Thursday, December 16, 2010

Drugged, again

As regular readers will know, your humble Devil has taken quite substantial amounts of drugs—of almost every type other than heroin. Your humble Devil also knows a number of people—the vast majority of my friends, in fact—who have regularly taken all classes of drugs.

And, generally speaking, the outcome has been hours and hours of fun, laughter, warming visions and a sense of connection. I will assert, with confidence, that the vast majority of those who take drugs have a great time. I do not know of anyone who has lost a job or a girlfriend through drug-use, nor of anyone who has harmed anyone else through drug use (other than alcohol, of course).

I will also say, from experience, that many drugs are self-limiting. Take Ecstasy regularly, for instance, and the beneficial effects reduce in intensity quite steeply—to the point that it becomes pointless.

However, the human desire to get out of one's tree occasionally is always there: in other words, demand is not going to go away. Although many people assert that the very illegality of drugs creates extra demand through the forbidden fruit factor.

On the flip side, I do know that the illegality of drugs means that the supply is entirely controlled by criminals. This criminal control leads to turf wars, shooting, robberies, and other low- and high-level violence.

Further, the criminals cut the drugs with adulterants, in order to make further profits. These adulterants cause injury to drug consumers in two ways: first, the adulterants can be actively harmful, e.g. heroin is often cut with brick dust, thus clogging capillaries in intravenous users and leading to gangrene and limb amputation.

Second, the level of adulterants in the drug vary; one of the most common causes of the occasional spates of heroin user deaths is through overdose caused by a batch of unusually pure drug on the market.

Finally, there is the economic cost of the war on drugs—which is running at something like £20 billion per annum. And that does not include the cost of criminalising and imprisoning thousands of people who have harmed no one but themselves.

So, in the context of the points made above, I find myself in the awful position of having to agree with that idiot, Bob Ainsworth.
An ex-minister who had responsibility for drugs policy has called for all drugs to be legally available.

Bob Ainsworth, a Home Office minister under Tony Blair, said successive governments' approaches had failed, leaving criminal gangs in control.

The Coventry North East MP wants to see a system of strict legal regulation, with different drugs either prescribed by doctors or sold under licence.

Well, that is entirely sensible. In fact, I seem to remember a number of Tories—when in Opposition—pointing out that the war on drugs is failing and that it was time to look at different methods. And the response when back in power?
Mr Ainsworth is the most senior politician so far to publicly call for all drugs, including heroin and cocaine, to be in any way legalised.

He said he realised while he was a minister in the Home Office in charge of drugs policy that the so-called war on drugs could not be won.

The Labour backbencher said successive governments had been frightened to raise the issue because they feared a media backlash.

Which just goes to show that politicians are not heroes, bravely making those difficult decisions that will best benefit the people of this country, but simply grubby little snake-oil salesmen—hungry for adulation—who are only out for their own benefit at the expense of everyone else.
But he predicted in the end ministers would have no option but to adopt a different approach.

The simple fact is that the case for the legalisation and regulation of drugs is absolutely irrefutable, on both a practical and moral level. And it seems that Nick Clegg and, most pertinently, David Cameron recognised this fact and, when in Opposition, wanted to change it.
David Cameron, the Tory leadership contender, believes the UN should consider legalising drugs and wants hard-core addicts to be provided with legal "shooting galleries" and state-prescribed heroin.

He also supported calls for ecstasy to be downgraded from the class-A status it shares with cocaine and heroin and said it would be "disappointing" if radical options on the law on cannabis were not looked at.

Well, quite. Although, it was inevitable that some would object.
Ann Widdecombe, the former Home Office minister who is supporting Kenneth Clarke for the Tory leadership, criticised Mr Cameron's views and said that legalising drugs would only encourage use.

"This is a grossly misled view that will have very damaging consequences for society," she said. "Most Conservatives would make the case that legalisation is misguided. If you legalise hard drugs you would effectively be making the state give first-time users their first experience.

"It's just not an option. And the World Health Organisation is against it."

