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?