Quite

We won\’t end this violence by jailing celebrities or middle-class users. The only way to take back our streets is to wrest back control of the drugs from the criminals, by legalising and regulating their trade.

Imagine if you could buy coke from Boots. Or the aptly named Superdrug. That would drain the glamour from it more effectively than making a martyr of Kate Moss. I don\’t imagine her lovely features would adorn state-regulated packets of white powder, hanging next to the corn plasters. Yes, legalisation would make drugs cheaper, in order to undercut the dealers. Yes, usage might increase. But perhaps not much, because it is already widespread. A third of 16 to 24-year-olds routinely admit to having tried drugs, despite knowing that they are admitting to a crime.

The benefits of legalisation could be enormous. Overcrowded prisons would be relieved of people needing treatment rather than punishment (about 15 per cent of prisoners are in for possession or supply). Addicts would not be forced into associating with criminals. Children could be safe in Britain\’s playgrounds again.

38 comments on “Quite

  1. Government regulation of the drug business – cool. What’s the betting that they implement a host of drug treatment ‘initiatives’ (more bureaucracy) and drug production and retail licenses (more bureaucracy) and taxes (more bureaucracy) and … What starts as libertarian common sense is quickly corrupted into financial politics.
    Amongst the first to benefit will be the ‘legislate drugs’ organisations, who will be consulted (money) and given positions (money) to implement the changes.
    And like all policy changes there will be no way of measuring success or failure independently, and a lot of people, companies and politicians will have a big financial interest in showing (with the best possible motives, naturally) that everything is hunky dory with the changes.
    But at least we’ll be allowed to get out of our heads on the drugs to forget the new corruption – how nice.

  2. “Government regulation of the drug business – cool.”

    At least it would be better than the current regulation (guns, prisons, police, bribes, crime, etc.).

  3. ‘We won’t end this violence by jailing celebrities or middle-class users.’
    Yes we will – with huge effing sentences – reduced somewhat if they grass their dealers. Then jail those for decades.
    Deaths sentences help too.

  4. I’d be happy for currently illegal drugs to be legalised as long as users are obliged to take responsibility for the consequences of their use. So if a user is unable to work because he’s whacked out, no dole.

  5. ‘At least it would be better than the current regulation’
    I disagree. And you disagree with me. What proof can we find either way, and if drugs are legalised how do you suggest to a) judge the success or failure of the experiment and b) put the genie back in the bottle if it’s a failure.

  6. Yes we will – with huge effing sentences – reduced somewhat if they grass their dealers. Then jail those for decades.
    Deaths sentences help too.

    Yes, because that has worked a dream in the US hasn’t it?

    What is currently being done simply does not work, but nobody who believes the current system can work seems to have any ideas on how to make it work.

    If their motives are genuinely to help people and find the least harmful solution (as opposed to ‘Drugs are just evil! Think if the children!’) then this idea shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

  7. Sorry, don’t believe that suddenly making drugs legal and taxable will do much to the problem of overcrowded prisons. For starters, there’s nothing quite as keen on throwing people in jail as a government chasing tax fraudsters. Secondly, how exactly are we supposed to get the HSE to sign off heroin?

  8. “if drugs are legalised how do you suggest to a) judge the success or failure of the experiment and b) put the genie back in the bottle if it’s a failure.”

    Fundamentally, the drugs laws are an intrusion by the state into the lives of individuals that isn’t warranted. We own ourselves, we are not owned by the State, and I hold that this truth is self-evident. It follows from this that I may do with my body what I wish.

  9. “Secondly, how exactly are we supposed to get the HSE to sign off heroin?”

    Because it’s not particularly harmful. The only medical side-effect is chronic constipation. All the other nasty effects are down to contamination (itself due to prohibition).

    Heroin is dangerous if overdosed. So are other legal drugs:

    http://randomreality.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2008/2/25/3545286.html

    Tim adds: Further, the NHS already prescribes it in the form of diamorphine. HSE has already signed off on it.

  10. “as long as users are obliged to take responsibility for the consequences of their use. So if a user is unable to work because he’s whacked out, no dole.”

