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Should Hard Drugs be decriminalised for all now?

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 01:52:56 PM EST

Not for the first time in my short dalliance here have I felt myself to be at the butt end of the contempt reserved for those who really don't "get it" when it comes to the serious business of progressive socio-econo-political argument.  

My latest infringement of the canons of progressive thought was to question the obvious logic of decriminalising the use and supply of hard drugs.  Indeed my old friend and sometime scourge FPS Doug aka Jacob Freeze was moved to compare me in Countdown to $200 Oil and Nickel Heroin  to the hapless Mr. Magoo for my myopic stance that there might just be some arguments in favour of retaining a significantly penal approach to some aspects of hard drug use, but particularly to hard drugs supply.   FPS Doug:

Frank Schnittger doesn't want the "War on Drugs" to lose its gun license, even though it keeps shooting everything except what it aims at.

The apposite persona to flesh out this metaphor is Mr. Magoo.

Apparently, only puritanical establishment stooges and MSM dupes can possibly take such a position.  I had at that stage engaged in some Socratic questioning of the arguments being put forward by the proponents of de-criminalisation but had also attempted to summarise what I felt where the 10 strongest arguments in favour of decriminalisation.  So much for trying to be even handed!  So I said "what the hell, If I am going to be cast as a myopic idiot I may as well earn the epithet and also list what I felt where the main arguments against de-criminalisation.

The conversation which followed was somewhat desultory, coming as it did at he end of a 133 comment discussion linked to a Diary which wasn't really about decriminalisation in the first place.  So I felt it warranted fresh exposure in diary form.   My thanks to ceebs, R343L, rg, edwin, someone, and Sven Triloqvist and the many others who have already contributed to the debate which helped me to flesh out some of the arguments.


Let me also acknowledge at the outset that this is not an "all or nothing" debate as it can sometimes be presented by its more extreme protagonists.  Thus it may not be a case of the Status Quo (or even more punitive criminalisation of hard drugs) versus a hard drugs free for all.  There are a whole range of options for a gradual incremental liberalisation  which can test the waters in an evidence based way. (E.g. the legalisation of Marijuana for therapeutic use as a very small first step).

However, before you can make the case for incremental reforms you have to make the case for what general directions those reforms should go in.  Should the reforms be liberalising or even more restrictive?  I could take the soft option and propose some modest liberalising reforms that most people here could agree to as at least a start.  However being the reactionary fundamentalist that I am I insist on going back to first principles and ask the more fundamental underlying question: should the reforms be in the general direction of de-criminalisation or of even harsher measures - such as testing of drivers for drugs as well as alcohol, something which is not done in Ireland and many other jurisdictions as far as I am aware.

The main arguments for legalisation are as follows:

1.    People have a right to have some fun in their lives.  Alcohol and cigarettes are legal, so why not "hard" drugs?   People have to die of something, they may as well have some fun before they do so.

2.    Individuals are sovereign and the state should "interfere" as little as possible and it is only do-gooders and interfering bureaucrats who think they know what's good for people.  The "right to take drugs", like  "the right to bear arms"  is an essential individual and human right and safeguard against the tyranny of "society" and the state

3.    Prohibition did  not to work in relation to Alcohol.  Criminalisation may actually encourage hard drug taking by giving it a rebellious mystique.  

4.    Hard drugs are not necessarily all that damaging to health in themselves, some may have beneficial effects in certain circumstances.

5.    Many of the harmful effects are a consequence of them being illegal and uncontrolled - e.g. dirty needles, contaminated product, uncontrolled dosages, uneducated users, and the criminal, marginalised, homeless, or otherwise unhealthy subcultures within which many of the drugs are often taken

6.    Addiction is as much a socially learned behaviour as it is a physiological disorder, if not more so.  Ergo usage, in itself, is not addictive.  OK some people may get addicted, have violent reactions etc. but that is due to social / medical conditions and should be handled though improved social welfare and healthcare systems.

7.    The costs of drug related crime to society are huge and could be much reduced by legalisation Jerome a Paris:

decriminalizing drugs would instantly cut crime by 90% or so - both by eliminating drug trafficking and by completely eliminating the need for petty criminality by addicts to pay for another dose.
.   The presence of a drug related and funded criminal sub-culture can also provide the basis for larger criminal and dysfunctional tendencies/organisations in society (e.g. Mafia)

8.    Criminalisation was introduced for political reasons to attack the anti-war counter cultural movements of the 60's.  It serves the interests of corrupt elites, and security organisations such as the CIA.  Police forces, prison services, and the entire legal industry have a vested interest in ensuring a continuing supply of crimes to justify their inflated budgets and costs to society.

9.    Criminalisation creates a huge class of unjustly convicted criminals generally from minority or disadvantaged groups.

10.    Things couldn't be much worse than they currently are so any liberalising reforms are worth trying at least on an incremental basis.  Even some law enforcement agencies accept the futility of trying to eradicate hard drug use, so criminalisation basically hasn't worked, and its time to try a completely different strategy.

So what are the arguments AGAINST decriminalising hard drugs?

1.    It will make drug hard drug usage much more widespread.  Alcohol consumption increased dramatically after Prohibition.

2.    It's all very well for educated, well-informed, self-disciplined individuals to engage in some experimentation, but legalisation will expose children, disabled, socially inadequate and other vulnerable groups to much greater peer pressures to experiment.

3.    Many people exceed speed limits and still do not cause accidents because they are skilful and alert drivers.  Speeding is still criminalised for all, however, even though it may only be dangerous when engaged in by unskilful drivers with poor judgement as to when it might cause an accident.  This is a bummer for skilful drivers, but it is the price we all pay to reduce the statistical incidence of accidents.  So just because many people have had positive experiences with drugs (because they know what they're doing) doesn't mean that drugs should be legalised for all.  In fact laws are generally made to control the most stupid, inherently unstable, borderline insane amongst us.  Regrettably this restricts the freedom of those who can distinguish between use and abuse.

4.    There are already huge social costs associated with alcohol, tobacco, and the over- prescription of prescribed drugs.  However even legal drugs like alcohol have huge social costs Sven Triloqvist:

the estimated social cost of alcohol in France is 1.2% - 1,4% of GDP.

Source: WHO Europe, Eurocare (European Alcohol Policy Alliance) and the Institute of Alcohol Studies

.  Why make that worse?  We need to make social drug use more restrictive, not less.  Campaigns to reduce alcohol consumption (drink driving) and smoking are having some success.

5.    Medical opinion is that many "hard drugs" are damaging to health especially when taken over a prolonged period of time, in conjunction with other drugs (e.g. alcohol) or by people with pre-existing medical conditions (that they may, or may not know about)..  New drugs are becoming available all the time and we don't have much data on their short, medium and long term effects yet.

6.    If some drugs DO have beneficial effects for some conditions (e.g. Marijuana) then their use should be licensed for medical use like any other prescribed drug, but this is irrelevant to the general argument about recreational use.

7.    We are promoting a culture of drug dependency.  reducing people to Zombies instead of educating them to be self-confident, self-reliant independent citizens who develop a greater capacity to deal with their "issues".

8.    The fact that a large element of addiction  is socially learned behaviour doesn't make it any less real or difficult to overcome.

9.    Addiction programs are very expensive and notoriously unsuccessful and most do little more than stabilise the level of addiction and mitigate the harm done.

