Mayoral hopeful Simon Prast is right. Prohibition doesn’t work. If no government, however officious, can even keep drugs out of its prisons, then it's clear enough that drugs aren't just going to disappear from the streets no matter how many laws are passed--any more than alcohol disappeared when laws were passed prohibiting that. All prohibition does is raise the crime rate, criminalise consumers, corrupt the cops, and put profits and quality control in the hands of gangs.
But don’t ask “What sane person would want to do that?” because prohibition is not about sanity. Says the UK Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, "Drug laws are driven by ‘moral panic’… Whether we like it or not, drugs are and will remain a fact of life.”
Demonising drugs does more harm than good… The use of illegal drugs is by no means always harmful any more than alcohol use is always harmful," Professor Anthony King of Essex University, the commission chairman told Britain's Daily Telegraph. Professor King added: "The evidence suggests that a majority of people who use drugs are able to use them without harming themselves or others... The harmless use of illegal drugs is thus possible, indeed common."
It’s didn’t worked for alcohol—banning alcohol in the US was history’s biggest boon for organised crime.
It hasn’t worked for cannabis—banning cannabis in NZ has been the biggest shot in the arm for gangs you could imagine.
It hasn’t worked for party pills—prohibition putting the ‘P’ into BZP, and more profits in gang coffers.
It hasn’t worked any better for ‘P’ either.
Obtaining methamphetamine may be getting easier despite a Government crack down on the drug, a report says.
These are probably some of the reasons so many former law enforcement officers have joined the international advocacy group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) (wouldn’t it be great to hear Leighton interviewing one them on air?), which argues that prohibition only exacerbates the harms it purports to diminish…
LEAP Statement of Principles
LEAP does not promote the use of drugs and is deeply concerned about the extent of drug abuse worldwide. LEAP is also deeply concerned with the destructive impact of violent drug gangs and cartels everywhere in the world. Neither problem is remedied by the current policy of drug prohibition. Indeed, drug abuse and gang violence flourish in a drug prohibition environment, just as they did during alcohol prohibition.
To view LEAP's Statement of Principles in its entirety, please click here.
But why on earth is Simon Prast talking only about legalising ‘P’? Yes, that’s a War that is already lost. But the best way to get rid of ‘P’ would be to get rid of prohibition across the board. Or even begin formulating a serious transitional plan to start the process. Why do I say that to get rid of ‘P’ we need to get rid of prohibition altogether? Because, as Milton Friedman pointed out with his Iron Law of Prohibition, it’s the particularly virulent drugs like ‘P’ that prohibition actually encourages. Johann Hari summarises:
‘You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society [said Friedman]. Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favour are a major source of the evils you deplore.’ Friedman proved, for example, that prohibition changes the way people use drugs, making many people use stronger, more dangerous variants than they would in a legal market.
During alcohol prohibition, moonshine eclipsed beer; during drug prohibition, crack is eclipsing coke. He called his rule explaining this curious historical fact “the Iron Law of Prohibition”: the harder the police crack down on a substance, the more concentrated the substance will become. Why? If you run a bootleg bar in Prohibition-era Chicago and you are going to make a gallon of alcoholic drink, you could make a gallon of beer, which one person can drink and constitutes one sale – or you can make a gallon of pucheen, which is so strong it takes thirty people to drink it and constitutes thirty sales. Prohibition encourages you produce and provide the stronger, more harmful drink. If you are a drug dealer in Hackney, you can use the kilo of cocaine you own to sell to casual coke users who will snort it and come back a month later – or you can microwave it into crack, which is far more addictive, and you will have your customer coming back for more in a few hours.
“Prohibition encourages you to produce and provide the more harmful drug.
“For Friedman, the solution was stark: take drugs back from criminals and hand them to doctors, pharmacists, and off-licenses. Legalize. Chronic drug use will be a problem whatever we do, but adding a vast layer of criminality, making the drugs more toxic, and squandering £20bn on enforcing prohibition that could be spent on prescription and rehab, only exacerbates the problem. ‘Drugs are a tragedy for addicts,’ he said. “But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike.’”
He’s still right. And so is Prast.
So forget the ‘moral panic,’ and think instead of the immorality of telling others what they’re allowed to do to themselves. And consider: If it is impossible to ban drugs and iniquitous to try, then the only relevant question becomes: should we have a legal, transparent, accountable market for drugs, or an illegal, secretive, unaccountable one?
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*No, I never thought I’d be writing a sentence like “mayoral hopeful X is right.” But there you go. Well done Mr Prast.
PS: For those not familiar with Uncle Milt’s ‘Iron Law,’ here’s a handy summary: