This is part two of my ten part set on my own personal manifesto, borrowing heavily from my own party’s ideas. I’ve posted in a few places such as the British Democracy Forum and the UK Debate Forum where it has sparked several responses.
My students are doing a project on drugs. Their graded task is to write a leer to an imaginary friend who is using a drug (the students chooses which drug) and tries to persuade them to stop using. This is the culmination of two weeks study on the topic of drugs. Drugs are an emotive subject, and I was somewhat surprised that in teaching about them I never felt apprehensive, embarrassed or restricted.
Over the week we examined the ingredients of various drugs, the effects they have and their legal status. Of course, the aim of the lesson was to forewarn kids of the dangers of drugs. I didn’t find that at all hard. For most hard drugs, the effects are obvious and provable that an examination of them, combined with a summary of the jail time involved is all the deterrent needed. Of course, when it comes to alcohol and cigarettes the task of educating becomes tougher. This was summarised by one bright student who asked me “If alcohol has all these side effects [That I had just explained] why is it legal, but marijuana is not?” That question inspired this blog.
I take a very hard line on illegal drugs. If it were up to me, I would introduce the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers as is used in Singapore. Indeed, for all the many faults of its democratic system, Singapore is one of the safest places in the world. I always enjoy the feeling of being able to walk round the place at night without keeping one eye out for gangs looking to start a fight on someone walking alone. It’s even possible to walk into and out of a bar without seeing a single fight.
Can anyone really, truly, say they believe the safety of these places is not related to their very tough penalties on crime, especially drug trafficking?
While leftists love to talk about reform and rehabilitation – and of course there is a place for that – I prefer to look first at deterrents and justice for the victims. Unlike many other crimes, drug trafficking creates a domino effect of despair. It ruins careers, it breeds violence and corruption, it creates homeless children and orphans, the list goes on and on. The damage to society is massive. That’s why the Taliban work so hard to produce drugs to ship out west, and it’s why, to our shame, we Brits pushed opium into Hong Kong when we couldn’t otherwise get the Chinese to surrender.
In modern Britain, drug usage appears to have stabilized at levels obscenely high compared to usage say, fifty years ago. Since the sixties, certain drugs have become freely available to almost anyone who knows where to ask. Whilst our current legal and judicial system appears to be able to contain the problem, it is certainly not able to reduce or reverse it to any significant degree.
So what’s the solution? Liberals and libertarians would almost certainly advocate legalisation of more, or even all drugs. A case can certainly be made for this. It would raise a significant amount of taxes, it gives people to freedom to decide for themselves what to do with their bodies without state interference and – going back to the question my student asked me – it would eliminate the bizarre double standards we have with drugs like alcohol legally available whilst seemingly safer drugs are not.
What would the consequences of total decriminalisation be? For certain, more people would become users. The old adage: ‘Anyone who wants to take drugs badly enough will do so, legal or not’ is false.Some drug users are prosecuted, and I’m sure anyone who grew up in the 80s or 90s has known someone who wanted to get hold of drugs at some point but could not. Making something illegal does reduce usage, the only question is by how much.
If more people become users, many of them will continue to live healthily and productively. Other people will damage their health. More people will become mentally disturbed and more people will destroy their own potential. Let me be very clear right here, this is not ‘holier than thou’ or uninformed preaching. In my twenties I liked a drink and a smoke. I moved on a music scene where certain types of drugs were used by many people. I once shared a home with a cocaine user and I’ve had a fellow teacher sacked for turning up for work under the influence of ‘phet. An old school friend of mine has degarded into a shadow of his old self and is unable to work or hold a relationship because of his long term use of weed and LSD. I’ve read, spoken and studied with people who have a very liberal and informed knowledge of drugs. Am I an expert? Certainly not. Am I out of touch? No.
Back to the solutions to the drug problem and the case for legalisation. While decriminalizing may seem the least invasive and patronising move by the state, I think that is only true from the view of the individual. As we’ve established, society as a whole undoubtedly suffers from use of hard drugs, if they are legal or not. While libertarians may make a strong case for freedom of the individual, I prefer to find a balance between the needs of one person and the society that person lives in.
If that seems a little abstract then let’s take an easier example. Imagine your neighbour plays music (from a rubbish band, let’s say Santana) at top volume for three days straight. Would you still be saying “Ah well he has the right to do that in his home?” Or would you be saying: “Sure let him play his music but think of other people once in a while! Give it a rest”? You see? It’s about balance.
And when it comes to drugs, I strongly believe that balance lies in making certain drugs illegal. And when I say illegal, I mean zero tolerance. There is no point offering a punishment for something if that punishment is so soft it does not frighten someone away from doing it. I support the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers. It works. If you doubt this, go to Singapore and Hong Kong and see for yourself.If you doubt the deterrence of the death penalty itself, simply ask yourself – think of one tiny crime you commit (parking on double yellow lines for example) and imagine that as of today, the death penalty would be enforced for this act. Would you carry on doing it?
(Occasionally people have responded to my argument concerning Singapore by pointing out the dictatorship at work in these countries but that is a non-sequitor.The penalties work by themselves, regardless of who implements them.)
I also support strong prison terms without reduction for convicted local pushers and strong fines for minor drug users. Once again, these punishments will work. They will make the streets safer. They will reduce murders, prostitution, homelessness, disease, theft, robberies and gang wars. Yes that will come at the cost of the denial of freedom to use hard drugs but sorry guys, the benefits to others massively outweigh the personal sacrifice as far as I can see. Moreover, with the expenses saved by these measures we can invest more in our police to ensure they stay clean enough to do their job and free up their time to perform foot patrols.
All that is needed to make this operation work is an efficient and trustworthy police force. In Thailand, the war on drugs was tragic because it was given to a police force incapable of handling a task of such magnitude. But in the UK – despite recent negative press – we undoubtedly have the nucleus of a very good police force that can be trained to perform such a massive operation and do so well.
But what about the drugs already in our list? What about the question my student asked me? If I take my argument to its logical conclusion, shouldn’t alcohol also be illegal?
The fact is that alcohol – for better or for worse – has always been a part of British culture. It has become such an integral part of our tradition that its removal would never be accepted by the masses. Likewise for cigarettes. I speak as the occasional drinker myself when I say that we would probably be better off if alcohol did not exist, but it does. At least society has evolved to the point where most people can use these drugs responsibly, though binge drinking seems to be on the rise.
All in all, it seems the best solution – and the best compromise – that we allow the beer and Marlboro to stay on the shelves with the taxes remaining high enough to produce revenue for the hospitals that result from overuse. That said, I would most certainly encourage a reduction in the binge drinking culture by introducing penalties and even short term jail for anyone – and I mean anyone – who drinks and drives or engages in violent acts whilst intoxicated. By all means, exercise your freedom to go out and get bladdered, but when you do, do not decide to smash a glass in some other person’s face and break his jaw because you didn’t like the look of him. Alcohol fueled violence is increasingly commonplace in most British cities these days.That needs to stop.
Like I said, it’s the best compromise we can find. Compromises are what really works in this life, not some kind of Utopian ideals. Just don’t trying telling that to a Communist.
Popular Alliance support a referendum on the death penalty, possible life sentences for drug traffickers and twenty four hour detention for drunken violence. www.popularalliance.org
Tags: debate on legalisation of drugs, drug abuse in the uk, drug pushers, drug traffickers, police in the uk