Saturday, January 12, 2008

On drugs

As regular readers will know, I am in favour of legalising all drugs, but given the various comments I have received, I think that I should amplify a few things.

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:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. From the point of view of (2), the drugs that are legal are, in most cases, worse than those that are illegal.

  4. 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...
  1. Legalise drugs.

  2. Educate people about the true effects of drugs (rather better than in my elementary primer above!).

  3. 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)).

  4. 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...


Anonymous said...

Thank you. Sanity at last. My only modification to your list would be to double the penalty for anyone causing harm while impaired by such substances. If you are off your face and driving for example and run over Mrs Miggins and her tiny tots, then the key should be thrown away.

Other than that; Legalise, Regulate and tax are the most sensible ways to win any 'War on Drugs'. Cuts organised crime at a stroke by taking the profits out of their hands, and the bill for enforcement goes down.

Anonymous said...

Bingo, why didn't I think of that? Oh yes because I am a fucking idiot. Oh well back to screwing the economy.

Thud said...

not with you on this I,m afraid..I worked 18 years in liverpool as a doorman...ecstasy never seemed to work the way you describe on more idiots than I care to count.

Anonymous said...

"I think that everyone would be a lot happier" - what is it with people and substances ?

Look at prescriptions for antibiotics, statins, psychotropics, etc, etc - and when we're not gulping down the rubbish doctors dish out we are topping up with alcohol, nictotine, and anything else we can get our hands on.

But you're right legalisation is infinitely preferable to the insane system we have at the moment - of course the pharmaceutical industry would be beside themselves if they could get a foothold in such a lucrative market.

One question, how will the former drug barons and street gangs amuse themselves after their market is taken away from them - are we entering Aldous Huxley territory with the deltas kept in a state of compliance by their daily dose of soma ?

Nigel Barlow said...

I have no doubt that you will get slated for comments like this.

However it is good to hear a sensible debate on drugs.Legalising them will take away at one fell swoop the criminality associated with their supply and distribution which leads directly or indirectly to other criminal habits and ties up so many resources.

Regulation and education as you rightly say will to an extent take some of the risk out of their use.But beware of the example of alcohol where education has little or no effect.

Taxation will help pay for their negatitivities,but will also control their usage

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wrinkled Weasel said...

Dear Devil you are so wrong.

You clearly like and can control your intake of naughty substances. That's fine. I have recently had to deal with the fall-out of heroin addiction among the dim lower orders. It is unpleasant, costly and evil.

These are people who cannot cope in the first place and are then enslaved by heroin. They do not function - they exist. They turn to crime and prostitution to support their addictions and have children whose lives are predictably grim; kids who will starve because their mother is a junkie and kids who get fucked and slapped about by the partner when they are still in single figures because all the mother is interested in is drugs.

If you want to look at it in economic terms, the cost to taxpayers is horrendous. They require rehousing, healthcare and social workers - everything I detest about this freebie society.

And before you say they have a choice, two of my new friends were introduced to heroin in their early teens, by their father.

There is no such thing as a funcioning addict. If Heroin was made readily available as safe, pharmaceutically tested doses, it would merely create an army of life-dependent zombies who would become increasingly dependent, increasingly psychotic and increasingly burdensome to the NHS, the Social Services and others.

The only answer is zero tolerance, to dealers and users.

You do not have a right to endanger or otherwise inconvenience me due to your addiction or abuse anymore than smokers or or alcoholics or people with HIV do. That your particular activity is illegal and the others are not, is merely a vagary of this warped society with its relativism and lack of moral rigour.

Anonymous said...

*Bzzzt* Wrong answer.

Walking straight in to the trap like a blind and deaf bear, you've instantly framed your argument around heroin and addiction. Oh dear.

Pro-prohibitionists always equivocate all illegal substances with heroin, ie, heroin is addictive and bad, therefore all drugs pave the road to Hell. Anybody with an ounce of common sense knows that this is a falsehood pedalled to support misguided prejudices.

Furthermore, you appear to equivocate decriminalisation and/or legalisation with making drug use a free-for-all. This is not what is being advocated. The criminalisation of a broad section of society causes far more misery than a segment of the drugs spectrum causes.