Well, generally, if the WHO is against it, I am going to argue for it vociferously.

And the puritanical Ann Widdecombe's assertion that legalising hard drugs "would effectively be making the state give first-time users their first experience" is so stupid an assertion that one wonders what on earth Widdecombe thought that she was saying. Mind you, much as I admire her honesty in respect of the expenses scandal (she was "clean"), Ann Widdecombe's personal judgement is very ropey—if it weren't, she would never have even dreamed of going on Strictly Come Dancing.

But, I digress: in 2005, Dave thought that the ludicrously expensive and ineffective war on drugs should be abandoned in favour of a more sensible policy—and the LibDems concurred in 2006. So, why—a mere five years later—has Dave and his cronies so ready to dismiss the recommendations of Ainsworth (OK, yes; but in this case the idiot's right)?
"David Cameron deserves our utmost respect and admiration for refusing the 'war on drugs' rhetoric in calling for a discussion of legalisation with the UN body that oversees global prohibition," said Danny Kushlick, the director of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. He added: "Too many politicians support the status quo because of careerism."

Ah, yes. Careerism.

I suspect that Kushlick's 2005 comment may well contain the truth about why Cameron is prepared to condemn hundreds of thousands of people to lives of misery and ill-health, to punish and condemn thousands of people who have harmed precisely nobody, and to continue to spend billions of pounds of our money on an ineffective "war" that merely promotes violent criminality—and which has had not the slightest material impact on the availability of drugs.

Unfortunately, the egregious James Brokenshire—a man whom we have met before, spouting illiberal horseshit about alcohol—has decided to take issue with Bob Ainsworth's entirely sensible (although suspiciously motivated) suggestion.
Crime Prevention Minister James Brokenshire said: "Drugs are harmful and ruin lives - legalisation is not the answer.

Yes, James: drugs do ruin a few lives even though they are illegal and have been (entirely) since 1971. So, if prohibition works, why are drugs still ruining lives?

And what, precisely, is your prescription—more of the same, is it? You moron.
"Decriminalisation is a simplistic solution that fails to recognise the complexity of the problem and ignores the serious harm drug taking poses to the individual.

It is not the state's job to tell me what I may or may not do with my own body, you authoritarian bastard! It is my body, not yours.
"Legalisation fails to address the reasons people misuse drugs in the first place or the misery, cost and lost opportunities that dependence causes individuals, their families and the wider community."

But, as we have established above, it does address the issues of purity and crime, thus leading to far less misery than is currently the case.

I get tired of saying this—I continue to do so simply because people do not seem to have got the message—but there really is only one sensible solution and, as successful as Portugal's decriminalisation has been, legalisation is a far better option.

Why? Because, in Portugal, the supply of drugs is still in the hands of criminals (and of the criminals who grow the drugs in other countries), and so the problems of adulteration still exist. And, whilst the emphasis is on rehabilitation rather than incarceration, one can still be criminalised for harming no one but yourself.

As I have said time and time again, the only sensible answer is education, legalisation and regulation. It's nice to see that Bob Ainsworth realises this—what a pity he didn't think to do anything about it when he had the power to do so.

In the meantime, despite their earlier rhetoric, it seems that the Tories and the LibDems are going to carry on the tradition—exemplified so well by NuLabour—of talking a good game in Opposition but toeing the same, pathetic, harmful and utterly discredited line in office.

No, our politicians are not heroes making the difficult decisions on our behalf—they are spineless toadies to media such as The Daily Hate, making decisions to further their own advantage and stuffing ordinary people for a few column inches.


Northerner said...

Once again,I'll point you and your readers at Catherine Austin Fitts and her writings on Narco-Dollars.The State is at the head of illicit drugs.Drug money kept the economy going as the banks crashed.Our 'brave troops' are protecting Afghan poppy fields.

Good post from criminologists on cannabis -

Dr John Marks ran a succesful Heroin treatment programme in liverpool which saw a drop in both crime and the number of new users..closed down when 60 minutes did a feature on him and the american gov leaned on thatcher to fuck him up..