    When we start doing this for alcohol, I’d be happy to extend the principle.

  11. ‘Yes, because that has worked a dream in the US hasn’t it?’
    US isn’t doing it – the better off and lighter skinned get lighter sentences (generally speaking). It has worked a dream in Japan, Singapore and places.
    ‘We own ourselves, we are not owned by the State, and I hold that this truth is self-evident. It follows from this that I may do with my body what I wish.’
    Well, you can’t, so live with it. No society condones this viewpoint, and none will. Every society has social, moral and legal codes – often intertwined. That’s why you are not allowed to do your shopping naked.
    The question is what society and community is prepared to ‘let’ you do with your body – and what we are prepared to let other people do with theirs.

  12. Any estimate of the cost of additional Incapacity Benefits paid to those who become too stoned to work when narcotics have been decriminalised and deregulated?

    What of the documented links between long-term cannabis use and schizophrenia?

  13. It has worked a dream in Japan, Singapore and places.

    Where there are massive legal substance abuse problems with things like paint thinner – which is far more damaging to the body than most illegal drugs. They also still have drug gangs – people are able to find what they want if they want it enough.

    A certain proportion of people have always attempted to alter their perceptions for enjoyment.

    Well, you can’t, so live with it. No society condones this viewpoint, and none will.

    Every society has drug problems mainly related to the drug trade being illegal – its just that this massive coincidence is glaringly obvious to a lot of people.

  14. “Any estimate of the cost of additional Incapacity Benefits paid to those who become too stoned to work when narcotics have been decriminalised and deregulated?”

    Less than those who take sickies from hangovers, I should imagine.

    “What of the documented links between long-term cannabis use and schizophrenia?”

    Miniscule.

    Bob, you need to stop thinking like this. You can pretty much justify any petty intrusion on the basis that some cost somewhere goes up. We see it with smoking, and with alcohol, despite it being a bogus argument on so many levels.

  15. “glaringly obvious to a lot of people”

    But clearly not everyone. The current prohibition is immoral, illogical, and unenforceable. That all of this is being done in the name of protecting us from ourselves is so absurd that the phrase “unintended consequences” doesn’t begin to cover it.

  16. “We won’t end this violence by jailing celebrities or middle-class users”

    Perhaps not, but jailing celebrities is its own reward.

  17. “Bob, you need to stop thinking like this. You can pretty much justify any petty intrusion on the basis that some cost somewhere goes up. We see it with smoking, and with alcohol, despite it being a bogus argument on so many levels.”

    I suggest this independent brief on the link between rising alcohol consumption and health issues:
    http://www.eurocare.org/euseminar/documents/alcohol-health.pdf

    It’s so curious that most folks now accept that smoking needs to be curbed because of the cost to the NHS of treating smoking related health problems. But when it comes to consumption of alcohol, what matters is freedom of the individual regardless of cost to taxpayers of crime, abuse, traffic accidents and health problems all related to alcohol consumption.

    Evidently, the brewers’ and distillers’ lobby is pretty effective at spinning the difference with smoking.

    Personally, I do go along with JS Mill:

    “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” JS Mill: On Liberty
    http://www.utilitarianism.com/ol/one.html

    But drug addiction, smoking and excessive alcohol conumption all have adverse consequences on the costs to the public services we all pay for through taxation.

    Why not liberate electricity sockets or car bumper heights from petty regulatory intrusions? It would be such fun watching open competition over standards in Europe. I mean, why do we have to have the system of ring-main mains and fused electricity plugs that we have in Britain? Come to that, why do we have a mandatory insurance scheme to protect the holders of bank deposits from banking failures?

    I guess I must be getting senile.

  18. Bob B,

    “It’s so curious that most folks now accept that smoking needs to be curbed because of the cost to the NHS of treating smoking related health problems. But when it comes to consumption of alcohol, what matters is freedom of the individual regardless of cost to taxpayers of crime, abuse, traffic accidents and health problems all related to alcohol consumption.”

    Smokers and drinkers are both net contributors to the state.

  19. “We shouldn’t pay for them through taxation, we should pay for them the way we pay for our other goods and services, on the basis of use. That way, those who (for whatever reason) use too much of them, pay the price themselves.”

