis is a correlation for example. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc? Are people prone to psychosis drawn to cannabis? Certainly people get psychotic without regular cannabis use, and many smoke daily without significant harm. However everyone who smokes cannabis who gets psychosis, you KNOW his family will be sure to blame the drug, because it's easier to believe than the other options. Cannabis use starts in adolescence, as do many mental health issues. Without research which isn't funded by governments desperate to prove that the war on Drugs is justified we'll never know if correlation implies causation.

Likewise, the evidence that "skunk" is uniquely wicked and is not the "mild stuff"your parents smoked is extraordinarily weak. Well maybe, but that's as likely due to freshness of domestic supply rather than the imported, dried and...old stuff our parents smoked. The figure of 33 times stronger, oft cited, doesn't bear scrutiny. The fact is, without research  we won't know. But accepting the prohibitionsts lies and exaggerations without question makes it unlikely we'll ever get answers, until we change the environment in which research is conducted.

The inertia that led to Nick Clegg being slapped down for calling for a Royal Commission on drugs, is the total buy-in of a medical-regulatory complex and total capture of of the debate by law-enforcement; people who simply don't see the need to examine the evidence. Drugs are a social evil in their view, and must be fought. All "experts" have until recently been drawn from this community. Even Professor David Nutt, who's said some sensible things on drugs, often seems more intent on banning Alcohol. Where I really disagree with Hoyle is the trust of the state, and the mistrust of private enterprise.
the problems that might arise if there were companies who would profit from the artificial promotion of cannabis, or particular strains. It might therefore be wise for commercial interests to be excluded from the market altogether. The best way to prevent advertising and marketing encouraging consumers to make decisions against their interests and those of society is to as far as possible ensure that nobody's wealth would be dependent upon continued use of the drug or of particular forms of the drug. It is quite possible a state monopoly is the only model that can demonstrate to the voters that legalisation is a process we are embarking upon with appropriate care, with the highest regard for the health and happiness of the nation.
I simply don't trust the state to set the price appropriately, supply efficiently, and conveniently enough to deny a market to the criminal enterprises which will seek to maintain their market. It is unlikely a state supply of MDMA would be available where it's wanted: civil servants don't attend nightclubs on a Saturday night. Dealers do. By all means tightly regulate the market in terms of quality, and supply to minors. But let the market do its work. Trust people to make decisions based on what they want. What they want, often isn't the alcohol which is the cause of much blood and vomit on a Friday night. They also don't want to become junkies. So I agree the state has a role in education, research into effects and quality control, and the provision of addiction services, but leave the supply to people who might actually make it more convenient than the illegal supply-chain.

Until there's a mature debate around why people take drugs from Cannabis to Cocaine - because they're fun - and can play a part in a productive life, people will continue to die unnecessarily from dirty drugs of unknown quality and strength. Skunk treated with fungicides without regulation may even be the cause of some of the psychosis. Who knows?
Drug policy reform is not about liberating drugs. It's about liberating people from ignorance, persecution and the drugs that have power over them. Can we please finally declare a war on drugs so that we can capture and enslave them and put them to work easing our pains and helping us smile. Without a proper war on drugs with sensible, realistic goals, too many people will be left to fight and lose their own personal battles without the knowledge, help - and in some cases drugs - that they need to triumph.
Thanks to the Liberal Democrats, and countries like Portugal with successful decriminalisation experiments, drug legalisation is now firmly on the agenda. It will be a hard push. But first we must persuade people who read the Daily Mail that it's the Drug war that's killing kids, not drugs. And we won't do that by accepting lies told by people who're totally invested in the status-quo and who believe they're doing God's work. Ultimately, decriminalisation is an utterly unsatisfactory half-way house, because it will leave the supply-chain in criminal hands, and THAT'S WHERE THE PROBLEM IS. Decriminalisation should be resisted, lest it discredit what might actually work. And let's not beat about the bush: The war on drugs has failed, and the collateral damage isn't worth the outcome. Let's put the blame for the tens of thousands of deaths worldwide where they belong.



2 comments:

Starship Fighter said...

Bravo, Sir. Bravo!
You have a habit of encapsulating my thoughts on several subjects, and expressing them in a way which I would find myself incapable of doing. This one is no exception...
I can't help but feel though that we're in a waiting game at the moment. Despite them being the 'Free Love' generation, this sort of legislation will, in our country at least, need most of them to die off before anything changes. I know through (often painful) personal experience that your point about the real harm being done by the 'war on drugs' rather than the drugs themselves to be absolutely correct, but it really does feel like I'm screaming in to the void when I try and talk honestly with people of my parent's generation about drugs. Despite drugs being incapable of action, they are simply 'evil' and nothing I can say has ever convinced anyone otherwise.

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