Drugs fund black ops.They fund a whole security industry.You get burgled for drug money.You install bars and alarms on your new window,claim on insurance,pay higher premiums,buy another telly.The alternative is that the burglar goes to a needle exchange,gets his fix from the NHS,at a fraction of the illegal price,with no health consequences,and leaves your property alone.Better for you and the addict,not so good for securicor,directline or dixons.

I don't doubt that you all know somebody who uses cocaine.An alarming fact has come to light.It is being cut,at the source,with industrial grade de-worming powder.

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly recommend watching this 14min video clip by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

These guys have fought hard, and with considerable success to change the message in the States. Having veteran drug warriors standing up and saying that prohibition just makes everything worse gives considerable cover for others to follow in their footsteps. It’s hard to dispute their credibility, so they became one of the prime movers in the fight for proposition 19 in California.

Jiks said...

The "war on drugs" can never be won. That is the point, it is not fought to be won, it is fought to be sustained. Wars with imaginary enemies like drugs, global warming or terrorism have all the benefits of a conventional war without the danger of a premature victory.

As Northerner suggests, one of the reasons we went into Afghanistan is the Taliban, ghastly creatures though they are, were eradicating the opium production. We didn't like that very much, obviously...

Why on earth would the state make drugs legal? It makes no sense to do something like that from their point of view.

Dioclese said...

Welcome back...

Trooper Thompson said...

I've just been making similar points chez moi - and Northerner's right about drug money being used by agents of the state. BCCI and the Iran-Contra scandal give good examples of this, as does the crash in Yucatan a couple of years ago when a CIA plane came down with 3 tonnes of cocaine on board.

Suboptimal Planet said...

Great article, DK. I remember the good old days when you could get magic mushrooms from Camden market, or from reliable Internet retailers.

They had the same self-limiting feature you described for Ecstasy -- take them too often, and they lose effectiveness.

Tremendous fun, but deeper than that ... The closest this atheist ever got to a religious experience.

Bloody killjoys.

Chris said...

The news barely covered it. Channel 4 news went a whole hour without mentioning it once. One would think that an ex-drugs minister and defence secretary calling for the legalisation of all drugs would qualify as quite a big news story.

Chris said...

A bit of humour... here is Peter Hitchens on why cannabis users must be punished:

"Why should the use of cannabis promote criminality? One, the use of such drugs is itself an immoral and selfish act, the seeking of euphoria which is undeserved by work, human love or achievement. This attempt to break the link between reward and effort is a step down the pathway to dishonesty and theft (which is permitted by the same fundamental belief - that a person has a 'right' to things for which he has not worked). Combine that with some of the effects of cannabis use, which renders its users less fit for work than others (and, I might add, less fit for work than they believe themselves to be) and you then have a baleful combination of circumstances. A self-stupefying, selfish transgressor, who has dispensed with one of the most essential moral rules of any advanced civilisation, who desires things he cannot afford and is not capable of working for the money to pay for them, nor does he believe he is required to. Bravo! What do you think might happen next?"

Vladimir said...

What exactly do you think is illogical, invalid or otherwise unintentionally humorous about that quote?

I have argued with P.H. on a number of occasions on this very subject. It is one of the few places I disagree with him. It seems to me that he'd be a good deal less upset by cannabis users if the Rule of Law was properly enforced in our country.

To me, the problem is not that people take drugs, but that other laws are broken as a consequence of drug taking. No serious effort is being put into policing those any more. If the police, justice system and prison service were willing and able to put real effort into punishing crimes that actually do harm others and make society a worse place, then private drug use wouldn't matter very much. The Victorians simultaneously had no drug prohibition, a significant population of morphine addicts, and yet almost no crime. This is where we should be.

Chris said...

His suggestion that drug taking is immoral and selfish is illogical. I can understand people arguing against drugs from a mental health perspective, or the damage it does to immediate family in the case of addiction, but to state that taking drugs is immoral in itself is just daft.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that drugs should be totally legal, I don't agree that they are harmless.
I do know people who's lives have been ruined by drugs.

