Apropos of my extended article on the irrationality of the UK’s approach to formulating public policy on the use and abuse of narcotic drugs, I find that Bearwatch has read something into the article that simply isn’t there:
Unity at the Ministry of Truth offers 15,000 words to justify the legalisation of drugs
There’s nothing in the article that calls for or even seeks to justify the legalisation of drugs, generally. The article simply attempts to explore and explain the failure of the prevailing prohibitionist approach, as adopted by the UK in the 1970s, and the role that media plays in both concealing the failures of this policy and closing down rational debate on this issue.
Nor, I might add, is legalisation the sole viable alternative to the current model of prohibition or, necessarily, an alternative worth adopting. If nothing else, the logistics of legalisation in a society in which there are currently an estimated 300-500,000 chaotic heroin users present a very different set of challenges to those that would have faced the government that had chosen to go that route in the late 60’s, when there were only a few hundred addicts.
A sensible drugs policy starts with the recognition that both that absolute prohibition is impossible and different drugs require different approaches if they are to be successfully controlled and managed, approaches which take into account a range of different factors, starting with the nature and extent of the health risks associated with each drug before moving on to look at the social and economic costs of each drug, and the dynamics of the existing black market for each of them.
Cannabis, for example, is a suitable case for legalisation, control and taxation on the same basis as tobacco. The few acute health risks associated with the drug can, for the most part, be ameliorated by controlling the quality of the supply.Cannabis has two active ingredients, THC, which gives the high and can give rise to a small risk of psychotic episodes in individuals who have a pre-existing susceptibility to mental health problems, and cannabidinol, which is a natural anti-psychotic. As for the chronic risks, these are similar to and on a par with tobacco, which suggests that we simply adopt the same basic regime of high taxation and investment in public health education and cessation services.
Heroin is a different matter.
Here, the evidence supports the decriminalisation of heroin use, but not of supplying the black market, and a return to the pre-1970’s policy of ‘policing and prescribing’ coupled with investment in effective rehabilitation services and, of course, public education. The primary objective of a rational policy on heroin, given the current scale of the problem, should be to bring existing use (and users) under control in order ameliorate the health risks and social problems associated with chronic, chaotic, heroin use and break the link to the black market, which is where the real problems are created. Do that, and then you have a base from which you can work both to reduce the existing numbers of users and prevent new users entering the market, managing out much of the existing problem over time.
Set again that rational approach, Bearwatch cites ‘Theodore Dalrymple’, who parlays his experiences as a former prison doctor into the crass and grossly oversimplistic assertion that ‘it’s criminals who turn to heroin, not heroin-users who turn to crime’, ignoring the fact that its half-baked moralising of precisely that variety that created the current mess in the first place. In the real world, beyond the prison walls, things are nothing like that simple, for all that Dalrymple is correct in much of the rest of his commentary on both patterns of pre-addiction usage and on the subject of withdrawal itself. Chronic heroin use is most prevalent, and strikes most damagingly, in poor communities where is serves as a means of self-medicating away the depredations of poverty and the sense of hopelessness this engenders by deploying the age-old right-wing canard of blaming the victim for their supposed moral defects rather than tackling the real problems that are to be found in such communities; low aspirations, low educational standards and a lack of suitable employment opportunities.
Prohibitionism has it roots in the same brand of Victorian lower middle-class class-hatred that prompts its adherent to witter on endlessly about the evils of liberalism, welfarism, the 1960’s, and the so-called ‘undeserving’ poor, a credo that sits squarely at the heart of Britain’s sustained and unenviable history of policy failures on drug use where, as the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee correctly noted, there is no solid evidence to support the view that the current system of classification and criminal prohibition of drug use has any deterrent effect on either drug users or those who supply the existing black market.
Adopting a rational, evidence-based approach to formulating public policy on drug use is not, as the title of Bearwatch’s article suggests, ‘a rope to hang ourselves’, it is nothing more than a sensible and honest means of addressing, controlling and managing out a very real set of issues and problems by seeking out and adopting policies that actually work.
And that’s all that I’m actually advocating here, and in my previous post – using the right tools for the job.