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You mean there's a war, and people on drugs are winning it?
June 15, 2001 6:24 AM   Subscribe

You mean there's a war, and people on drugs are winning it? The latest additions to the Gruaniads special report on drugs are interesting. In the top story Scotland Yard is endorsing a more relaxed attitude towards cannabis possession. Nick Davies has written a series of two articles, mostly focussing on heroin, about how drug prohibition actually increases the spread of illegal drugs and causes most of the related health problems. Looks like legalisation is good for everybody.
posted by MrImpossible (21 comments total)

 
One big proviso: these things don't necessarily scale, so the encouraging success of small-scale treatment programmes which lift addicts out of the black market can't necessarily be extrapolated into a demand for legalisation. That's because it's easier to work against the grain, with carefully-controlled local access to "hard" drugs, and tolerance of cannabis, under the fog of a purported "war". The social impact of legalisation would change things in ways that we really can't predict.

Any kind of incremental, treatment-led approach, though, is better than the current posturing.
posted by holgate at 6:58 AM on June 15, 2001


The social impact of legalisation would change things in ways that we really can't predict


What I would find interesting is what would happen to all those folks in jail with multiple life sentances for drug trafficing if cannabis was legalized? It's funny. One day you get a harsher sentance than someone that's convicted of 1st degree murder, then the next people are buying the stuff like they buy coffee (btw, coffee's bad for you).
posted by samsara at 7:14 AM on June 15, 2001


Holgate, obviously Nick Davies has a particular point to argue, but the facts in his two articles do seem to indicate that legalisation would reduce drug use and the harmful effects suffered by users at the moment.

Until the early 70's heroin could be prescribed by doctors to addicts. The intention was not, as I understand it, to wean them of it, but just to keep the supply clean. Heroin is, apparently, very hard to overdose on. There were fewer than 500 addicts in 1971.

Make heroin illegal, and you get all the problems of dirty needles and contaminants. Plus, in order to pay the black market prices, users recruit other users to sell to, who recruit others.... in a kind of pyramid sales plan. There are now up to 500,000 users.

Now it might not be as simple as that but it's a compelling argument. I'd be really interested in hearing peoples counter-arguments.
posted by MrImpossible at 8:47 AM on June 15, 2001


Every time there is a death, we should ask ourselves if we are really doing all we can to stop it happening. If there were safe heroin injection rooms for addicts, if ecstasy tablets were tested in clubs, would that save lives? Being "tough on drugs" should not mean being so tough on our children that we inadvertently kill them for being disobedient.

That is imho, one of the most common sense statements I have heard from someone who confesses to being anti-drugs.

I think though that the Government and the media should start being honest about drugs. It's true that drugs kill - but too many people forget what the biggest killers are - Tobacco and Alcohol.
posted by twistedonion at 8:49 AM on June 15, 2001


"Looks like legalization is good for everybody."
No. Not really.
The War on Drugs is a failure (children in any American city have easier access to hardcore drugs than they have to alcohol and tobacco) by anyone's standards. Yet we spend some 30 billion a year, every year on it.
A big reason why it has gone on so long is the collusion of self interests behind it.
1 Massively profitable pharmaceutical companies do not want people growing their own medicine
2 Any number of state and federal bureaucracies that have seen their budgets expand at a phenomenal rate since 1970.
3 Since drug offenders make up nearly 60% of federal inmates our prisons, courts and criminal defense attorneys depend on on the war for their livelihood.
The list could go on and on.
The answer is easy. Decriminalize. Keep it 21 and over. No advertising. Drugs could be purchased through government stores. Hard core addicts could be steered towards treatment. Tax it to pay for the process, treatment and all.
posted by keithl at 10:49 AM on June 15, 2001


Why 21 and over? You can buy cigarettes at age 16, and if 16 year olds are going to be smoking something, far better it be a nonaddictive depressant like cannabis than a strongly addictive stimulant like tobacco.

"No alcohol until 21" is a thoroughly bogus principle anyway, and I'd hate to see it applied to other behaviours. Are 18 year olds adults, or aren't they? If they're adults, what gives us the right to prevent them from drinking alcohol?

Aside from that, I agree with you.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:29 AM on June 15, 2001


You've actually hit upon my worries, MrImpossible.

With a user base of 500,000, it's going to be difficult, even with a thorough legalisation and controlled supply programme, to break down the black market, particularly when those with most to lose are (don't say this too loudly) people with the money and influence to escape prosecution. (The case of Brian Charrington, who skipped the country after a long investigation imploded, is notorious on Teesside; it's alleged that a former local MP and several chief police officers had a role in giving him the chance to escape.)
posted by holgate at 12:00 PM on June 15, 2001


Mars, Here in California the age for tobacco is 18(I think) .
You're right about being an adult at 18 and not drinking being bogus. However studies show that people who don't use drugs are several times less likely to develop an addiction if they wait until they are 21. It makes sense when you think about the huge growth spurts teenagers go through.This is one of the big reasons I would like to see all drugs decriminalized.
Another reason is that drunk driving used to be much worse when the drinking age was 18 and 19. But I feel for 18 but not yet 21 crowd.
posted by keithl at 12:07 PM on June 15, 2001


Yes, I agree with you also, keithl. Furthermore I would add the dealers themselves to your list, as they have been generating fat cash from drug sales. Legalisation would cut their profits almost to nil. Which I think is a good thing, but they would probably object. The argument over whether it should be 21 or 18 or 16 or whatever is completely separate from the idea that legalisation would benefit society as a whole.