It usually happens when you get into your 30's - things start getting a bit tedious, when real life is knocking so much harder at the door, and you try to ignore it.

I know so many people in their late 40's who are just existing. They don't have the drive to make anything of their lives anymore - and its because they burnt it all up doing pills of various types!

So yes, legalise it to reduce crime, but be very aware that it won't take the pressure off the health system - so maybe taxation of the drugs trade to pay for the damage might be the way forward!

Vladimir said...

Actually, I think it's illogical to suggest that excessive drug taking has an effect on your family, but moderate drug taking has no effect at all. Why should this be? Surely there is a continuum of harm.

I know from personal experience that drug users are pretty terrible at figuring out how much harm they are doing to those around them. We tend to live in a state of denial, telling ourselves that it doesn't matter and we're hurting nobody. Rather than argue with us, our spouses and partners may feed our denial. But meanwhile, our families and friends are being neglected, and our lives are slowly poisoned by our own selfish behaviour. If that's not immoral, then what is?

Devil's Kitchen said...


I don't think that drugs are necessarily harmless—but it is for me to take that risk (which is why I say that we should educate people).

"So yes, legalise it to reduce crime, but be very aware that it won't take the pressure off the health system - so maybe taxation of the drugs trade to pay for the damage might be the way forward!"

Yes, absolutely. We use Pigou taxation to internalise the externalities—it is (ostensibly) why alcohol and cigarettes are taxed, after all.

But whilst drugs are illegal—or even decriminalised—the government cannot do that. Which is another reason why legalisation is the way forward.


"I know from personal experience that drug users are pretty terrible at figuring out how much harm they are doing to those around them."

Which is why I never define libertarianism in terms of harm—only that you shall not initiate force or fraud on someone else's life, liberty or property.

"If that's not immoral, then what is?"

Well, I wouldn't call it immoral necessarily—and that's the point. Morality is a personal thing and should not be the basis for legislation.


Vladimir said...

I think morality is inevitably the basis for legislation. After all, on what basis are force or fraud wrong? Surely that rule is also a moral law.

But I feel like I am derailing the discussion here, which was not my intention, not least because I largely agree with you on this subject. I just wanted to contribute a couple of points on the subject of why certain social conservatives get so hung up about seemingly trivial stuff like cannabis use, because I think their perspective is also valid.

Intruder said...

I'm not sure we could allow people to make their own decision if we are so eager to pick up the pieces...

Once legal I suspect that many would go to GPs to get prescriptions. And there's been many drugs that have become prescriptions because of marketing (eg viagra or that anti-addiction drug) - the cost of alcohol v. free highs? No contest, you just need the 'marketing' to identify the 'best' free highs.

And then limiting the supply of the drug to sensible levels would just mean others would get the prescription to supply demand for profit. And some people who would otherwise be feckless benefits scroungers will now be feckless benefit scroungers with free highs and absolutely no consequences.

And then it would become a Human Right to not have the drug removed from supply (eg because you are a new mother, or because you have been sent to jail). Withdrawing supply would be seen as mental torture.

If we could invent a way of free supply (to stop blackmarket) and regulated supply (to stop selling to those illegible) and not discriminate on the basis of parenthood or responsibilities or criminality, and allow free choice but decide whether we are responsible for the free supply or the 10th child after the previous 9 were put into care, or whether we are responsible for the benefits of the addicted.

I also wonder about companies and insurance enforcing drug testing, and being a state-registered druggie means never having a job, you will make it more difficult to rise out of drugs. The legal market for drugs that weren't tested would be attractive to many with jobs/insurance, especially since the marketing would state how safe the drugs were.

Legalisation - yes, makes perfect sense. Legalisation in this country - a bit difficult.


Anonymous said...

Is it just me or is Simon Heffer completely mad?