10.    You can mitigate the harmful effects of criminalising drugs, by having needle exchange programs, methadone programs, prisoner and family support programs and focusing on larger dealers rather than users when it comes to law enforcement.  Health care for addicts is in any case non-judgmental and seeking treatment reduces, not increases the threat of prosecution in enlightened jurisdictions.

11.    Unless we are advocating a "free for all", legalising and regulating hard drugs will create huge ethical dilemmas for the medical and pharmaceutical professions who will be expected to prescribe and/or dispense drugs they know may be harmful to patients who are supposed to be under their care and form whom they may not have complete medical profiles.  This is a gross abuse of the health care system which should be focused on other priorities.

12.    It is impossible to regulate how even legally dispensed hard drugs will be taken - dosages, mixing with alcohol, whilst driving, whilst pregnant, whilst working in sensitive jobs requiring high judgment/motor skills which can be impaired by such drugs.  We all these problems with alcohol now, why make them worse?

13.     The more restrictive the "legal" dispensing rules, the greater the scope for at least a residual "illegal" market with all the problems we have now.

14.    Crime will be with us always.  Criminals will simply move on to other activities if drug trafficking becomes less profitable.  The law enforcement industry will find new "crimes" to justify their existence.  The end of Prohibition did not have a lasting effect on the costs of crime or law enforcement.

15.    The criminalisation of drugs, and "the war on drugs" may, indeed, have been introduced for all the wrong reasons which had little to do with the welfare of society.  However, that does not mean drugs should be de-criminalised, it means drug use and law enforcement should be de-politicised.  

16.    The US will always have a war on something.  If not Drugs, then Islam, or Russia, or Iran, or Venezuela, or greedy oil producers. The US needs to have an external enemy it can define as "other" in order to enforce conformity and compliance at home. As wars go, TWOD is no more inane then usual. How it is being waged is a political issue which really has nothing to do with whether drugs should or should not be legalised.

Let the bunfight begin!  

Can I make a couple of suggestions for anyone who wants to comment?  

i)  If you are taking issue with an argument against decriminalization, please consider whether it has already been adequately addressed in the arguments for decriminalisation, and vice versa.

ii) Accusations of puritanism, tales of the wonderful experiences YOU have had with drugs, or utopian dreams of healthcare/welfare services that can do everything for everybody and societies where no one is marginalised or alienated are probably not helpful in addressing the central question posed by this dairy: Not would I like hard drugs to be legal for my self, but Should Hard Drugs be decriminalised for all NOW?

Poll
Which statement most clsoely reflects your view?
. Hard Drugs Should be decriminalised for all NOW 10%
. There should be a slow, incremental, evidence based approach to decriminalisation 55%
. The current legal status quo, possibly with minor adjustment, is as good as it gets 0%
. Law enforcement should be tightened up in conjunction with improved health services 5%
. There should be a Zero tolerance approach to hard drug supply and use 10%
. Flog em, hang em, and shoot em just to make sure 0%
. None of the above 20%

Votes: 20
Results | Other Polls
Display:
The most comprehensive and unhysterical set of answers to almost all of these questions can be found at Drugscope. They neither advocate drug taking nor dramatize the facts. Their aim is to inform policy and reduce risk.

http://www.drugscope.org.uk/

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 03:35:58 PM EST
And that's the right answer.  Having dealt with people hopped up on hard drugs like cocaine, but also being pretty militant about the "My government doesn't own my body" view, I'm conflicted on it.  And then there's the -- in my view, perfectly valid -- argument that it's wrong to penalize the overwhelming majority of drug users who aren't causing problems simply because some can't handle their highs.

I'm also not wild about throwing people in jail for things that I've done more times than I'd care to admit.

This is all to say nothing of what I think is clearly the fact that the Drug War has not worked, and it will not work.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 04:10:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I haven't ever caused a car accident and I like to drive fast.  I'm pissed that I can be criminalised for speeding just because other people are bad drivers and can't handle speed.  Does that mean speed limits should be abolished?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 04:43:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The two are not the same.  Sitting in your house doing a shot of heroine is not the same as being in a car.  We're all in potential danger when you're in your car, just as you'd all be in potential danger if I got in my car.  There's a public vs private dynamic that's not captured in your analogy.

That said, speed all you like.  I don't drive, and I doubt your car's going to hurt the train I'm on. ;)

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 04:59:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Drew J Jones:
That said, speed all you like.  I don't drive, and I doubt your car's going to hurt the train I'm on. ;)

Have you ever been a pedestrian?

Granted shooting heroin in your own home hurts no one except maybe your marriage and your kids, but most people shoot heroin in public places and leave dirty needles about. If they overdose or mix it with other drugs they may end up in casualty taking up scarce health care resources.  In practice, few things in life are entirely private and don't have (a sometimes severe) impact on others.

Criminalisation may be inappropriate, unhelpful, counter productive, a restriction of civil liberties,  and over the top, but does allowing the relatively free availability of heroin not come with other risks and costs within our cultural context?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 05:26:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
If they overdose or mix it with other drugs they may end up in casualty taking up scarce health care resources.  In practice, few things in life are entirely private and don't have (a sometimes severe) impact on others.

I think mountain climbing, boxing or other extreme ways of treating your body (joining the military comes to mind) comes closer to drugs, then speeding does. Then you have the direct bodily harm centered on the agent, though the risks are shared with those around.

Btw, professional boxing is outlawed in Sweden. No illegal market there (afaik), instead the boxers move. Mountain climbing is legal though.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 06:13:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose they can't move the mountains.....

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 06:20:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is definitely an issue upon which we should stay away from arguments from analogy.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 08:41:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks. I've read quite a bit of stuff on the site and it does a good job of taking some of the MSM hysteria out of the drugs issue.  But unless I've missed it, it doesn't really argue the case for decriminalisation one way or the other.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 04:51:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And quite rightly imo. It is hardly a black and white problem. Ultimately it will be the majority that decides according to the representatives that the majority elects. That decision has to be based on hard information, and Drugscope does an important job in correcting the disinformation of both sides.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 05:34:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
1.    It will make drug hard drug usage much more widespread.  Alcohol consumption increased dramatically after Prohibition.

Alternatively, if we look at India, a society which has ample ability to grow it's own opium, along with very well established smuggling links with a major world source (Afghanistan) and a heroin trade with hundreds of years of history behind it.

You can buy opium and heroin on the streets of Delhi for less (in PPP terms, not just absolute) than a packet of cigarettes in London or Dublin.

And yet... addiction rates are not massively higher than alcoholism is here.

The pattern is even reflected in the heroin addiction rates in the UK pre-criminalisation. There is a blanket assumption of massively increased usage (and I have to admit, some pretty white girls will get addicted and make a big splash on the front of the Daily Mail) but there's actually remarkably little evidence to suggest that the foreseen mass addiction will take place.

[It's worth noting in passing that there's an issue of developing safe formats here too. Alcoholism isn't a good thing, but if we compare beer to whiskey, the criminalisers logic would have you believe that it is inevitable that anyone who drink will graduate to two bottles of whiskey a day within 6 months or so, then move on to methanol and die...]

15.    The criminalisation of drugs, and "the war on drugs" may, indeed, have been introduced for all the wrong reasons which had little to do with the welfare of society.  However, that does not mean drugs should be de-criminalised, it means drug use and law enforcement should be de-politicised.

A number of your other points hinge on this one.

9.    Addiction programs are very expensive and notoriously unsuccessful and most do little more than stabilise the level of addiction and mitigate the harm done.

