#406 A Syndicated Columnist Supports Legalization

Date: Wed, 1 Jul 2009
Subject: #406 A Syndicated Columnist Supports Legalization

A SYNDICATED COLUMNIST SUPPORTS LEGALIZATION

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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #406 – Wednesday, 1 July 2009

You may not agree with everything syndicated columnist George Monbiot
wrote below. The point he makes that is worthy of this FOCUS Alert is
that decriminalization is not the answer – full legalization is.

The referenced reports are worth reading.

World Drug Report 2009 http://drugsense.org/url/dhSmEL2y

The WHO report http://www.tdpf.org.uk/WHOleaked.pdf

A Comparison of the Cost – effectiveness of the Prohibition and
Regulation of Drugs http://drugsense.org/url/l4lH1McU

It is possible that MAP’s Newshawks will find more newspapers that
print the syndicated column in the days ahead. If so they will appear
here http://www.mapinc.org/author/George+Monbiot

If you would like to help with newshawking please see both
http://www.mapinc.org/newshawk and http://www.mapinc.org/hawk.htm

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Note: Also printed in the Canberra Times (Australia)
http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v09/n667/a12.html

Pubdate: Tue, 30 Jun 2009

Source: Guardian, The (UK)

Copyright: 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited

Author: George Monbiot

YES, ADDICTS NEED HELP. BUT ALL YOU CASUAL COCAINE USERS WANT LOCKING UP

I Know People Who Drink Fair-Trade Tea and Coffee, Shop Locally and
Snort Drugs at Parties. They Are Disgusting Hypocrites

It looked like the first drop of rain in the desert of drugs policy.
Last week Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the UN office
on drugs and crime, said what millions of liberal-minded people have
been waiting to hear. “Law enforcement should shift its focus from
drug users to drug traffickers … people who take drugs need medical
help, not criminal retribution.” Drug production should remain
illegal, possession and use should be decriminalised. Guardian readers
toasted him with bumpers of peppermint tea, and, perhaps, a
celebratory spliff.

I didn’t.

I believe that informed adults should be allowed to inflict whatever
suffering they wish on themselves. But we are not entitled to harm
other people.

I know people who drink fair-trade tea and coffee, shop locally and
take cocaine at parties.

They are revolting hypocrites.

Every year cocaine causes some 20,000 deaths in Colombia and displaces
several hundred thousand people from their homes.

Children are blown up by landmines; indigenous people are enslaved;
villagers are tortured and killed; rainforests are razed.

You’d cause less human suffering if instead of discreetly retiring to
the toilet at a media drinks party, you went into the street and
mugged someone.

But the counter-cultural association appears to insulate people from
ethical questions.

If commissioning murder, torture, slavery, civil war, corruption and
deforestation is not a crime, what is?

I am talking about elective drug use, not addiction.

I cannot find comparative figures for the United Kingdom, but in the
United States casual users of cocaine outnumber addicts by about 12 to
one. I agree that addicts should be helped, not prosecuted. I would
like to see a revival of the British programme that was killed by a
tabloid witch-hunt in 1971: until then all heroin addicts were
entitled to clean, legal supplies administered by doctors.

Cocaine addicts should be offered residential detox.

But, at the risk of alienating most of the readership of this
newspaper, I maintain that while cocaine remains illegal, casual users
should remain subject to criminal law. Decriminalisation of the
products of crime expands the market for this criminal trade.

We have a choice of two consistent policies.

The first is to sustain global prohibition, while helping addicts and
prosecuting casual users. This means that the drugs trade will remain
the preserve of criminal gangs.

It will keep spreading crime and instability around the world, and
ensure that narcotics are still cut with contaminants. As Nick Davies
argued during his investigation of drugs policy for the Guardian,
major seizures raise the price of drugs.

Demand among addicts is inelastic, so higher prices mean that they
must find more money to buy them. The more drugs the police capture
and destroy, the more robberies and muggings addicts will commit.

The other possible policy is to legalise and regulate the global
trade. This would undercut the criminal networks and guarantee
unadulterated supplies to consumers.

There might even be a market for certified fair-trade
cocaine.

Costa’s new report begins by rejecting this option.

If it did otherwise, he would no longer be executive director of the
UN office on drugs and crime.

The report argues that “any reduction in the cost of drug control …
will be offset by much higher expenditure on public health (due to the
surge of drug consumption)”. It admits that tobacco and alcohol kill
more people than illegal drugs, but claims that this is only because
fewer illegal drugs are consumed.

Strangely however, it fails to supply any evidence to support the
claim that narcotics are dangerous.

Nor does it distinguish between the effects of drugs themselves and
the effects of the adulteration and disease caused by their
prohibition.

Why not? Perhaps because the evidence would torpedo the rest of the
report. A couple of weeks ago, Ben Goldacre drew attention to the
largest study on cocaine ever undertaken, completed by the World
Health Organisation in 1995. I’ve just read it, and this is what it
says. “Health problems from the use of legal substances, particularly
alcohol and tobacco, are greater than health problems from cocaine
use. Few experts describe cocaine as invariably harmful to health.
Cocaine-related problems are widely perceived to be more common and
more severe for intensive, high-dosage users and very rare and much
less severe for occasional, low-dosage users … occasional cocaine
use does not typically lead to severe or even minor physical or social
problems.” This study was suppressed by the WHO after threats of an
economic embargo by the Clinton government. Drugs policy in most
nations is a matter of religion, not science.

The same goes for heroin.

The biggest study of opiate use ever conducted (at Philadelphia
general hospital) found that addicts suffered no physical harm, even
though some of them had been taking heroin for 20 years.

The devastating health effects of heroin use are caused by adulterants
and the lifestyles of people forced to live outside the law. Like
cocaine, heroin is addictive; but unlike cocaine, the only consequence
of its addiction appears to be … addiction.

Costa’s half-measure, in other words, gives us the worst of both
worlds: more murder, more destruction, more muggings, more
adulteration. Another way of putting it is this: you will, if Costa’s
proposal is adopted, be permitted without fear of prosecution to
inject yourself with heroin cut with drain cleaner and brick dust,
sold illegally and soaked in blood; but not with clean and legal supplies.

His report does raise one good argument, however.

At present the trade in class A drugs is concentrated in the rich
nations.

If it were legalised, we could cope. The use of drugs is likely to
rise, but governments could use the extra taxes to help people tackle
addiction. But because the wholesale price would collapse with
legalisation, these drugs would for the first time become widely
available in poorer nations, which are easier for companies to exploit
(as tobacco and alcohol firms have found) and which are less able to
regulate, raise taxes or pick up the pieces.

The widespread use of cocaine or heroin in the poor world could cause
serious social problems: I’ve seen, for example, how a weaker drug
khat seems to dominate life in Somali-speaking regions of Africa. “The
universal ban on illicit drugs,” the UN argues, “provides a great deal
of protection to developing countries”.

So Costa’s office has produced a study comparing the global costs of
prohibition with the global costs of legalisation, allowing us to see
whether the current policy (murder, corruption, war, adulteration)
causes less misery than the alternative (widespread addiction in
poorer nations)? The hell it has. Even to raise the possibility of
such research would be to invite the testerics in Congress to shut off
the UN’s funding.

The drug charity Transform has addressed this question, but only for
the UK, where the results are clear-cut: prohibition is the worse option.

As far as I can discover, no one has attempted a global
study.

Until that happens, Costa’s opinions on this issue are worth as much
as mine or anyone else’s: nothing at all.

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Prepared by: Richard Lake, Senior Editor http://www.mapinc.org

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