The very illegality of drugs is a very major factor in the harm that they do. Via Tim Worstall, I come across this quote from Milton Friedman that sums it up well.
You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are tearing asunder our social fabric, ruining the lives of many young people, and imposing heavy costs on some of the most disadvantaged among us. You are not mistaken in believing that the majority of the public share your concerns. In short, you are not mistaken in the end you seek to achieve.
Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore. Of course the problem is demand, but it is not only demand, it is demand that must operate through repressed and illegal channels. Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials; illegality monopolizes the efforts of honest law forces so that they are starved for resources to fight the simpler crimes of robbery, theft and assault.
Drugs are a tragedy for addicts. But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike. Our experience with the prohibition of drugs is a replay of our experience with the prohibition of alcoholic beverages.
But whilst all of this is worth acknowledging, I will also admit that I like drugs and I think that drugs are good. Because, ladies and gentlemen, I am fed to the back teeth of people whining on about the fucking addicts.
Because here's the truth: almost nobody who takes drugs gets addicted to them, and very few drugs are actually addictive. Of those that are addictive, given a decent supply, they do not actually affect the day to day workings of the individual.
For what it is worth, the drug that I like least is cannabis; I no longer smoke it and, indeed, actively turn it down (I have had a couple of lapses in the last few months which have only strengthened my resolve). People who smoke it regularly do often go around in a permanent fug, the cannabis hangover as it were.
Let's look at the others.
- Magic mushrooms never gave me any ill-effects whatsoever. Before they were made into a Class A drug, a shop around the corner from me used to sell fresh ones; I liked them chopped up into a nice spaghetti bolognese.
Effects? A few closed-eye hallucinations: moving paisley patterns mainly. The main effect though, was to make me laugh and laugh and laugh; generally, I felt absolutely brilliant. And I am not the only one.
Two months after taking psilocybin, 79% of the participants reported moderately to greatly increased life satisfaction and sense of well-being.
In the main, mushrooms make people feel much better. They do not make people violent (although some people do get "the fear") and they very rarely kill. They do not make people lose their jobs, or beat their wives or fuck their children.
Verdict: fucking funny.
- Ecstasy is a very safe drug, as Richard Brunstrom pointed out. Yes, it is a strong drug and should be treated with respect, but generally people have died because they have not done so.
The first time I took Ecstasy was by mistake: I had gone to a club with an acquaintance and I was absolutely bollocksed on Addlestone's Cider. When we got to the club, I wasn't in the mood, so she handed me a wee pill, saying that it would make me feel better. And how!
As it happens, I bumped into a load of my other friends at the club (who monitored me to make sure that I was OK) and I remember hanging off one of them outside the club, at 3 in the morning, enthusing about how much "I love this drug!"
The first time is always the best; but for about eight months, I effectively used Ecstasy instead of alcohol; I didn't lose my job, I always got to work on time and my work didn't suffer. Nor did the rest of my life. In fact, I was incredibly happy and very productive (barring the come-down, which generally manifested itself as a feeling of restless boredom on a Tuesday).
In the end I stopped taking it because Ecstasy is self-limiting: if you take enough of it for a while, it stops having any real effect.
But in a club where everyone is on Ecstasy, there are no fights and no threatening glances. Everyone is happy and glad to be there. This is a huge contrast to an alcohol-fuelled club, where I have almost always felt unsafe or threatened at one point or another.
The club that I generally went to knew precisely what its customers were on: as such, it was always very cool and very damp, in order to mitigate the temperature rise and sweating involved in dancing on pills. And I made some very good friends. A number of the people who met there are now married, and those marriages have survived despite the fact that none of us really take drugs anymore. One grows out of it.
Verdict: strong, and should be treated with respect, but bloody excellent.
- Cocaine is something that I had, generally, stayed clear of. However, in recent years I have taken a good load of it and find it to be quite fun as a disconnect drug.
I am apparently a lot more pleasant on that than when very pissed anyway, so it not too bad. It is, however, very expensive and thus self-limiting through that aspect.