Addiction programs for heroin which use heroin (instead of methadone) have approx 80% greater success rates. But it's too political to address.


10.    You can mitigate the harmful effects of criminalising drugs, by having needle exchange programs, methadone programs, prisoner and family support programs and focusing on larger dealers rather than users when it comes to law enforcement.  Health care for addicts is in any case non-judgmental and seeking treatment reduces, not increases the threat of prosecution in enlightened jurisdictions.

Large numbers of hard drug users are not provided with treatment and are taken out of the community and put in prison, where they are surrounded by other drug users and locked in a room with nothing to do AND there is a well established drugs market in operation. But it's too political to address.

Whenever the police are under "target and performance metric pressure" they respond to the letter of the law and mop up users instead of going for dealers, because, hey, the law is the law. But it's too political to address.

As for "health care for addicts is non-judgemental" I fear we're mixing jurisdictions far too much here. I don't live in a place where that is the case. If you do, then perhaps you have a strong case for keeping criminalisation. But not only do I not live in a place where that is so, but pretending it can be falls under:

ccusations of puritanism, tales of the wonderful experiences YOU have had with drugs, or utopian dreams of healthcare/welfare services that can do everything for everybody and societies where no one is marginalised or alienated are probably not helpful in addressing the central question posed by this dairy

The reality is that I'd prefer that decriminalisation was not the only option, but in my lifetime I've seen that efforts to combat supply have failed and the apparatus around treatment and law enforcement largely exists to give ministers a way to get some good headlines in the Daily Mail. As such we will never begin to face up to the reasons for increased drug abuse and we suffer horrendous (and needless) criminality because that criminality only destroys the lives of the poor, who can't move away from the "no-go areas" where the dealers live and fight their turf wars...

[We don't even measure the consequences for crime that hard drugs involves. Like prohibition, the profits build gangs that warp our society in very corrupting ways, but it's easier to measure the GDP loss of alcohol, so we stick with that...]

I didn't vote in the poll because I do in fact believe in incremental decriminalisation, there are a lot of reasons to believe there will be large temporary effects and so "doing it now" isn't the wisest move.

I oppose very strongly however, the notion that existing bodies are suitable to judge "evidence" for an "evidence-based" approach. There are many scientists and medical researchers who produce good evidence, but the record of the people commissioning the research is one of bias, omission and directed attempts to support the status quo. So, to simply say "evidence-based" is not the value free assumption it seems.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 04:26:53 PM EST
Metatone:
Large numbers of hard drug users are not provided with treatment and are taken out of the community and put in prison, where they are surrounded by other drug users and locked in a room with nothing to do AND there is a well established drugs market in operation. But it's too political to address.

As an ex-policeman I know said "Posession may not be nine tenths of the law, but it is nine tenths of the convictions".

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 04:30:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Metatone:
Alternatively, if we look at India, a society which has ample ability to grow it's own opium, along with very well established smuggling links with a major world source (Afghanistan) and a heroin trade with hundreds of years of history behind it.

There is certainly something culturally specific in how drugs are handled.  The impression I get is that binge drinking is less of a problem in France than in Ireland because children grow up in an atmosphere where moderate drinking is a contextualised part of life and not part of an alienated subculture.  However I wonder if the effects of Heroin use in India are not really apparent because many do not have access to employment or health care in the first place.

Metatone:

But it's too political to address

There is certainly a perceived mainstream horror of "opening the flood gates" if heroin use is legitimised in any way shape or form whatsoever.

Drug rackets in prisons are a regular source of shock, horror stories and incarceration as a form of "rehabilitation" is another debate entirely which should be the subject of another diary perhaps.  I hope to do a diary on restorative justice soon.

I do have a voluntary involvement in a community based drug treatment service (mainly for heroin users) which I think is pretty close to best practice and which includes police officers on its board of management and is very much dedicated to a holistic, non judgmental approach to the treatment of clients and has had quite a degree of success in stabilising and sometimes enabling people to become completely drug free.  

In general the heroin user population is aging and not growing all that much but cocaine is very much the growth trend.  You cannot really discuss drugs outside of the context in which they are supplied and used and the availability is such that they might as well be freely sold on the open market.  

I'm open to discussion on this but on balance my feeling is that criminalization still has the effect of showing very strong societal disapproval and discourages more use than it encourages through the "rebellion" or "excitement at breaking the law effect".  It all depends on how much "societal disapproval" counts for in your particular context which in turn depends on how close-nit the community is.

However I haven't seen any research on this and part of my reason for opening this debate here is to see if there any evidence on this elsewhere.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 06:03:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's suppose that there are good arguments for a change in the drug policy. (I also did an essay on this on my web site a year or so ago.) The problem is that there are some powerful forces who like things the way they are.

So, the argument is not about the merits of change, but one of "follow the money". This is one of my continual themes: even if you have a clear goal you need to have a transition plan and that must include a way to get past entrenched interests.

Here are just a few of those who like the status quo:

The drug enforcement industry - cops, lawyers, judges, jailers, social workers.

The moralists - once Carry Nation got her way she ceased to be a political force. The present moralists don't want to make that mistake.

The drug providers - this includes growers, processors, smugglers and dealers. There are billions flowing in the underground economy because of this trade. These people would all be out of work if Philip Morris sold crack. Even if some moved into the legit trade the profits wouldn't be nearly as high.

Insurgent forces and their opponents - there are many stories of the US using drug money to pay for clandestine military operations or to pay for support of various political factions in other countries. The situation on the other side is much more well documented. The civil war in Columbia wouldn't be dragging on for decades if the FARC didn't get its funding from drugs. The same dynamic is happening in Afghanistan. There are many other cases which we don't even have a clue about. Why should those engaged in power politics give up a tool which can't be traced?

The reason that arguments on the merits of a new drug policy never get anywhere is because those profiting from the status quo see no reason to debate the issues, so they just throw up whatever counter arguments will keep the issue from being addressed in a meaningful way.

If you want to move the debate forward then focus on overcoming the resistance of those profiting from the status quo and leave the intellectual arguments aside, they are just a distraction.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 04:40:15 PM EST
I know that in Canada we have had at least one police chief come out and say he would prefer the legalization of pot. It is possible that in Canada (at least with pot) the cops, lawyers, judges, jailers, social workers are all on side.

I suspect that the reason we maintain the illegality of pot because of pressure from south of the border.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 04:55:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
rdf:

Here are just a few of those who like the status quo:

The drug enforcement industry - cops, lawyers, judges, jailers, social workers.

I know it makes for a god conspiracy theory and there is also some sociology theory on the amplification of deviance which argues that the the security industry has a dependency, and therefor a tendency to produce crime, but I don't think too many people would lose their jobs if drugs were legalised.  I suspect we'd need an awful lot more social workers and the medical and pharmaceutical industries could be major beneficiaries of legalisation.

Ultimately, I'm not sure that anybody benefits other than the users who have a good time without negative consequences and the dealers/producers who produce and sell the stuff.  If mainstream "business" could move in on that market there would be tidy profits to be made.  If anything the business argument would be to legalise everything, let legit business produce/market it and let the state pick up the tab for any negative consequences.  That's the way with alcohol and tobacco.

I know this goes against the grain of "progressive argument", but it may just be that hard drugs are criminalised because people in power believe (however misguidedly) that the alternative would be worse.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 06:36:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not claiming any sort of "conspiracy". The US has over a million people in prison, something like 80% on drug-related offenses. If you think the people minding all these offenders are going to see their livelihoods slip away without a fight you are being naive.

There are fierce battles over where to site new prisons as the employment provided gives a boost to many dying small towns. Those who will fight efforts to change may even sincerely believe their reasons for keeping the drug status unchanged. It would be unlikely that someone would have a career in enforcing drug laws if they really believed they were wrong. Everyone wants to feel that they are making a difference.

You haven't addressed my issues. How are you going to get change to happen? This is the key issue whenever a new policy is advocated, from trade to taxation. Some group likes the status quo and you need to get past them for things to happen. How?  

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 06:57:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Straight Dope: Does the United States lead the world in prison population?
According to the International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College London, the U.S. currently has the largest documented prison population in the world, both in absolute and proportional terms. We've got roughly 2.03 million people behind bars, or 701 per 100,000 population. China has the second-largest number of prisoners (1.51 million, for a rate of 117 per 100,000), and Russia has the second-highest rate (606 per 100,000, for a total of 865,000). Russia had the highest rate for years, but has released hundreds of thousands of prisoners since 1998; meanwhile the U.S. prison population has grown by even more. Rounding out the top ten, with rates from 554 to 437, are Belarus, Bermuda (UK), Kazakhstan, the Virgin Islands (U.S.), the Cayman Islands (UK), Turkmenistan, Belize, and Suriname, which you'll have to agree puts America in interesting company. South Africa, a longtime star performer on the list, has dropped to 15th place (402) since the dismantling of apartheid.

Its much worse than you think, but that's just business and businesses rise and fall all the time.  Pursuing a policy which reduced prisoner numbers is no big deal.  Prisons are hugely expensive and everybody knows they don't do a great job anyway. You'll be pushing open doors all over the place if you come up with a proposal that reduces prisoner numbers - if not in the prisons themselves!

I'll do a Diary on restorative justice some other time.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 07:25:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll add that many police units doing drug enforcement in the USA are completely self-funded because of confiscation laws. Some are silver-plated in terms of their kit and working conditions. They don't indirectly depend upon the war on drugs, they directly depend on it.

The police force has a pretty big microphone.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 02:37:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You might want to investigate one of the most compassionate and successful rehabilitation ystems - the Finnish Prison Service.

http://www.vankeinhoito.fi/14994.htm

There has been a 17 year program to change the system, Here are the principles of the system:


  • Punishment is a mere loss of liberty: The enforcement of sentence must be organised so that the sentence is only loss of liberty. Other restrictions can be used to the extent that the security of custody and the prison order require.
  • Prevention of harm, promoting of placement into society: Punishment shall be enforced so that it does not unnecessarily impede but, if possible, promotes a prisoner's placement in society. Harms caused by imprisonment must be prevented, if possible.
  • Normality: The circumstances in a penal institution must be organised so that they correspond to those prevailing in the rest of society.
  • Justness, respect for human dignity, prohibition of discrimination: Prisoners must be treated justly and respecting their human dignity. Prisoners may not be placed without grounds in an unequal position because of their race, nationality or ethnic origin, skin colour, language, gender, age, family status, sexual orientation or state of health or religion, social opinion, political or labour activities or other such similar thing.
  • Special needs of juvenile prisoners: When implementing a sanction sentenced to a juvenile offender, special attention must be paid to the special needs caused by the prisoner's age and stage of development.
  • Hearing of prisoner: A prisoner must be heard when a decision is being made concerning his/her placing in dwelling, work or other activity and some other important matter connected to his/her treatment.


You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 03:04:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Keep on voicing your opinion Frank and don't let some rather irrelevant comments discourage you.  Keep up the good work. :)  

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.
by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 05:57:45 PM EST
Many thanks.  I tend to be the contrary type so giving me a hard time just makes makes me that bit more outspoken!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 06:07:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sold under strictly licensed terms, hard drugs taxed to fund public awareness and treatment programs, no public resources (airwaves, etc.) allows to be used for advertising, any advertising that cannot be disallowed taxed at 100% of advertising spend for the same fund, no sales to minors, etc.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 07:31:52 PM EST
Thats why I've been stress testing the progressive decriminalisation argument.  Hard Drugs could be hugely more profitable than Alcohol or cigarettes for both private industry and the state (in terms of tax revenue) because producing heroin or cocaine is a lot cheaper than champagne.  

The billions that are now spent on illicit drugs, law enforcement, and the costs of crime could well fund any increased health care costs that might arise and still create a huge net surplus.  If it keeps the dudes happy, why knock it?  It will be the true opium of the people and distract people from serious political issues. If I was a Machiavellian member of the political elite I would be promoting it as a win win situation.

Sometimes you have to be careful of what you wish for.  

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 08:04:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... drugs as "hard" and "soft" is a category mistake. The critical trait for that question is the classification of drugs as physically addicting.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to make a pot of coffee.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 08:30:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BruceMcF:
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to make a pot of coffee.

Adict... ;-)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 08:40:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But it was Fair Trade coffee!


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 08:44:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So cocaine addicts would be ok if their drug of choice was fair trade?

or if it came from the apropriate Leftist freedom fighters?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 08:48:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... in that way, you extinguish any humour it may have contained.

So excuse me for a moment while I grieve its passing. sigh

OK, that's over. Now, if we must get all dKos-ish, once we have done the main classification, of physically addictive substances, then it becomes necessary to assess (1) the harm done if someone is addicted and (2) the difficulty of breaking the physical addiction.

I have been short enough of cash at various times over the past five years to know quite well what is involved in kicking coffee ... and further, to know that I will, indeed, kick coffee rather than spend money required for necessities in order to buy more coffee.

I have also kicked the tobacco habit ... twice ... and that was a wrenching experience, to overcome a physical addiction with long-established and well-know possibilities of truly horrific consequences.

So I have no trouble with Folgers being allowed to be a caffeine addiction pusher for fun and profit. But the greater the harm, third party harm, and difficulty in kicking the habit, the greater the justification for strict regulation.

And, especially, I do not want to see tax revenues from any addictive substance like tobacco or heroin being used for purposes other than public education campaigns regarding the perils of their use and public health services for those who wish to escape addiction.

On whether it should be illegal if it was in fact possible to thereby prevent its use, that's a counter-factual that I am not terribly interested in. Making it illegal does not prevent its use, but does substantially interfere with efforts to help people cope with and, in the best case, free themselves of the addiction.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 09:13:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not at all sure there is any profit in cancerettes - even with the high taxes. Canada has found out that if you try to tax them too much you form a black market.

If we are going to turn drugs into a government cash cow we had better have some idea how much drugs are going to increase our medical costs.

Live fast. Die young and leave a beautiful corpse.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 08:49:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I only know the numbers for Germany: the estimated cost of smoking to the health care system is about 50% higher than tobacco tax revenue. But what the state is saving on pensions because smokers die sooner is almost double the tax revenue again.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 09:33:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that there is one point that should be kept in mind: "Criminalisation" means different things in different countries. In Denmark, pot is criminalised. Which means that if you're caught smoking pot, the police is going to take it away. And if you're unlucky or the policemen have a bad day or you look like an arab/communist/terrorist you'll be fined. If you're really unlucky you'll spend the night in the local police station. But you're unlikely to be chucked into prison for any length of time unless you are running around with enough pot to sell it.