As for 'zero tolerance of users'- what the hell for? Why on earth am I to be tolerated to zero? Who the hell do you think you are to judge me? I've got a far better view of the situation up here on the moral high ground than you have down there, matey. Don't tell me about 'moral rigour'.

We need zero tolerance- of people trying to force this misguided prejudices on to others, who do no harm to people or their property.

Someone once said- "Illegal drugs may cause mass hysteria and psychotic reactions, particularly among people that do not use them". Quite.

Anonymous said...

I should add that the above comment was in response to Wrinkled Weasel's post.

Anonymous said...

not quite hayek - calm down, my question was an innocent one, lets face it I'm hardly the first person to comment on why people feel it is so important to mediate their experiences, chemically.

Of course, in my line of work I see some the negative effects of drugs but I always go home at the end of the shift while a percentage of recreational drug users are less fortunate - stimulant related arrythmias, heroin overdose, complications of hep B+C, psychiatric symptoms, etc, etc can often result in an unscheduled stay in an MRSA infested NHS hospital, but, by and large they are small beer compared to, well, the boozers.

But as I have already said I think the Devils position is the logical one - give health info to the punters [sorry if this sounds like finger wagging but how do you put a positive spin on blood born virus's, or a spinal fracture after falling out of a window due the hallucinogenic effects of acid a la Robert Wyatt] then it would be each to their own, I guess.

After all if you ever have an uncontrolled epistaxis after snorting inferior cocaine, or worse develop an MI [as a 29yr female did a while back], we will always be there with the necessary bits and pieces to try and make it better - providing staff are not too stoned to know what they meant to be doing, of course.

Tomrat said...

I agree wholeheartedly DK; in my teenage years I used quite a considerable amount of drugs ranging from cannabis, LSD, speed...etc.

Nowadays I hate drugs because of the effects it had on me and a few friends (one particular friend developed psychological problems shortly after regular use of skunk).
In my volunteer work as a church youth group leader I've noticed the phenomenom you describe here; that it is not the drugs themselves but the environments associated with drug use. We try to take those children out of that environment and give them something better.

I can think of an amendment to your solution though that would satisfy both camps:

5. Liberalise provision of help to combat the negative externalities; The government has consistently failed to get value for money in its rehabilitation program whilst groups like Teen Challenge enjoy 70%+ cure rates (personally, and I know I harp on about this endlessly, we should stop all state funding to charities - it invites corruption, is inefficient and to call it charity is highly unethical).

6. As A N OTHER mentioned revise the penalty system for drug-related crime; I would posit a slightly more valuable solution would be to shut down the probation service and use the money to fund building new jails, reduce the living conditions - its sickening to see prisoners enjoying benefits normally associated with staying at the holiday inn, and finally raise the MINIMUM sentence the judicial system can give out & make sure they sentence quantitatively PER crime rather than "whatever the judge feels like".

You did miss one very important benefit of drug legalisation; takes out all the fun of doing something naughty so kids will drop it in their droves.

Anonymous said...

Well bang goes Dk's career as a politician.


This is one of the best posts I've seen here in my few months of lurking, and reminded me that ignorance and scare stories are a big hindrance to the acceptance of drugs as a legitimate form of recreation. Ignorance breeds fear and unless people are informed of the truth surrounding the effects and culture of contemporary drugs the legalisation argument will never be a level playing field.

PLus maybe C would be cheaper were it legal, although the price is a major barrier to people becoming addictive, you need to spend a lot, not only to feed an addiction but also to become addicted to the snoot in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, nursey- your post sounded a tad polemical.

I'm too tired to address anything more... Bleh.

Anonymous said...

Come on. Drug taking of whatever kind is to all intents and purposes legal now, in the sense that the individual user has very little chance of facing lawful constraints.

Let's be honest though - the full decriminalisation of all drugs will *definitely* lead to more deaths and health problems. We can believe that it is the responsibilty of the individual blah-de-blah, but it doesn't change the consequences of the inevitable increase in drug use.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

For someone who no longer takes drugs and has not done since the early seventies, I have met an awful lot of drug users, heavy and light, socially. Maybe I like them - I don't know why I feel quite comfortable with them. What I do know is that almost all of them cannot hack it and they end up sounding like utter twats most of the time.

