The Opponets of Legalisation SpEAk their BrAnEs

Heffer, this morning.

That alone illustrates the moral failure of our drugs policy, and perhaps helps one understand why the Ainsworths of this world feel that we might as well give up and legalise these killer substances. Theirs is a counsel of despair, however. The liberal society has failed. If we want to deal seriously with the drugs menace, we must start by admitting that, and reversing its odious doctrines.

Anyone whose argument concludes that “the liberal society has failed” has defeated his own argument, because the liberal society has created more happiness than any of the brutalised and repressed societies which preceded it. It may not be perfect, but more repression, locking more people up because they don’t behave as Simon Heffer thinks they ought, is not the answer. Who are we helping by such a policy? He trots out the same, tired, lazy arguments, which at the risk of boring my colleague Travelgall (who basically thinks the public’s view issue will NEVER change – itself a council of despair) I shall deal with the Heffer’s “arguments” in order. None are convincing.

…if you seek to undermine what Mr Ainsworth correctly calls the “gangsters” by reducing their ability to make money from drugs, they will simply find another commodity to exploit

There has never been a business as profitable as illegal drugs. Whatever dealers do instead will be less profitable, harder and therefore less attractive. Some will “go straight”. To say in one breath “drugs are an evil scourge on society” and in the next suggesting that whatever dealers will do instead would be worse is solipsistic.It pretends labour cannot be re-deployed (I was unaware that Mr Heffer took his Labour market economics from the Socialist Worker). In any case the argument amounts to “we can’t legalise drugs, because drug-dealers would lose their jobs”. I am sure this is not what Heffer had in mind.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and criminals used to idling for a living on a huge income are not suddenly going to get jobs stacking shelves in Tesco.

Most drug dealers are on, in effect, the minimum wage. True, there’s a chance of success by climbing the value-chain to the top, but the economics of Drugs are not easy riches. This shows how much research Heffer has done for this opinion piece. He then goes on to say that the taxes levied would be so high that the illegal traffickers would simply undercut the legal supply, and that

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.

He offers no evidence to back this up. Some, perhaps most of the serious health problems of drug use are caused by illegality. No-one is going to pretend that pot is good for you, but there are regular users who remain productive members of society. Cocaine use is widespread in the professions. Many people remain occasional users. Heroin users, if they use clean needles and have a supply of quality drugs can remain productive members of society. They tend to remain less visible than the smack whores who remain the public image of heroin use, but I know of at least a couple of people who maintained a recreational Heroin habit for years without becoming smack-addled derelicts, including one who was a semi-pro rugby player. The point is that it is mucky, adulterated smack is the cause of much ill health, a situation that would be amenable to legalisation. Nothing I can see suggests that illegal drugs, especially Cannabis and Cocaine are far removed from the harm potential of Alcohol. Either ban Alcohol (what’s that, you say it’s been tried?), or legalise drugs.

Next he trots out the tired old “slippery slope argument.

… the other effects of legalisation would be to encourage people who don’t use drugs to have a dabble; and to encourage those who use so-called “soft” drugs (though the psychotic effects of cannabis seem to me to render it anything but “soft”) to try something a bit more serious.

“Seem to me”, well, he’s obviously done his research. That’s me convinced! The psychotic effects of Cannabis are not proven, and seem to be at most increasing the likelihood of schizophrenia in very heavy users who may have been already prone to the condition. Again no-one would say any drug is good for you, but compare the psycotic effect of alcohol: how many pot-fuelled fights are there in the UK every Friday night? How many booze-addled tramps are ruined by Booze? Pot is not good for you, but it isn’t worse than Alcohol. And who’s to say dabbling with drugs is entirely bad? Find me a graduate who hasn’t tried a spliff? Although some of those undergraduate pot-smokers become Journalists, most make something worthwhile of their lives.

Never in all the years I’ve been writing on this issue has anyone addressed the fact that there are FAR more problem drug users than when the substances were legal, available over the counter at your local chemist. Supporters of continued prohibition must ask themselves why. An illegal drug habit is expensive and the easiest way to maintain it is by dealing yourself. This encourages users to recruit other users in a highly effective pyramid marketing scheme. Whilst it is true that in the short term, there will be a great many people who will be tempted by a line of Coke or a Spliff, I suspect that anyone who would be tempted to mainline heroin is already doing so. A young impressionable pot or Ecstasy user is less likely, were they legal, to be exposed to a dealer whose supply of Green or pills had gone a bit dry, suggesting that he try some brown instead. Legal drugs would come with health warnings, and education material sponsored by nannying Government departments, rather than tips on how to get high from an experienced user. The slippery slope argument is as much an argument against prohibition as it is against legalisation.