Now, suppose you have another country in which pot is criminalised. In this country, if the police suspects that you are in possession of pot, have been in possession of pot, are planning on being in possession of pot or any of the above - or if they don't like the look of you and decide that you might want to plan to be in the possession of pot - the police will descend on your home with a full SWAT team complete with APCs, rooftop snipers, flashbangs and a Turkish orchestra.

Clearly, the legal status of pot is the same in the two countries. Equally clearly, the legal status of pot is not the same in the two countries. Even though it is.

Personally, I am in favour of legalising and criminalising drugs on an individual basis. If I had to provide criteria for which drugs to criminalise and which to not criminalise, they would go something like this:

Side effects - Ranging from a drug that you can (ab)use habitually for decades before the ill effects manifest (at the "legalise" end of the scale), to a drug that will irrecoverably shatter your mind with the first pipe (at the "criminalise" end of the scale).

Dependency - How swiftly and how severely a dependency forms - swifter formed and more severe dependencies count towards criminalisation.

Predictability - How stable is the physiological effect of the drug across users? Will it cause a moderate high in some while sending others into coma? How sensitive is it to dose and purity? Highly unpredictable effects and narrow 'safe' dosage and purity ranges argue for criminalisation.

Persistence after consumption - How long after intake will you still be affected? If you get high on it Friday night, will you still be able to follow a lecture Monday morning? How long will it take before you are able to safely operate a vehicle? Longer persistence would tend to argue in favour of criminalisation.

Social acceptance - How widespread is use of the drug in question. If it is near-universal (think alcohol) or consumed by a large fraction of the population (think pot and tobacco) it will be impractical to forbid it outright.

I'll leave it as an exercise to the (more medically knowledgeable) reader to evaluate various drugs against these standards, but I am of the distinct impression that of the three recreational drugs widely used in the First World - alcohol, tobacco and hash (you could include sex here if you wanted to make a point vis-a-vis Ignorance Only sex-ed, but I don't consider sex 'recreational') - tobacco is the one which seems most ban-worthy.

Precisely where to draw the line between ban-worthy and non-ban-worthy as well as the weight assigned to each of these categories is, of course, subject to much political wrangling. But I believe that something along these lines is what should inform that political wrangling.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 10:19:57 PM EST
The problem is that addiction and its successful treatment have very little to do with the actual chemical properties of the drugs concerned and an awful lot to do with the cultural and physiological context in which they are taken.  

Do you have AIDS, are you drinking, taking other drugs as well, could you be pregnant, do all your friend take it, is it the only rush you have in your life, are you the nerd in the corner of the party if you don't, do you know about dosages, purity of the product ...... the issues around the impact of drugs are hugely context specific which is why many people experience none of the down sides and consequently argue that its all a lot of establishment scare stories.  

It is also a hugely political area, with much of the "establishment response" determined by that.  Thus Heroin is often the drug of choice for drop outs, petty criminals, working class people etc. - and often attracts a severe police response.  Cocaine is a fashionable middle class drug and is tacitly condoned in many respectable, fashionable, and politically correct circles.  It is partly this blatant hypocrisy which feeds the anti-establishment drug culture.

That is why I have deliberately avoided the topic of the specific chemical properties of individual drugs - they are often almost entirely tangential to the POLITICAL debate around ther criminalisation.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 05:48:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is that addiction and its successful treatment have very little to do with the actual chemical properties of the drugs concerned and an awful lot to do with the cultural and physiological context in which they are taken.

I'll readily grant that there are psychological and social factors that contribute to the ease with which dependency forms. Nevertheless some drugs do have a shorter and deeper tolerance curve than others, and some drugs do have more severe withdrawals than others. It is, for instance, much easier to go cold turkey on caffeine than on nicotine (although I would not recommend doing so in the week leading up to an exam :-P).

If we desire an evidence-based approach to the legislation surrounding drugs, some consideration of chemical properties is inescapable.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 09:45:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
JakeS:
If we desire an evidence-based approach to the legislation surrounding drugs, some consideration of chemical properties is inescapable.

I don't dispute this for a moment and take it as a given.  I suppose I was more trying to steer the discussion in terms of  the general issues around criminalisation/decriminalisation rather than the specific case around each particular drug.

Clearly if we adopt the general view that we should proceed with an incremental evidence based approach to de-criminalistion, then the next step is to consider each drug on a case by case basis, both clinically in terms of its specific effects, drug interactions, contra-indications, etc., and socially in terms of risks of contamination, dirty needles, access, education.

I am not medically qualified, so I am reluctant to get involved in the clinical debate.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 10:28:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I find it interesting that there is so much discussion about these "hard drugs". However, there are other drug problems, which are being rarely discussed.

Death By Medicine - Part I, by Gary Null, PhD ~ Carolyn Dean, MD, ND ~ Martin Feldman, MD ~ Debora Rasio, MD ~ Dorothy Smith, PhD

ABSTRACT

A definitive review and close reading of medical peer-review journals, and government health statistics shows that American medicine frequently causes more harm than good.

  • The number of people having in-hospital, adverse drug reactions (ADR) to prescribed medicine is 2.2 million.1

  • Dr. Richard Besser, of the CDC, in 1995, said the number of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed annually for viral infections was 20 million. Dr. Besser, in 2003, now refers to tens of millions of unnecessary antibiotics.2, 2a

This seems to be a limited review, as psychopharmaca are not included and my guess that would be a huge number too.

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 02:57:13 AM EST
Forgot, and this are problems with legal drugs. So, I think all drug use should be under consideration.
by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 02:58:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Should Hard Drugs be decriminalised for all now?
4.    There are already huge social costs associated with alcohol, tobacco, and the over- prescription of prescribed drugs.

There is a HUGE problem of iatrogenic (doctor induced) illness through over-prescription which results in severe drug dependency (Valium) or the the habituation of harmful bacteria to anti-biotics to the extent that we have to fine more and more expensive and invasive replacements for drugs which no longer work.

In fact many would ascribe this to an insidious "drug culture" which believes there has to be a pill for every problem and which turns medicine and psychiatry into drug prescribing factories with many side effects which are often as bad as the original ailment.

I find it odd that many "progressives" who are very anti this culture and are into alternative medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture etc. don't find anti contradiction between this and doing "hard drugs".  Marijuana of course has a "natural" homely image, being a herb that you can grow in your own garden and looking like one, but many of the other drugs are lab produced, and dirty lab produced at that.

Part of my sense that there is a cultural shift against drug use of ANY kind (including excessive prescribed drug usage) is a sense  that we need to take control of our own bodies again and let natural and holistic healing processes take centre stage.

Western medicine and big pharma may indeed be partly at fault for the "pill for every problem" popular culture but just because you are anti-establishment doesn't mean that taking "rebellion" drugs is the answer, or that they should be legalised.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 05:31:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Check your sources. The paper you cite is very likely bullshit. Which really is a pity, because there is most certainly a point to be made that significant overmedicalisation is taking place in many industrialised societies. This paper (and I use the term loosely) does not make any such point, however.

  • Two of the five authors are known quacks (the ND after Dean's name is a dead giveaway, btw: ND stands for 'naturopathic doctor' - which is a fancy way of saying 'quack').

  • This is published in an internet newsletter, rather than the peer-reviewed literature. That is telling.