It is your choice if you want to sound like an utter twat, but that, dear friends is what you will be if you regularly take drugs. Sorry to do the age thing on you and be sensible, but I have witnessed the scene for forty years and nobody comes out of it with a Blue Peter Badge (except Blue Peter presenters, that is.)

As for the libertarians, you all break the golden rule: if it goes wrong, we, the taxpayer end up with the bill or the tragic consequences, - same if you drink or get HIV.

Statistically, logically and for reasons of common sense, you are no longer cool.

Sorry to pontificate, but I actually can no longer sit and listen to dopers waxing lyrical about it as I prefer to watch wall-paper dry.

Devil's Kitchen said...

My dear Weasel,

You have utterly missed the point. I shall point out why tomorrow.


Hookers And Gin said...

If drugs were legalised and taxed, they'd probably cost more than they do now...:/

Anonymous said...

Some who do have considerable expertise have also said that drugs like heroine or cocaine are not as addictive or harmful as most think, they point out, for example, how most US servicemen who used heroin in Vietnam kicked the habit without help on returning home.

I am not sure that such lofty statistics support legalisation because those who work with addicts in the UK tell a different story, with very few going through rehab managing to stay off drugs.

What applies to all those intelligent and disciplined middle class sorts like Sherlock Holmes or DK does not necessarily work for the inadequate sorts with little else going for them who make up the more problematic section of the addicted population who do not have the income to support a habit without resort to crime.

Unless we also remove the welfare props and have a harsher penal system in which drug use is an aggravating factor I think legalisation would increase dependency and crime.

Anonymous said...

Agree on cannabis. Not only the long term effects but single use can cause severe psychotic effects in some. Third time I tried it I was in such a panic at not being able to feel normal in my head for over three months I nearly had a breakdown. I had flashbacks for nearly a year. I would rather cut my arm off than touch it again.

LSD too, a former girlfriend lost two years of her life to recovering from the effects of that.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we underestimate the chemical thing too. You say you find it hard to get off cigarettes but I never had the slightest problem, it wasn't about willpower, I just never had an addiction, It was just a pleasant habit. In the same way, some may find it much harder to kick drugs than you do.


People who take any "drugs" are in a fantasy world of who they would like to be,there is nothing that one can do on "drugs"that one can not do straight,the desire is based in the ego,and if the plebs were responsible enough , i would say fine go ahead,but without an ordered society where people care about each other and can draw strenght from each other,the whole issue turns into base tribalism,as we can see on our streets right now.In 2007 there was a bumper crop of opium in afghanistan,with which the islamists seek to poison our youth,do you really want them to open up shop in the high street? I have often wondered why pharmacutical companies have not devised a substance that provides the same effects as a wide range of "drugs"without the traumas that we see around us,surely this is possible?personally i am against legalisation,for the reason that the dead hand of the administration would be involved,with "medically approved doses"which as we see from alchohol will be a figure plucked straight out of the air,finally i have been there ,done that and can say that there is no substitute for clear thinking,would you introduce a virus into your computer?

Anonymous said...

Fair enough Devil. But, if drugs become legal and taxed, there will be no way at all for me to spend my (already taxed) money on myself, without paying yet more tax to the bastard government. Drugs are the only tax-free form of recreation, or am I wrong?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone tried mothballs dissolved in Cilit Bang? Wow! what a high!

Devil's Kitchen said...

"Come on. Drug taking of whatever kind is to all intents and purposes legal now, in the sense that the individual user has very little chance of facing lawful constraints."

Sure, but we now arrive at the problem of purity. Since drugs are, to all intents and purposes, legal then why not legalise them -- but regulate the purity.

"Let's be honest though - the full decriminalisation of all drugs will *definitely* lead to more deaths and health problems."

As I have pointed out, the vast amount of harm is done because people don't know quite what it is that they are buying.

As such, you may be right but, frankly, I am not sure that you are.