The city I live in, Baltimore MD, has one of the highest heroin addiction rates in the USA, over 10%. We have high high rates of breaking and entering and armed robbery, the highest occurance of STDs in the country, and 3 out of every five black people (yes, 60%) are infected with HIV. As blacks make up more than two thirds of the population of this city, that means a citywide infection rate of nearly 40% at least. Do I believe that these numbers are related? Yes. I think that the Drug War has been devastating for this city.
posted by donkeymon at 12:10 PM on June 15, 2001


What's always pissed me off about the 21 age cut-off point for drinking is selective service.
If you can be called to go die for your country, you should at least be allowed to get drunk enough to deal with that fact.
posted by dong_resin at 12:37 PM on June 15, 2001


Great point, Dong resin. Most military bases allow 18 and up drinking (only beer or wine). But it still seems unfair.
Can't believe I forgot to add drug dealers to my list as they certainly are a prominent part of it. Thanks donkeymon.
posted by keithl at 12:51 PM on June 15, 2001


Let me throw a couple of things out there:

1. FWIW, I'm pretty sure the age for tobacco sales is 18 nationwide. In some states it's higher.

2. if 16 year olds are going to be smoking something, far better it be a nonaddictive depressant like cannabis

...except that weed gets you high, and kids of 16 or 18 are allowed to drive. That's a scary thought.

3. I support the legalisation of pot, in theory, but the idea of "government stores" handing out packets of heroin and other opiates strikes me as something out of Brave New World. Also, once the Feds and the states get used to the revenue stream drug users would provide, what is their motivation to promote treatment? That may sound cyncial, but try to get New York or Massachusetts to give up their lottery revenue. It ain't gonna happen.
posted by jpoulos at 12:55 PM on June 15, 2001


I've heard budget estimates, from various purportedly reliable sources, of the USA's War on Drugs from anywhere between 32 and 72 billion dollars per year. A question to Mefis: does anyone know where to get "better" numbers to pin this thing down?

I'm heartened to see that most comments here are against the War on Drugs (myself, I believe the whole thing is a charade, essentially a war on the left, but that's somewhat off-thread). Have you considered joining or supporting an anti-war on drugs lobbying group? Myself, I'm a member of the ACLU, which definitely could use more support.
posted by LAM at 12:55 PM on June 15, 2001


Via a vis selective service and the drinking age. In Florida, at least, you can drink alcohol and be less than 21, if you have a military ID.
posted by LAM at 12:57 PM on June 15, 2001


A question to Mefis: does anyone know where to get "better" numbers to pin this thing down?

Well, Steven Baum's been talking about the Vietnam on Drugs for a while down at Ethel: and while it's not particularly impartial, it's certainly well-supported.
posted by holgate at 1:26 PM on June 15, 2001


Jpoulos, aren't the states and feds already used to the revenue stream from our taxes and forfeitures?
posted by keithl at 2:55 PM on June 15, 2001


Apparently my information is out of date - the FDA set the minimum age for tobacco purchase throughout the U.S. at 18 back in 1997.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:00 PM on June 15, 2001


...except that weed gets you high, and kids of 16 or 18 are allowed to drive. That's a scary thought.

They're also going to do a whole lot of other things, whether their high or not is unpredictable. I had easy access to alcohol and drugs at that age and I didn't get fucked up to go out cruising.

Also I don't see at what age someone becomes a responsible person 21, 30, 80, or whatever. Its subjective and taking the exceptions (young DUIs) and making them assumptions is nonthink.
posted by skallas at 5:25 PM on June 15, 2001


Sounds good to me. Perhaps the British police will also begin to tolerate other crimes which 'take up too much of their time and resources'.. say.. doing a safe 75mph on a 60mph road.

Tony Blair's Britain.. Our drivers are infinitely more dangerous than our druggies.
posted by wackybrit at 6:59 PM on June 15, 2001


Ah, but where would the police get the revenue to pay for all their perks, if they couldn't tag drivers via CCTV from the comfort of the control room?

Note that the chief constable in Cleveland who tolerated Brian Charrington's drug-dealing on Teesside while he remained a police informer of dubious value, was none other than -- you guessed it -- Keith Hellawell, the (now ex-) Drug Tsar.
posted by holgate at 7:03 PM on June 15, 2001


Legalize drugs, and tax the crap out of it. I've been saying this for years. Keithl is right though. Legalizing it would affect too many who like the status quo of the alleged war on drugs, and some of those who would be affected have enough political and financial clout to slow progress on change.

There's other areas this mindset of control exists however. Some conspiracy theorists have accused aspects of the medicine industry of curtailing or suppressing progress in alternative solutions to diabetes, because early findings indicated putting the insulin industry at risk: an industry that makes millions of dollars every year. Car companies have been accused of doing the same to progress in the design and manufacture of automobiles that would run 100% on electricity. Instead, the technology was used to create what we have today: essentially hybrid models of an electric car and the internal combustion engine design.

Big business despises change, unless they can control said change. The war on drugs was really an attempt to regulate an unregulatable industry. Even if drugs were legalized, it would still be difficult to determine which drug factories were legally sanctioned by the government and which were not properly paying taxes or following the stipulations laid down by various government agencies. The same thing was done with liquor in the US during the prohibition of the 1920s. The same thing that happened then has been happening with drugs over half a century later. Just as prohibition inreased crime on most levels but did nothing to slow the trafficking of alcohol to the masses, the War on Drugs has damaged our society. Will the humans ever learn?

After prohibition was repealed, what happened to the people who had been thrown in jail on charges of bootlegging? Were any of them let go? What did the gov't do? Shrug and say, "sorry" ?
posted by ZachsMind at 1:12 AM on June 16, 2001


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