  • The 'newsletter' that published it is very likely a quack rag. From the front page:

Many health care professionals are starting to seriously question the staid orthodoxy of traditional medicine's allopathic approach to disease management and its universal acceptance of drugs and surgery as the only health care paradigm. [Emphasis mine]

Many envision a time, in the not-so-distant future, where disease prevention and reversal, health restoration and life extension are regularly achieved through the integrated use of alternative medicine, diagnostic analysis testing, homeopathy and other innovative therapeutic approaches. [Emphasis mine]

By my count that's six major red flags in the space of a mere two paragraphs.

- The abstract reads more like an altie screed than a serious academic discussion. To wit:

A definitive review and close reading of medical peer-review journals, and government health statistics shows that American medicine frequently causes more harm than good. [Emphasis mine]

It is evident that the American medical system is the leading cause of death and injury in the United States. [Emphasis mine]

There are so many things wrong with those two paragraphs that I hardly know where to begin. But we can start with the fact that they are completely over the top. It is either perverse dishonesty or outright insanity to look only at the cases in which medical interventions go wrong or are not successful and then conclude that medicine does more harm than good. They are quite literally saying that hospitals are dangerous because people die in hospitals!

The stoopid, it burns.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 10:12:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[ET Moderation Technology™]

Jake, if your point of view is defensible, you can defend it without sneers and insults.

Terms like bullshit, quack, quack rag, altie screed, stoopid, are quite unnecessary to your argument and only tend to reveal a certain degree of prejudice in your attitude. This is all the more remarkable in that you propose to represent a rational point of view.

You saw recently that views on subjects like these cover a fairly wide range on ET, and that a raging battle is easily started. I don't think you want to start a flame war, so please don't use flames.

Thanks for understanding, as I'm sure you will.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 03:04:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I disagree with your reasoning and I only partially agree with your conclusion, but I'm not dumb enough to argue with a moderator.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 10:52:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a huge debate between "alternative" and mainstream medicine which I don't propose to get into this debate here except to make three points:

  1. The "medical model" if practiced in isolation has a very poor track record of "curing" drug addiction and many successful drug treatment services also use "alternative" therapies such as acupuncture

  2. Some in the addiction treatment services argue that the "pill for every problem" culture in much of mainstream medicine contributes to the popular acceptance of illicit drug taking as a form of recreation

  3. There is a huge literature, and widespread acceptance within mainstream medicine that it has a problem with the level of iatrogenic illness, increased risks of infection in hospitals, and addictions caused by over-prescription of drugs.  The statements you characterise as wild exaggerations need to be evidenced, of course, but they are not necessarily as controversial as you might imagine, even in mainstream medical circles.


Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 10:45:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I never disputed points two and three. In point of fact, I made point three myself in the very first paragraph: There is no question that overmedicalisation and adverse (and untested) side effects result from haphazardly combining drugs to treat the symptoms rather than the underlying disease (this gets particularly ironic when drug 2 is introduced to treat the side effects of drug 1, drug 3 is given to treat the side effects of drug 2 and drug 3 causes side effects similar to the symptoms drug 1 was supposed to treat. Yes, that actually happens occasionally). This should not be controversial.

But that is not what the cited 'paper' argues. It pushes a simplistic message of Drugs BAD! and it attempts to elbow in proven nonsense like homeopathy. This is tactically and rhetorically very similar to the way cdesign proponentsists point to a problem or an unexplored issue somewhere in science and shout "gotcha! You don't know how protein X evolved, therefore evolution is bunk!"

(As an aside, alties frequently employ another tactic lifted from the cdesign proponentsist battle plan: Whenever they say "but we don't want to do away with real conventional medicine, we just want to supplement it," what you should hear is "teach the controversy.")

With regard to your first bullet, I am not familiar with the literature on the subject, but it is not entirely implausible that giving people a placebo (which is what most 'alternative medicine' really is) can help them kick a habit. This is, however, very likely a purely psychological effect that owes more to the interaction with the therapist than any physiological effect of the placebo in question.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 11:28:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The pivotal term in your diary, "hard drugs", is undefined. Does your definition include cannabis or not? If "hard drugs" are only those that are punishable (or only those that are severely punishable), then the term becomes so arbitrary - and so variable from country to country - as to become meaningless.

If "hardness" were to be defined as a standard of toxicity or harmfulness, and this were applied to determine whether a "drug" (I prefer the term "psychoactive substance" myself) be permitted or proscribed, then the legal landscape would look radically different: Cannabis would be readily available to adults, and tobacco rigorously banned. Cocaine would probably make the cut, and maybe even opiates, but - with all due respect to the Caol Ila mainliners - alcohol would be at best borderline.

This is one rational standard for classifying the "hardness" of substances; perhaps others are conceivable as well.

Theoretically, I can imagine that a case can be made for prohibiting substance according to a rational standard of "hardness" (although I personally belong to the regulated decriminalization camp). But the current regime which you seek to preserve is irrational, arbitrary and ad-hoc.

And here we come to the subjective difference between drug laws and other types of laws. Laws against e.g. robbery are considered fair and just by virtually everyone. Even the bank robber and his relatives will acknowledge the fundamental fairness of the robber being sentenced to prison. But because substance law as it is currently constituted is arbitrary, inflicting punishment for consumption of the "wrong" substance without providing a rational standard of why any particular substance is "right" or "wrong". The widely recognized, patent unfairness of such proceedings undermines respect for law in general. Given how central law is to all our societies, this is no trivial problem. In that sense, the current prohibition regime is potentially more damaging to our societies than the substance themselves.

You sure started a nice dust-up, though ;-)

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 04:18:15 AM EST
I agree with what you say - please see my response to Jakes S above

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 05:56:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What a shame, I was so hoping to goad you into presenting a rational argument for proscription argued from first principles. ;-)

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 06:34:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
dvx:
What a shame, I was so hoping to goad you into presenting a rational argument for proscription argued from first principles. ;-)

That's easy.  

  1. If you like the people who are taking drugs, turn a blind eye on the grounds that they know what they are doing and its their life anyway.

  2. If you don't like the people who are doing drugs because they are engaging in crime to fund their habit prosecute the hell out of them.

  3. You REALLY don't like the illicit drug trade because it takes market share and profits from the legit drug trade - cigarettes, alcohol and pharmaceuticals.  DECLARE WAR ON THE ILLEGAL DRUG TRADE

Ok, any other small world problems you want m to solve?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 06:58:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You still haven't told us what a "drug" is.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 07:02:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is what I meant by "first principles": first, how do we decide which "drugs" to allow and which to prohibit?

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 07:03:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
dvx:
That is what I meant by "first principles": first, how do we decide which "drugs" to allow and which to prohibit?

You are trying to set me up for an argument I cannot possibly win.  I'd just be target practice for the smart boyos around here.

The problem is there is NO RATIONAL WAY of distinguishing between what drugs should be legal and which not.  There are huge shades of grey between various drugs in terms of toxicity and social consequences, and huge variability as to what these might be depending on the context, and so if you move the boundary a bit there is no logical reason why it shouldn't be moved a bit further.  

Thus if you legalise Marijuana, then why not E?  If cocaine, why not heroin - you are only discriminating in favour of the middle classes if you don't.  If you are trying to reduce Alcohol and Nicotine and prescribed drug abuse then legalising anything else is moving things in the "wrong" direction.

There is no "solution", only desperate attempts at containment not helped by the obvious hypocrisy, class bias, and irrationality of it all.  

