Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A Conversation about Drugs with some Policemen.

I had a (social) conversation with some people who worked for Dibble at the weekend. Some were world-weary cynical beat officers, who ultimately agreed with me. The younger warranted officers, and those civilians (I hate it when the filth use that word) working for organisations like the Serious and Organised Crime Agency did not. The question was the war on Drugs, and for a couple of my friends, it is axiomatic that we need to start imprisoning people who take drugs as well as those who sell them - "like Singapore", they said. One said "like Mao". Scratch a policeman, you find a fascist who believes in the state's right to make decisions for you. At least until they reach 40 and realise the futility of this approach in what is still, despite the Police's best efforts, still a free society. My friend who wants to execute heroin addicts, is also a keen proponent of arming the police...

Let's start with an assumption: We want to live in a free society. It would be possible to meaningfully interdict supply of narcotics and to discourage use with draconian law-enforcement, but to do so would be utterly incompatible with that free society.

From that flows the observation that we, as a society are unwilling to interdict supply of narcotics - the cost in lost trade, in law enforcement effort, in disruption to innocent people's privacy and so forth are too high. We cannot therefore meaningfully interdict supply.

The result of this is that the trade in narcotics goes on. It's a multi-billion dollar industry, the profits of which fund organised crime, and which has poor customer service and lousy quality control. Manky, shared syringes and less than sterile smack lead to infections and that cadaverous heroin pallor. Cocaine is often cut with other stimulants, sugars, novocaine and cow-dewormer, which weakens the immune system. The problems stemming from this are due entirely to the illegal supply chain and would be mitigated by legalisation.

Gangs fighting over profits bring violence and death to the streets. This too is a problem of the criminal supply-chain and would be mitigated by legalisation. Acquisitive crime by users to fund their habit would be mitigated by a legal and controlled (and possibly medicalised for genuine addicts) supply chain.

The logic of prohibition stems from the observation that even pure Cocaine and Heroin are really bad for you, habit-forming and have potentially catastrophic effects on people's lives, and should therefore be banned. The logical leap made in this reasoning is undone by the first assumption made in this piece. WE CANNOT MEANINGFULLY INTERDICT SUPPLY IN A FREE SOCIETY. Access to booze is more controlled than is the access to drugs, which are freely available once you have a dealer's number. Dealers don't care whether you're 18, have a real problem controlling your intake, or are otherwise vulnerable, so long as you have the cash, of which, incidentally they care not its source.

People have always used psychopharmacological substances wherever they're found, from Reindeer piss containing extract of Amanatia Muscaria to hemp, tobacco booze psilocybin mushrooms and coca, to get high. Even in the UK, anyone who wants illegal drugs can get them, whenever they want. So it doesn't necessarily follow that there would be more users with a legal supply chain. And those who did use, would be using better, cleaner product with fewer side effects, and not enriching criminals while doing so. Indeed Marijuana, a drug with few social side effects would often be a substitute for alcohol leading to less violence in taxi-ranks at 3-am. So too the "party drugs" would mean less blood and vomit on the streets as the loved-up do less pagga than the pissed-up.

As for Heroin, it seems obvious to me that legalisation would reduce dependence: currently the Smack supply chain is a pyramid scheme - low level dealers do so to fund their supply, and so recruit their mates. No-one sets out to be a junkie, but many fall into it. Fewer would if other drugs were freely available. The explosion of problem heroin users happened AFTER the drug was made illegal. Before, Morphine addiction was known as the Soldiers' disease as most picked up their habit in hospitals.

Ultimately a fully legal recreational pharmacy would probably see heroin and alcohol substituted for marijuana and cocaine. Two chemicals with low lethal doses will be substituted for two substances in the short term at least, it's impossible to overdose to death. And instead of funding an army of Police and customs officials, and wasting scarce military resources on impoverishing Andean and Afghan farmers, we can tax the most profitable trade the world has ever known.

There are simply no sane arguments for continued prohibition of narcotic drugs, something even most police officers eventually work out.


nisakiman said...

You are of course quite correct that the 'drug problem' is not actually caused by the drugs themselves, but by their prohibition. That much is obvious to anyone with an iota of reasoning ability, not least those who prosecute this 'war', I'm sure.

However, what you have to remember is that the countless billions of taxpayer's money used to support this pogrom is largely disbursed among those tasked with policing, prosecuting and punishing the transgressors, and also those suppliers of the specialist equipment that many of them use.

It is an industry on a par with the illegal drug trade itself, employing tens, if not hundreds of thousands. So of course, it is in their interests to maintain the status quo. To hell with the collateral damage, just keep the funding rolling in.

And that is why it is highly unlikely that we will ever see any sensible moves to put an end to the insanity. The 'war on drugs' is a very profitable business.

Anonymous said...

Is my memory correct that drug addicts used to be given prescriptions for their addiction, or just an aged brain lurching into its dotage? Was their a huge drugs problem then? The lost tax revenue from our war on drugs is a serious loss to our other addictions: the NHS and Welfare. There is, of course, a sort of Laffer curve - at the high end it drives people into criminal activity because it is profitable, and you should see the war on drugs as a too-high top-tax-rate. If the bloody things were legalised and taxed at a sensible rate we might get a lot more control over them.

nisakiman said...

@ anon

Yes, your memory is quite correct. I remember when I lived in London in the late 60s that around midnight the heroin addicts would converge on the all-night pharmacy in Picadilly Circus (one of the few allowed to dispense it) for their heroin prescriptions to be filled.

And there were very few heroin addicts in those days, and no 'drug problem' (unless you classify us dope smokers then as a 'drug problem').

They got clean heroin, clean needles and just paid the pharmacy price.

It changed when all the international treaties on drugs were pushed through by the Americans, and under the treaty, the Brits couldn't prescribe heroin any more.

And that's when all the trouble started.

Anonymous said...

The police are a business. They want good jobs, overtime, great pensions and empires through which their careers can flourish.

So, of course, they support the war on drugs.

They are forever doing their best to criminalise everything.

In the USA, prison officer unions hand many campaign dollars over to politicians who support incarceration for users.

Once again, jobs, money etc.


Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree that opiates should be legally avialable.

A growing source of opiate addiction in the US is availability of legal painkillers, used for recreation, rather than their intended purpose. I posit that this is a natural experiment in what would happen in a "licensed, controlled and taxed" legalisation proces.

In my opinion this would lead to massively increased availability and the commercial exploitation of that opportunity, resulting in more addicts.

Unfortunately once addicted, people suffer very serious social issues.

As for the pharma companies dealing these products via the pill mills, well you can't really condone their pushing, can you?


Jackart said...

Anon. A reasonable point. But would people take Vikodin "recreationally" if they had access to weed/cocaine/anything else? No-one's saying opiates are good for you. Drug use can be catastrophic. But the harms are more easily mitigated with a legal supply chain.

Jackart said...

Anon. A reasonable point. But would people take Vikodin "recreationally" if they had access to weed/cocaine/anything else? No-one's saying opiates are good for you. Drug use can be catastrophic. But the harms are more easily mitigated with a legal supply chain.

liberalengineering said...

Well done Jackart, your argument is irrefutable.

This is the evidence based blogging we used to see 7 or 8 years ago that is sorely missed. Its seems that telling the truth became a bit cliche since the MP's expenses scandal, and now everyone is a bit blasé about it once again.

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