CIVIC REPUBLICAN NEWSLETTER No 4
“Constructing a Humanist Politics”
Issue No 4 Friday 26th September 2008
· The Prohibition On Recreational Drugs Debate
Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican view, particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.
· The Prohibition On Recreational Drugs Debate
This is the full transcript of a report by Today on Radio Four on Thursday 4th Sept 2008, Time 07.50.30
The comments speak for themselves.
John Humphrys “The solution to the drugs crisis facing the country is to legalise drugs.”
That’s what many people believe but you won’t find any serious politician agreeing with them in public even if they’re sympathetic to the idea in private its political dynamite. In a moment we’ll hear from a former narcotics agent in New Jersey who says the war on drugs has been an abject failure.
First, our home editor, Mark Easton, charts how the debate here has shifted and the idea has crept slowly onto the agenda.
Mark Easton For most of the twentieth century it was pretty well only fundamentalist liberals and glassy eyed hippies that argued for the legalization of all drugs but since the millennium the mavericks and ideologues have seen their ideas as seen as not so outlandish after all.
In 2002 the man who hopes to be our next prime minister, David Cameron, argued that the British government should initiate discussion with the UN about possible legalization of drugs. As a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee he accepted that many of the most sensible or thoughtful people have proposed legalising all or most of the presently illegal drugs. Some of the arguments are attractive the committee agreed conceding that there may come a day when the balance may tip in favour of legalising but almost with a note of regret Mr Cameron and his colleagues concluded they were being invited to take a step into the unknown, to tread where no other society has yet trod and in their words declined to recommend this drastic step.
Drastic - but not unthinkable - worth talking about. Why? Because it was becoming increasingly clear that what Richard Nixon first called the ”war on drugs” was not being won.
A few months after the committee report was published Tony Blair was shown a power point presentation on drugs by his strategy team in no 10. Attempts to intervene have not resulted in sustainable disruption to the drug supply market at any level he was told. Even if supply side intervention were more effective, it’s not clear that the impact on the harm caused on serious drug users would be reduced. The billions the government had spent fighting illegal drugs had had no effect.
This internal indictment of drugs policy was quietly buried. It took two years, a series of freedom of information demands and a leak before the advice finally saw the light of day. Nevertheless the anti-prohibitionists had gained in confidence and influence, there were public calls for decrimilisation, regulation or legalization of illegal drugs from MPs, peers, police officers and even judges. The government found its drugs strategy increasingly attacked.
In 2006 another select committed published a report entitled “Drug Classification, Making A Hash Of It”. And early this summer the influential UK Drug Policy Commission concluded that law enforcement efforts have had little adverse effect on the availability of illicit drugs in the UK. While not calling directly for legalization the report’s final thought was this. It has been suggested that if demands for illicit drugs and all its associated costs were to increase even modestly then over time the pressure to reexamine the current legislative structure for controlling drugs will be overwhelming.
We’re not there yet. The political mainstream still see not electoral advantage in even engaging in a debate on legalization. When pressed they predict disaster. But a view not so long ago dismissed as the province of weirdos and wackos is slowly edging towards centre stage.
John Humphrys Mark Easton there. Well, Ian Oliver was a chief constable and he’s a consultant to the Untied Nations on drugs. First, though, Jack Cole, former undercover narcotic officer in New Jersey in the United States. And, Mr Cole. you believe that the war on drugs so-called has not only failed but done damage.
Jack Cole Yes but it’s not only I that believes that. I’m a director of a group LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. It’s a group of 10000 police, judges, prosecutors in 90 different countries, who believe we should legalise and regulate drugs because it’s our only way to control them. You can’t regulate anything that is illegal Right now, it’s in the control of all the criminals and that’s why we have all the problems we have
John Humphrys But the danger obviously is that if someone wants to take drugs they can go and buy them. That’s a very simple very vivid objection to that, isn’t it?
Jack Cole It is a very simple objection. The fact of the matter is we always had drugs in the world and we will always have drugs in the world and there will be a very tiny minority of people who will use them. In the United States, for the last 100 years, it’s been 1.3% of the population have used drugs and become addicted to those drugs, and that hasn’t changed in 100 years despite the fact that we started a war in 1970. It’s been raging now for 38 years. We’ve spent more than a trillion dollars on that war and all we have to show for that money is that we’ve made 39,000,000 arrests in my country alone, done everything we can do to destroy those folks’ lives. And yet today drugs are cheaper, they’re more potent, and far easier for our children to access than they were in 1970 at the beginning, when I started buying them as an undercover agent. That’s a failed policy -any way you look at it
John Humphrys And Dr Oliver, that apples to this country as well, the figures are slightly different but the fact is the policies over the years have not worked, have they?
Dr Ian Oliver Oh that isn’t true because we’ve have one hundred years of drug control with the UN conventions and you’ve got not way of knowing how bad things would have been without control
John Humphrys We know how bad it is WITH control
Dr Ian Oliver ‘Cause we do and a lot of what Jack Cole was saying is true - as far as it goes. But the reality is that, if you want to stop all the associated harms with addiction, all of that which is associated with other things like blood-borne diseases: AIDS, HIV hepatitis and all the sexually transmitted diseases that there is a huge amount of ignorance about In this country and in the States, you don’t encourage and facilitate drug use
John Humphrys No you regulate it
Dr Ian Oliver No, you do not. The compassionate thing to do is to prevent addiction not facilitate it. And, apart from anything else, even if any government were unwise enough to say “OK we think this argument is prevailing, let’s legalise drugs”, logistically it would be an impossibility. And which drugs are you going to legalise? Are you going to legalise crack and are they going to become available? Anybody regardless of age and mental condition can get them? And do we really think that the bad guys wouldn’t continue to undercut the government even if it had this massive bureaucracy of taxation…?
John Humphrys All right, very little time, unfortunately. Quick answer to that Mr Cole
Jack Cole Well, actually if we legalised and regulated drugs the bottom would fall out of the market. It wouldn’t be worthwhile for anybody to be out there selling. It’s because of prohibition, that because things that are basically worthless weeds come to be worth so much money. Marijuana, cannabis, as it’s called here, is worth more ounce for ounce than gold, heroin is worth more than platinum [see note below] -probably the most expensive commodity on the face of the earth. They’re just weeds.
John Humphrys Doctor Oliver
Dr Ian Oliver If that were true why is it that we’ve got such a thriving black market in alcohol and tobacco. It’s naïve to believe that the criminals wouldn’t attempt to undercut the government and logistically, as I say, it’s impossible. The government just could not afford to set up the infrastructure to do it. But, apart from that, medically the compassionate thing is to do no harm and by legalising drugs you are facilitating harm. And it is naïve to believe that would solve the problem. It would just exacerbate it
Jack Cole As law enforcers we know that the day after we ended alcohol prohibition in 1933 in the US the next morning Al Capone and all his smuggling buddies were out of business, off the streets and no longer killing ….
John Humphrys I’m terribly sorry but we will have to end it there. Thank you both very much Jack Cole and Dr Ian Oliver
Civic Republicans note on prices of street drugs and commodity prices
The following street drug prices in the UK are taken from Druglink. The table compares these with current spot commodity prices. Mr Cole seems to be in error in that gold is more expensive than cannabis. His assertion that heroin is the most expensive commodity on the face of the earth is correct. The second most expensive is cocaine and the third is platinum. Gold is fourth with cannabis fifth.
What is happening now of interest to Civic Republicanism
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