I also don't really believe that it is particularly addictive. The confidence that it brings can be, of course, but that equally applies to alcohol.
Verdict: quite pleasant. I wouldn't steal to obtain it though.
- Speed: it;s alright, I suppose. Keeps you dancing, but can make one bad-tempered. Best taken as a mix with MDMA in an Ecstasy pill.
Verdict: a facilitator for dancing, but best in a mix.
- LSD: see mushrooms, above. But more so with the hallucinations. Still, it was quite fun sitting on the Edinburgh crags, watching three suns rise separately. I had the benefit of having taken Ecstasy first, and so never had a chance of having a bad trip.
Verdict: pretty strong and to be approached with caution.
- Ketamine: a horse-tranquiliser that gave me some weird hallucinations. To be more specific, I wandered around a Christmas party, in a wee house somewhere in north London (some years ago), absolutely believing that my brain was suspended precisely three feet, from a brass rod, from the right side of my skull; I was convinced enough that I would go through doorways sideways in order to avoid banging my brain on the door-jamb. I then fell deeply asleep at about 1 in the morning.
Verdict: just a bit weird really.
I have, I must confess, never tried heroin. This is because I am well-aware that I have an addictive personality (I smoke heavily and have a pretty constant struggle with alcohol). However, I do know people who have had it from time to time, and they have conspicuously failed to materialise into sore-scabbed down-and-outs.
The point that I am trying to make is that it is in the nature of a good proportion of human beings to want to "escape" from time to time. That can be the simple escape from the hum-drum of working life, through holidays or whatever. For some it's the escape from being oneself, for a while. And for many, it is simply that they like the effect that mind-altering substances have.
And look at the two drugs that we have legalised: smoking provides very little mental effect, and develops into a habit that kills through the way in which it is ingested.
Drinking (especially to escape) very often makes people violent, melancholy and irrational.
Seriously, what the fuck are we playing at? We've made entirely the wrong stuff illegal!
But the main point that I am making here is that I and my friends have taken a colossal amount of drugs and none of us have lost our jobs, turned into hopeless addicts or bitten the head off a bat.
We have all pretty much grown out of drugs, carried on our ways—many are now getting married, having children, etc.—and with no ill-effects. The experimentation of our twenties has been left behind and we are getting on with our lives.
That is the experience of the vast majority of those who take drugs, even whilst they are illegal. Were one to legalise drugs then, sure, more people might try them. But, as sure as eggs is eggs, I would also guarantee that the vast majority of people would do precisely what I and my friends have done: enjoy them for a few years and then all but cease when the novelty wears off and get the hell on with our lives.
So, to summarise:
- The illegality of drugs is very bad. It makes criminals of otherwise law-abiding people; it creates turf-wars and provides vast profits for crime lords; it ensures that many drugs are full of rat-poison, brinck dust and other crap which adversely harms the health of the users far more than the drug itself would do.
- From an ideological point of view, it is none of the state's business what I ingest provided that I do not impinge on the rights of others. And most people who take drugs do not impinge on the rights of others. At all.
- From the point of view of (2), the drugs that are legal are, in most cases, worse than those that are illegal.
- Drugs are rarely bad and in a lot of cases they are positively good.
Most people who take drugs, even regularly, are not addicts. They do not require state support, and most would not look for it anyway. The vast majority of people who take drugs for recreation are middle-class people who have jobs that allow them to afford drugs.
Those who live off the state and are addicts are usually one and the same and I do not think that this group would substantially increase with legalisation.
However, most illegal drugs are quite powerful, and do require some caution. So...
- Legalise drugs.
- Educate people about the true effects of drugs (rather better than in my elementary primer above!).
- Regulate their sale and their purity, through licensing, as we do with alcohol and cigarettes (this is one of the few areas that I can see state regulation being desirable (although there could also be private mechanisms for this)).
- Tax them to pay for the negative externalities caused by those very few who require state help.
Legalise, educate, regulate, tax: my four point plan for dealing with drugs.
And, believe me, I think that everyone would be a lot happier...