Probably the only logical or rational alternative to criminalisation is medical regulation but I can't see why a doctor would prescribe cocaine to someone if there is the remotest chance his patient might overdose, mix with other drugs, or suffer an adverse reaction.  He would be sued to hell and anyway, we are already over-medicalising health and happiness to a huge degree.

The only other possible option is to "legitimise supply" of virtually all non-lethal drugs by making it the purview of legit pharma companies under quality controlled conditions and sold to adults in Pharmacies but without prescription.  That creates the problem of - I can get heroin without prescription but not an antibiotic - idiotic isn't it?

So then we get to the full libertarian position - all drugs should be freely available without state or medical "interference" and its is up to people themselves to educate themselves and decide what to do with their bodies.  

"Education" doesn't always work and I would expect a massive increase in accidental and other fatalities and medical traumas - but would it be worse that the current situation where are huge consequences because of the criminalisation process itself - drug trade turf wars, dirty needles, AIDS, hepatitis, and the traumatic effects of the crime required to fund drug taking.  I simply don't know, and that is why I would favour a slow, incremental, evidence based approach.

However, I would caution against the "progressive" assumption that criminalisation is all part of a massive capitalist, imperialist plot to to dominate the  world through "THE WAR ON DRUGS" or to repress progressive libertarian ideals in society.  Of course there are "political agendas" at work here but they may not be quite what they seem.

It is just as possible that it would be in capitalism's interest to decriminalize drugs and create a huge bonanza for "legit" big pharma, health care and related industries not to mention the tax revenues that could accrue to Government.  However  the price of illegitimate drugs is coming down all the time, so there probably wouldn't be a big reduction in crime if the legit versions were no cheaper and people still had to fund their habit.

It may just be that the decision is taken out of "our" hands and that our societies will be flooded with cheap illicit drugs in any case.  In that case the purely pragmatic decision would be to legitmise the whole lot and cut out the illegal middlemen. Many would argue we have reached that point already.   Perhaps the health care costs of decriminalisation would be offset by the savings on the very expensive criminalisation process, and perhaps "education" will succeed in ensuring that the vast majority of people will suffer no serious consequences.

If I were to hazard a guess it would be that that is the direction we are headed in whether we like it or not.  Perhaps it will be a bit like the porn industry where th first instinct of conservative society is to ban it, but gradually the barriers get rolled back (how do you define porn anyway?), and people get so used to it they hardly notice it anymore.  There is only so much the state can do to protect you from yourself and others, and the best approach is to equip you with the education to do it for yourself.

Managing a transition is always easier if everyone is agreed on what the end state should be.  My purpose here was to stimulate a debate and see if we can come to a consensus on what that end state should be.  Otherwise forces beyond our control will drag us in a certain direction anyway.

In 30 years time all the drugs illegal now will probably be freely available with (optional) medical supervision.  But will it be a happier, more just, and more rational world?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 08:24:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
You are trying to set me up for an argument I cannot possibly win.

Not I, said the Little Pinko Hen, I'm merely trying to bring some rigor into this discussion so that our terms don't keep slip-sliding all over the place.

Frank Schnittger:

The problem is there is NO RATIONAL WAY of distinguishing between what drugs should be legal and which not.

I had understood you to be in favor of prohibiting certain substances (and allowing others to be used and traded). Do I take it you would be willing to do so even absent a rational framework?

As a thought experiment, we could start by ranking substances in terms of their overall harmfulness, using the criteria

  • toxicity (acute and long-term)
  • physical harm to others (e.g. passive smoking)
  • risk of antisocial behavior or secondary self-destructive behavior

Presumably tobacco (at least smoked) would score very high in categories 1 and 2, and alcohol in categories 1 and 3 (we've all been there, I imagine), making them more "rational" candidates for prohibition than cannabis (relatively benign in all categories), heroin (relatively high in only one category) or even cocaine (moderate to high in two categories). Not that I am advocating (pace Caol Ila Gang) prohibition of alcohol, but this framework would have the advantage of being more transparent, less arbitrary and thus more subjectively "fair".

And, by making these distinctions without reference to the intoxicating properties of the substances, such a system would avoid stigmatizing intoxication as such - IMO a major draw back of all other prohibition regimes to date.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 12:15:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure rationality comes into it, even if it where possible to devise a rational schema that everyone agred to.  (Is that not what the current classification scheme attempts to do in any case?).  

If the market is absolutely flooded with cheap E and "everybody is doing it" is there any further point in criminalising it and a huge slice of the population?  It might be preferable to have it issued in quality controlled dosages through pharmacies with all the relevant warnings etc.  It could then be used by adults in private.  (Public drunkenness is still an offense).

However there really needs to be a global response, otherwise those countries (and internet sites) with liberal jurisdictions will become suppliers to those who don't, and there will be "competitive" pressures for everyone to match the most liberal regime or lose out on the "business".

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 12:35:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As opposed to the US forcing the hand of most of the world, and bombing a few countries, to ensure compliances with its policies ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misŤres
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 12:48:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
doesn't seem to have worked terribly well - although someone needs to tell the CIA

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 02:06:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
I'm not sure rationality comes into it, even if it where possible to devise a rational schema that everyone agred to.  (Is that not what the current classification scheme attempts to do in any case?).  

If it's not rational, how can it even begin to be defensible?

Frank Schnittger:

However there really needs to be a global response, otherwise those countries (and internet sites) with liberal jurisdictions will become suppliers to those who don't, and there will be "competitive" pressures for everyone to match the most liberal regime or lose out on the "business".

So where's the problem? :-)

Except in this case I think we may safely replace "liberal" with "rational".

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 10:46:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The only other possible option is to "legitimise supply" of virtually all non-lethal drugs by making it the purview of legit pharma companies under quality controlled conditions and sold to adults in Pharmacies but without prescription.  That creates the problem of - I can get heroin without prescription but not an antibiotic - idiotic isn't it?

So then we get to the full libertarian position - all drugs should be freely available without state or medical "interference" and its is up to people themselves to educate themselves and decide what to do with their bodies.

Your post is otherwise well thought out, but this is a slippery slope fallacy: There are very rational reasons to restrict antibiotics, irregardless of what happens to heroin.

Misusing antibiotics, unlike misusing heroin, affects the entire population through the development of resistant bacterial strains.* Further, antibiotics, are medical interventions designed to combat specific diseases, and there is a very strong case to be made that such drugs should be prescribed for the simple reason that it will force the patient to consult his doctor on a regular basis while the treatment is ongoing. Self-medicalisation is, after all, A Very Bad Idea.

- Jake

*This is, of course, assuming that the anti-social behaviour associated with irresponsible use of heroin is considered socially acceptable on balance.

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 10:35:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose the point I am trying to make to both you and DVX above is that if the issue were to be decided on purely "rational" medical grounds, then both antibiotics and psychoactive drugs would remain controlled. However in a  scenario were (say) E or heroin was so cheap and widely available and used there might come a point where the pragmatic or socially "rational" thing to do would be to decriminalise it and seek to mitigate any harmful effects.

The point of criminalising anything is to discourage and reduce its occurrence. If that is demonstrably not working then the rational approach is to seek other strategies to minimise the harm.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 11:19:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm getting your point, and I agree with it most of the way. I simply wanted to point out that in a rational world the decision to deregulate antibiotics would be completely decoupled from the decision to decriminalise and/or deregulate heroin. Antibiotics and heroin have completely different risk profiles both for the individual and society as a whole.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 11:33:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 12:56:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Alcohol consumption increased dramatically after Prohibition.