    But as I recall, we’ve known at least since all the Lipsey-Lancaster stuff on the theory of the second best (1956/7) that if some necessary conditions for Paretian efficiency are not being fulfilled then it can make matters worse if government regulation requires all remaining Paretian conditions to be fulfilled:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_the_second_best

    West European countries generally have state-managed systems of social insurance for healthcare, paid for out of taxation for good reasons. In America, nearly 47 million people are without cover for healthcare costs. As a result, outstanding healthcare costs are the main reason for personal bankruptcy there.

    And if any here imagine that American healthcare is wonderful, then have a look at this ranking of infant mortality rates for OECD countries. The only OECD countries with higher infant mortality rates (a highly sensitive indicator of general healthcare) than America are: Turkey, Mexico, Slovak Republic and Hungary:
    http://fiordiliji.sourceoecd.org/pdf/fact2006pdf/10-01-02.pdf

    Obviously, I must really be getting senile. Blame the influence of a career in the civil service. Plainly, my predicament is beyond hope.

  20. What Kay Tie says, keep up the good work!

    As to this to this ‘putting genie back in bottle’, look at the table 2.3 on page 26 of this

    http://www.ukdpc.org.uk/docs%5CUKDPC%20drug%20policy%20review.pdf

    showing how the number of heroin addicts has skyrocketed since the 1971 Act (up to when, you could get heroin from your doctor, nudge nudge, wink wink, it was basically legal), look at the Prohibition, look at the fact that since cannabis was downgraded from B to C usage fell slightly, ditto since cannabis was decriminalised in The Netherlands…

  21. Bob B

    Living off the backs of your fellow citizens only causes a lack of morals, not senility.

  22. “Smokers and drinkers are both net contributors to the state.”

    Sure – but that doesn’t account for why our government is so keen to curb smoking but does so little to regulate drinking when – contrary to trends elsewhere in western Europe – alcohol consumption is rising in Britain as is alcohol-related mortality.

    By accounts, Britain has one of the highest rates of binge drinking in western Europe:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/5031624.stm

    Btw the Dutch, famed for their liberalism and tolerance, have been curbing prostitution in Amsterdam for thoroughly pragmatic reasons and despite JS Mill:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7172087.stm

  23. “But drug addiction, smoking and excessive alcohol conumption all have adverse consequences on the costs to the public services we all pay for through taxation.”

    Which is another problem. We shouldn’t pay for them through taxation, we should pay for them the way we pay for our other goods and services, on the basis of use. That way, those who (for whatever reason) use too much of them, pay the price themselves.

  24. Btw recall that I’ve railed here before against calls for “Free Markets” – for some of the reasons I’ve mentioned above but also because a framework of laws to protect property rights, along with effective law enforcement institutions and agencies, are absolutely essential for markets to function efficiently. Doubtless there are free markets in the middle of the Sahara Desert or the Amazon jungle – or in Russia during the Yeltsin era of the 1990s when Bandit Capitalism prevailed.

    Besides that, recall that governments in Britain (? England) stood back from intervening in schooling until 1870. The outcome was a workforce that was relatively and increasingly under-educated compared with other west European countries:

    “We have noted a substantial body of original research . . . which found that stagnant or declining literacy underlay the ‘revolution’ of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. . . Britain in 1850 was the wealthiest country in the world but only in the second rank as regards literacy levels. [Nick] Crafts has shown that in 1870 when Britain was world economic leader, its school enrolment ratio was only 0.168 compared with the European norm of 0.514 and ‘Britain persistently had a relatively low rate of accumulation of human capital’.”
    Sanderson: Education, economic change and society in 1780-1870 (Cambridge UP, 1995) p.61

  25. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if the situation improves, e.g. if crime or addiction goes down, what matters is that we’ll have a freer society. That’s the core argument in my book.

    Many of my friends smoke dope. Sitting around in a room, after a night on the tiles, one struggles to see how we are hurting anyone but ourselves and yet we theoretically face jail sentences that would cost us both our health and economic prospects and society a fortune to mete out. It’s idiotic. How can the threat of even greater jail sentences repair that idiocy?

