Saturday, 13 October 2007

I've just finished watching season 3 of The Wire. There's an interesting political thread running through it to do with how society treats drugs, and it reminded me of something that I should have blogged about on here a while ago: the UK government's ongoing drugs consultation.

The government are asking for your views (there's an online questionnaire to complete, only 7 questions). The deadline is the 18th of October. Here are my thoughts:

Firstly, I'm coming at this from a moral point of view - I strongly believe that people should be able to do what they like in private (and maybe in public), so long as it's not harming anyone else. UK law mostly respects this principle these days - you can screw any number of people of any combination of genders in your own home. Super. You can write pretty much what you like on blogs like this one, say what you like to your friends, and so on. We live in a pretty free and tolerant society, all told, certainly in comparison to the rest of the world, and certainly when it comes to doing things in private. The one major exception seems to be ingestion of narcotics.

Now, I can totally see why hard or intensely addictive drugs like heroin and crack should be controlled substances - the amount of harm they can do to one's family and friends through their use is, I imagine, serious.

On the other hand, there appears to be a class of fairly harmless recreational drugs such as magic mushrooms, cannabis, ecstasy and so on that have relatively minor effects with relatively small risks, when used properly, whose use and sale is illegal. Why?

As far as I can tell, there is no good "moral" reason.

Turning to the practicalities of the matter, access to narcotics is, by their nature, controlled by criminals. Now, the student cannabis grower, while technically a criminal, is not really a threat to anyone, but I suspect that there is a class of drug dealer dealing in recreational drugs, for whom the margins are sufficiently large that serious criminal activity such as extortion and violence becomes worthwhile. Further, there are probably some dealers who sell both "soft" and "hard" drugs, who would rather their clientele be hooked on something fantastically addictive rather than pot or ecstasy.

Legalization of soft drugs for sale in eg. pharmacies would deprive dealers of revenues and of the gateway mechanism. This would result in a contraction of the number of dealers and (hopefully) therefore a reduction in the non-drugs crimes that dealers are involved in. Hell, some dealers could become registered pharmacists!

There's the obvious public health benefits, too, in that health information would be available to users, and grade and purity would be guaranteed.

The final worry is that with legalization comes an increase in demand. I would ask where that demand would come from - and I suspect that the answer is the kind of people who already drink alcohol would maybe try something different. I can't imagine many teetotallers would decide that alcohol is evil but ecstasy - well, that's awesome. So there would be an increase in competition in the legal mind-altering drugs market, but the market itself would not necessarily get much bigger. Considering the effects that alcohol has on people, in terms of health effects, public disorder and so on, I am all for encouraging some of them to switch to drugs whose responses vary from "wanting to hug everyone" to "wanting to sit eating cookies all night" instead of alcohol, which seems to make a lot of young males do stupid and nasty things to each other and the people around them.

Here's that link again. Please go and give your views.

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