Do you have a source for this? Of course consumption rose after prohibition ended (in the U.S.), but did it rise to a higher level than before prohibition?

by asdf on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 09:41:31 AM EST
The best source I can find is
http://alcoholism.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?zi=1/XJ&sdn=alcoholism&cdn=health&tm= 17&f=00&su=p726.2.152.ip_p284.8.150.ip_&tt=2&bt=1&bts=1&zu=http%3A//www.niaa a.nih.gov/Resources/DatabaseResources/QuickFacts/AlcoholSales/consum01.htm

and it doesn't really support my assertion.

Alcohol consumption pre-prohibition peaked at 2.6 gallons/capita 1906-1910.  There was a slow rise in consumption post prohibition and this peak was exceeded in each year 1973-1985 but consumption has since declined to the 2.14 - 2.24 range (rising in recent years).  Ironically the alcohol consumption had declined significantly to 1.96 gallons/capita in years leading up to Prohibition.

Of course these are official figures (which would exclude bootleg) and there is no data for the prohibition years 1920-33 themselves although there are contemporary accounts claiming alcohol consumption actually increased in this period.

You could argue therefore that based on the experience with alcohol, an end to hard drugs prohibition would result in a slow increase in "legal" hard drugs use which could peak beyond current "illegal" use but might well decline thereafter.

However the lack of hard data during the prohibition period would make it hard to evidence this conclusively.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 05:01:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Official statistics of gallons of alcohol per capita consumed in USA averaged over 5 year periods

Year    Beer    Wine    Spirits    Total
2005    1.22    0.34    0.67    2.21
2000    1.22    0.30    0.63    2.16
1995    1.26    0.29    0.68    2.23
1990    1.33    0.36    0.80    2.49
1985    1.36    0.36    0.96    2.69
1980    1.33    0.32    1.07    2.71
1975    1.21    0.31    1.11    2.63
1970    1.10    0.26    1.08    2.43
1965    1.01    0.23    0.92    2.16
1960    0.98    0.22    0.82    2.03
1955    1.03    0.21    0.76    1.99
1950    1.07    0.21    0.78    2.06
1945    1.00    0.19    0.77    1.96
1940    0.77    0.14    0.62    1.53
1935    0.77    0.08    0.48    1.34
1930    0.00    0.00    0.00    0.00
1925    0.00    0.00    0.00    0.00
1920    1.08    0.12    0.76    1.96
1915    1.48    0.14    0.94    2.56
1910    1.47    0.17    0.96    2.60
1905    1.31    0.13    0.95    2.39
1900    1.19    0.10    0.77    2.06
1895    1.17    0.11    0.95    2.23
1890    0.90    0.14    0.95    1.99
1880    0.56    0.14    1.02    1.72
1870    0.44    0.10    1.53    2.07
1860    0.27    0.10    2.16    2.53
1850    0.14    0.08    1.88    2.10

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 06:27:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's another view, one supporting prohibition.
http://www.ajph.org/cgi/reprint/AJPH.2005.065409v1

Here in Colorado we have had a few lingering leftovers from prohibition that might be interesting. Up until a few years ago we had beer with a 3.2% alcohol limit that could be purchased by those 18-21. This resulted in a large industry of "3.2 clubs" targeted at that age group, which just happens to be college kids who are big drinkers anyway. The advantage of 3.2 beer is that you can literally fill up your stomach with it (as happens in drinking contests) and still not pass out. You might die from electrolyte imbalance, but you would have the same problem with water.

Also, in certain towns there are restrictions on what you can do on your own property when it comes to alcohol. Colorado Springs was a railroad town, and the entire town was originally owned by a guy who was a strong prohibitionist. (This was in the 1880s.) As he sold off lots, he added perpetual clauses to the deeds prohibiting the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages. This is of course now completely disregarded, as the many nightclubs in downtown Colorado Springs demonstrate, but it still appears as a restricting clause on your deed.

William Jackson Palmer would not approve!

by asdf on Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 09:45:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very good study on prohibition and its historical context.

Some points from it: Prohibition did lower alcohol consumption and had lasting effects in those who came at age during it. The prohibition was much more severe then its supporters understood, in that it banned all sales of alcohol, closing the common loophole in dry communities -  ordering it from somewhere else and drinking it in the privacy of your own home. As such it was it was perceived as undemocratic and oppressive.

Opposition arose and in particular the cultural meaning of drinking alcoholic beverages changed to something rebellious. But this opposition was not succesful in changing prohibition.

Then the great depression struck and priorities changed. Taxing alcohol to pay for new programs became important and thus alcohol was de-criminalized. Organised crime moved on to other pursuits.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 03:24:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So if we applied this by analogy to hard drugs (always a dodgy logic, but anyway...) it means that if hard drugs were decriminalised, usage would go up, government revenues would go up, and the costs of crime might not necessarily go down as criminals would move on to other lines of business???

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 03:31:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
criminals would move on to other lines of business
So, now we are assuming that (all) criminals are some distinct set of people who do crime for its own sake (cause they like to break the law) and not in large part circumstancial criminals?
The best treatment for addiction: free heroin - Independent Online Edition > Johann Hari

Half of all burglaries are, according to the Home Office, committed by people riven by opiate dependency.
...
The Swiss experiment has seen a staggering fall in crime - over 20 per cent in some areas. As one heroin addict who asked not to be named explained to me, "Of course, I stopped stealing when I got a prescription. I wasn't doing it for fun."

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 03:50:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now you're over-reacting: "other lines of business" doesn't necessarily mean other crimes.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 03:53:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
should have quoted more:
the costs of crime might not necessarily go down as criminals would move on to other lines of business?
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 03:55:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My bad.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 03:56:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose the analogy from the Prohibition would be that bootleggers, distributors of Alcohol etc.  moved to other lines of business - e.g. narcotics, protection rackets - and so hard drug dealers might just move elsewhere in the crime business if drug pushing became unprofitable and they had no legit options.

People with an alcohol dependency during the Prohibition who committed crimes to support their habit might also continue to do so if "decriminalisation" did not result in a significant reduction in price, although if drinking itself was no longer part of a criminalised subculture then this might be less likely.

Obviously if heroin is available free on prescription that ceases to be an issue.  But what if a doctor refuses to prescribe heroin because he believes that doing so is not in the best interests of his patient?   Most doctors I know in the addiction field are already at grave risk of assault, break-in etc. if they do not prescribe what their patient want.  Some take the soft option.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 04:24:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well,
they did no analysis on the amount of organised crime. Or petty theft for that matter.

I think the larger picture is that effects are based on historical context. An effect I did not mention (but is very interesting) is the creation of the AA, and its seperation of normal drinkers and alcoholics. The earlier societies for curing drunks were based on a more general view of alcohol as evil, but they withered during prohibition.

I suspect that the temperance movement would have been more succesful had they not pushed for outright prohibition. They overshot and lost their support and the initiative. But that is easy to write in afterthought.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 04:31:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
Ironically the alcohol consumption had declined significantly to 1.96 gallons/capita in years leading up to Prohibition.

I do not really find it ironical. If the sobriety movement had not already been succesfull, prohibition would never been enacted.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 08:36:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fair point, but given that 1.96 gallons/capita is one of the lowest on record it would seem that a militant "sobriety movement" rather than outright legal prohibition was more successful in reducing consumption.  Applying this to "hard drugs"  might therefore tend to support the Education rather than criminalisation argument.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 06:18:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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