Mr Weasel,

Not Quite Hayek dealt with your first post, so I shall leave that.

"As for the libertarians, you all break the golden rule: if it goes wrong, we, the taxpayer end up with the bill or the tragic consequences, - same if you drink or get HIV."

No, for we libertarians that is not the case: as you know, we libertarians do not advocate state funding of health.

However, even were one to take my drugs policy in isolation (and you have been reading long enough not to, WW), the tax on the drugs should be set to such a level that the income derived is equal to or more than that expended on healthcare costs related to drugs -- as the tax on cigarettes and booze is now.


Wrinkled Weasel said...

Dear Devil,

Your arguments are seductive, but there again, you are the Devil, and your logic seems good. I certainly go with the parity deal with ciggies and alcohol, being personally of the opinion that they are all just as bad - or good.

I can see Gordo rubbing his hands with glee at your proposal...yummee more tax revenue, more to spend on illegal wars, more to piss up the wall...

Drugs don't work for me because I like to be in control and they make me extremely freaked out, and since I am several mints short of a pack of polos already, I have to desist.

It still poses the question, what do we do to protect the weak in our society?

Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

wrinkled weasel - what do we do to protect the weak in our society, am I my brothers keeper, etc, etc - a question that polarises socialists and libertarians every time.

My own view [limited to the sphere of chemicals] is that the sum total of misery might be marginally less, accepting that there will be victims no matter what we do, if we legalise.........but I might be horribly wrong, of course.

Incidentally I've heard Mao Tse-tung described as the greatest drugs worker of all time - China had the worlds highest number of opium addicts, until tung introduced the death penalty for poppy dealing, needless to say the number of addicts dropped dramatically.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

A and E, I think that you hinted at your answer earlier...

"are we entering Aldous Huxley territory with the deltas kept in a state of compliance by their daily dose of soma ?"

Compliance yes, but also drug psychosis and accidental death and injury, accompanied by the dilemma of supporting those who cannot work, cannot raise their children and who cannot meaningfully add to the common wealth.

In BNW the Gammas were a result of careful social engineering designed to enable them to embrace their state with enthusiasm - "Glad to be Gamma". They also, apparently, went about their menial work without the need for supervision.

I do not believe that an army of permanenetly drugged civilians, who were morons to start with, could be practically assimilated.

We already have an disenfranchised underclass in this country who will be the last consumers to use the NHS, State Schooling and Social Services when all these finally collapse in about 20 years time. They may then turn on us and form their own revolution, and I dare say it would not be pretty.

Gone way of topic here.

Anonymous said...

Weasel said:
"Compliance yes, but also drug psychosis and accidental death and injury, accompanied by the dilemma of supporting those who cannot work, cannot raise their children and who cannot meaningfully add to the common wealth.

I do not believe that an army of permanenetly drugged civilians, who were morons to start with, could be practically assimilated."

We have all those problems already -- the drugs are out there, and the distribution system is probably the largest and most efficient one in the world. If it was a commercial company, it would be the World Nr. 1.

Anyone who wants drugs can get them already anyway, so legalisation will not affect the number of druggies, but it will affect their health and ability to work. That mother who takes smack is unable to look after her kids because she can't hold a job down due to time spend on procuring the drug. If she has it on the NHS(heroin is very cheap) then she is free to work. In either case, the outcome is hopefully that we don't have to pay for her kid(s) to stay in kid's homes, and not pay for her kidney dialysis in future and all the other stuff she'll pick up as an illegal junkie. Think about it that way: She already has 'lost' -- but it depends on society how much she loses it. Being a junkie is her fault. Having to thieve, being a prostitute and getting AIDS(etc) is a direct result of the prohibition.

And the other, even larger problem that we have is the fact that the drug business lines the pockets of organised crime and terrorist organisations, whilst selling people adulterated substances, which are more harmful than the actual drugs in their pure and properly portioned form.

Or to be more blunt, prohibition finances the IED's (and the other 'toys') that the Taleban kill our soldiers with -- ie.: *your* stolen loot does.

Think about it...

(Passes the Ketchup to the Devil...)

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