The most widespread drug, Alcohol is at least as harmful as most illegal drugs. It is certainly responsible for the majority of the visible drug failures: the derelicts littering park benches and shop doorways. If we tolerate a drug with this potential for harm, it makes no sense to make illegal and spend billions interdicting supply, and criminalising users of drugs like pot which are FAR less harmful than booze.

Opponents of legalisation have to address the question of the availability of drugs. With all the money spent on preventing it getting to the UK, a crop which requires chemical processing and is grown on the mountains of South America, despite the USA spending 10 Billion a year on crop-sprayers and troops, despite all the sniffer dogs at airports, despite draconian punishment for traffickers, Cocaine can be had for £30-£40 a gram in every town from Inverness to Penzance. Cannabis can be had for £15 for an eighth (why cocaine is metric, and pot is imperial is an issue which has long vexed me). How could legalisation possibly make such drugs more available? They’re available everywhere, now! Anyone who is minded to try anything can already do so, after hours and to the underage, illegal drugs are easier to get than booze.

To suggest that the answer is savage repression against something that millions, yes millions of people do every weekend in the UK, and to even think this policy would make for a happy country, is absurd. Legal drugs would be cleaner, cheaper and there would be less stigma attached. Friends and family would be able to monitor people’s drug use as they already do with alcohol, as such use would be less hidden. Problem users may be tempted to seek help earlier than at present. It would remove a vast source of profit from organised crime, and put a stop to the recruitment of users by low-level dealers seeking to fund their own habit.

Nowhere, in all the world’s decriminalisation experiments has the supply chain been removed from criminal hands, yet not one has seen a significant increase in harm (use is different from harm). Reports of more widespread use may just be lower stigma increasing reporting of use. So decriminalisation hasn’t led to social unrest in Portugal. Pot is effectively legal in Spain, Holland and Germany without the reefer madness promised by the prohibitionists. I cannot see how removing the Gangster’s profits and redeploying the resources on actual crimes which hurt people can be anything other than a cheap win. Bleating about “families destroyed by drugs” seems to forget that these families are destroyed when drugs are already illegal. Perhaps they would not be so destroyed under a more humane system?

“Because they are illegal” is not an answer to “why are drugs bad?” The trade exists and cannot be controlled or prevented in a free society. Nowhere has succeeded in suppressing the trade, no matter how draconian a the country gets. A law which millions disobey every weekend brings the law into disrepute, and gifts millions to criminals who fight over the profits. Every drug death is an indictment of the current system and policy. “More of the same” is not, and cannot be an answer.

Heffer with his tired, ignorant, knee-jerk moralising has ignored every argument, and simply asserted what he believes to be true without deigning to do any research, or even thought. Remind me again, why does anyone pay any attention to journalists? How is repeating your readers prejudices for pay any more “moral” than selling them a relatively harmless herb to help them relax?

5 replies
  1. Mehran
    Mehran says:

    I love reading your columns. You write very well and you argue very well. I often re-tweet your pieces. This particular piece was excellent!

  2. Deogolwulf
    Deogolwulf says:

    “Anyone whose argument concludes that ‘the liberal society has failed’ has defeated his own argument, because the liberal society has created more happiness than any of the brutalised and repressed societies which preceded it.”

    From the premise, namely, that liberal society has created more happiness than any other, it does not follow that anyone who concludes that liberal society has failed has defeated his own argument. (It is quite another matter whether the premise is true or not.) Your argument, if it may be called such, must count as one of the oddest examples of illogic I have seen for some time. Indeed the two statements are so far from logical relation that it is hard to see what could be added to bring them into it. Mind you, it seems clear to me that somewhere in this logical void you are begging the question against the non-hedonist, but that, sunk in your ideology, you are simply too ignorant, or too imperious, to understand that there are arguments outside the swamp of libertarian drivel.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I am old enough to remember the days when drug addiction was treated as a medical problem. In the 60s we used occasional cannibis at parties and talked drivel but it didn't do any harm except to a very few who used it constantly. We all finished our degrees and have led productive lives albiet with still occasional cannibis use at weekends. Also used uppers and downers and I tried LSD once but didn't like the experience. I knew of only two heroin addicts then, a young couple who were prescibed heroin legally. Never in a million years would anyone have guessed they were addicts, both worked, they got married and managed to stop when they decided to start a family. Drugs were rarely used in working class areas, I came from one, the drug of choice there was alcohol and few people used any other drugs. I think proper control and legalisation would help everyone, take drugs out of the hands of criminal gangs, help the tax take and maybe even take some of the excitement of illegality out.

  4. cuffleyburgers
    cuffleyburgers says:

    One of the major downsides of legalising weed of course is that selling it by the ounce would surely become illegal, and only grams would be allowed…


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