Were legalisation ever to happen, drugs would have to be sold on the same basis as alcohol and tobacco. They would need to carry VAT and excise duty. Given the damage done by drugs in terms of health and consequent criminality – such as addicts mugging and burgling to afford their fix, which would not change – there is a strong case for setting excise duty at a higher rate than on booze and fags (and you can bet that the drinks and tobacco industries would make that case powerfully). Therefore, the newly legalised drugs would be expensive, allowing plenty of scope for illegal traffickers and dealers to undercut them – at which point we would be back not quite where we started.

I'll try to summarise:

If we legalise drugs we must tax them at a high enough rate to ensure that addicts will have to continue to mug and burgle as much as presently, and to ensure the illegal black market survives unchanged.

Barking mad.

Kevin Monk said...

In a free and open society we don't need a reason to legalise something. We only need a reason to make something illegal.

DK - Why the regulation? What benefit does it bring?

Devil's Kitchen said...


As I'm sure you know, I would rather no regulation at all, obviously.

However, with dangerous drugs, regulation is better than prohibition: and, given that there are externalities, there is a free market argument for taxing drugs to internalise those externalities...


Mark d said...

Dk, Listening to you talk about morals is hilarious. You wouldn't know a moral if you snorted it. You come from a generation of selfish individualists who deny any moral absolutes so that you can chase whatever selfish high you desire that particular moment. You convince yourself that drugs rarely do harm because you want to do drugs. It's just dangerous to preach that we live in some kind of mad consequence-free cartoon world.

Suboptimal Planet said...

Mark d,

What exactly is your position? That drugs are morally wrong because they give "selfish highs"?

Would you support the prohibition of alcohol and tobacco too?

What about skydiving and motorcycling?

Anonymous said...

Welcome back.

Why does everyone fall in to the same lazy trap of blaming the Daily Mail readership for anti-drug hysteria?

The editorial line may be hysteric however the highest rated comments on these stories on the DM website are invariably in support of decriminalisation.

neil craig said...

The basic rule being demonstrated is that politicians in government are always in facour of more rules & restrictions & in opposition assert their support of freedom. If only they could all be in opposition all the time.

Lola said...

I am beginning to think that I am the only 58 year old bloke in the UK who has never (and I really mean never) used any form of narcotic - other than booze, of course, but there again I am an abstemious cove.

Anyhow, even thought drugs are of absolutely no interest to me, crime and disorder and addiction are. And any logical look at the 'drug problem'(?) can only lead one to the same conclusions as yours, Mr Kitchen.

So thank you for the post and welcome back.

Suboptimal Planet said...

Alcohol is my only drug this evening, but it is working beautifully.

Happy Christmas, DK.

Chris said...

My theory is that drugs will be legalised, but it will be a long way off, perhaps fifty to a hundred years off. If you look at history, the last century is technically an anomaly in terms of drugs. Before 1910 drugs were legal throughout human history. Opium was sold here for over 300 years. Now the boom years are gone and oil prices rising, governments will be extra cautious about spending. We'll probably see a domino effect over the coming decades as more countries start copying Portugal and decriminalising, purely out of cost. (if you read the history of prohibition in America, the only reason the government repealed prohibition was because of the great depression. It had virtually nothing to do with concerns about Al Capone/violence and bootlegging.)
Eventually the heat will come out of the war on drugs and governments will start legalising soft drugs like cannabis and ecstasy. By that time all the current old faurts like Dacre will have bitten the dust and drugs will be completely normalised( soft drugs anyway) in society, so politicians won't be that scared of proposing it.

Chris said...

An interesting point mentioned earlier by Northerner - that the UNs crime and drugs tsar said the banks managed to stay afloat during the global meltdown due to drugs money worth up to 325 billion dollars.

When you consider that the illegal drugs trade is 2nd only to oil, it's hard not to believe that elements in western governments and the security services haven't been corrupted.

Steven_L said...

Welcome back to the US Empire! Interesting California is getting softer now, could herald something.

Of course, if the recession kicks on or their bonds crash and they get skint they might see then sense in locking less people up.

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