The drug laws don’t work

I haven’t any strong feelings about drug users. I don’t want to criminalize them when their behaviour isn’t anti-social, but I see a good argument for everyone not always being out of their tits. Actually, I see a good argument for never having to encounter drug users–they are prone to tediousness, often lack a sensible sense of irony, and tend to think their experience is somehow important.

But as a liberal, I think people should have a right to be tedious, unironic and self-important. It’s not good, but we must all be these things at times. And this is to concentrate on the negatives.

The experience of taking drugs is indubitably thrilling. Psychotropic journeys are comparable to, perhaps, a good novel, or a roller coaster. They enable people to both be of the moment and out of their usual world. Many people value these experiences. Some people devote whole periods of their lives to such experiences. And while they may be difficult to encounter, in a liberal society, the proponents of sobriety should probably just try to avoid intoxicated imbibers as far as they can.

For if we were to outlaw tedium, the upright and righteous drinkers of alcohol would be the first against the wall. Of all the drugs, as Professor Nutt was expunged from the executive for declaring, cigarettes and alcohol, that mainstay not just of the Oasis generation, but of the baby boomer and the allied armies before them, are the most harmful.

Admittedly, these are the most available of the fatal drugs. Yet still, most people are not alcohol dependent, abstinence is on the rise, and the number of youth cigarette smokers is at an all time low. If all other drugs were legal, would the two super-killers be usurped as the guardians of the global gallows?

Probably not. The availability of legal heroin would probably not cause most to take heroin. Use would increase. But the use would be safer. It would be more controlled, drugs would need to be pure to be sold, and there would be no gangsters in the supply chain.

There are two huge problems with drug consumption in the contemporary world: the provenance of the compounds is unknown, and their purity is unknown. Particularly with heroin and cocaine on source: these drugs come from Latin America and the Middle East. From regions where there is no effective government or democracy. These substances are profitable but illicit, so armed militias have taken control of swathes of the globe in order to produce these products. These are not democratic institutions, and are not bound by international conventions. They use murder and slavery to turn poppies and coca into saleable narcotics.

There is suffering at every level of the drug supply chain: consider farmers strong armed into producing a crop for gangsters, putting themselves at the mercy of law enforcement and rival gangs. Impoverished people used as mules to transport the products to Europe and North America. Gangsters distributing it in the developed world, funnelling profits into other crimes, such as human trafficking and prostitution. And at every level there is murder.

The end buyers are victims almost as much: they buy a product that has been through so many criminal hands that they can not rely on its purity. They have no idea of its strength or what it is cut with. This can kill both the homeless, hopeless junky, and the enriched hypocritical politician.

There is no need for this. By legalizing all drugs we could make this illegal trade redundant. We could make suppliers accountable. Like tobacco dealers, and brewers and distillers. The products would still be lethal if used to excess, but they could be sold as fair trade products. You wouldn’t have to buy them, and you could sniff at those that did, but at least they would only strictly be harming themselves.

I am a vegetarian. I try my hardest to only eat things and use products which don’t cause harm to others. Drugs could be such a product, at least to the same extent that alcohol and cigarettes are. If we are to live in a liberal society we must agree to let other people enjoy their lives, and make whatever mistakes they will, as they want to enjoy them. If we could remove gangsters from the supply chain, would anyone have a good argument to stop them from doing so, should they choose to do so?

And yes, drugs ruin lives. As does alcohol. And smoking has taken many parents from many children early. I just don’t 1. believe that criminalizing such behaviour is the best way to stop it; or 2. agree that self-destructive behaviour should be stopped. The latter is paternalism: it is the treating of adults as children. It is just as righteous and tedious as the worst abuser of hallucinogens.


I am an amateur novelist, an aspiring tax advisor, a cycle commuter, and a graduate of philosophy, politics and law

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Posted in Politics and philosophy

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