  26. The genie was never in the bottle- and can’t be put in one. We can pretend to ourselves that drugs can be effectively banned, someday in the future when detection rates are 100%, or we can recognize that after nearly a century of trying to ban them the problem has got progressively worse. The costs of excacerbating the situation are born by people who do not have a problem which is the reverse of helping people whilst the profits go to criminals. Unintentionally, I’m sure, the public is made to pay taxes in order to convert a relatively minor problem into a major one and encourage crime.
    I can’t see the relevance of either US health care systems or the right to go shopping naked to the matter in hand (though why not shop naked if you can stand the cold and find somewhere to put the money- it harms n0-one but the doer)

  27. PS Bobs quote on 19th century literacy levels as compared to wealth would appear to be an argument for banning school.

  28. “That’s the core argument in my book.”

    Edmund Burke addressed that in the 18th century: “Liberty must be limited in order to be possessed.”

    JS Mill extended the analysis to cover the cases where he considered that the scope of personal liberty should be restricted.

    “Many of my friends smoke dope.”

    There are many reports, some online, that long-term use of cannabis is associated with a higher incidence of schizophrenia, which is at least a debilitating mental condition, even if those afflicted by it may not pose a continuing threat to the public at large, and which will almost certainly entail treatment through the NHS at cost to taxpayers:

    “Use of street drugs (including LSD,methamphetamine,marijuana/hash/cannabis) and alcohol have been linked with significantly increased probability of developing psychosis and schizophrenia. This link has been documented in over 30 different scientific studies (studies done mostly in the UK, Australia and Sweden) over the past 20 years.”
    http://www.schizophrenia.com/prevention/streetdrugs.html

    Readers will perhaps recall several cases with tragic outcomes where patients with schizophrenia, who were released into the community:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4374727.stm

  29. “Bob’s quote on 19th century literacy levels as compared to wealth would appear to be an argument for banning school.”

    That wasn’t the conclusion at the time of governments elsewhere in western Europe – which is why a Gladstone government brought in the Education Act of 1870 to introduce local school boards empowered to build and fund schools. The act was greatly extended by the Education Act of 1902 – the so-called Balfour Act of a Conservative government.

    For whatever reasons, we still have a persistent problem in Britain with relatively high drop-out rates from education at the minimum school leaving age compared with other affluent countries:

    “Last year [2004], a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed that Britain came seventh from bottom in a league table of staying-on rates [in education and training] for 19 countries. Only Mexico and Turkey had significantly lower rates of participation for this age group. Italy, New Zealand, Portugal and Slovakia have marginally lower rates.”
    http://education.guardian.co.uk/gcses/story/0,16086,1555547,00.html

  30. There are many reports, some online, that long-term use of cannabis is associated with a higher incidence of schizophrenia

    It is, but you miss out the hugely important point that for a lot of people self medicate with dope in the early stages of schizophrenia as it seems to ease the symptoms.

    Therefore, does the dope cause the problem or is it simply used more by people with the problem?

    Cause and effect is important – but more important is making sure that what is labeled as the cause actually is the cause.

  31. It appears that cannabis increases your risk of schizophrenia by up to 50% (glossing over the cause/effect problem) but so what? Your chance of getting schizophrenia is like one-in-three-thousand, so for dope users, it’s one-in-two-thousand. Big deal.

  32. Bob: Quote “For whatever reasons, we still have a persistent problem in Britain with relatively high drop-out rates from education at the minimum school leaving age”
    Who says that people leaving school at the first opportunity is a ‘problem’ ?
    If it were a problem, would the solution be to allow a wider range, and better education to be offered, than the State provides ?

  33. “In America, nearly 47 million people are without cover for healthcare costs. ”

    Many of them by choice.

    “And if any here imagine that American healthcare is wonderful…”

    Lies, damned lies, etc. Without the American healthcare industry, very few of the medical advances enjoyed by the rest of the world would exist. Civil servant timeservers do not generally exert themselves to invent things.

  34. Stephen,

    The OECD stats on internationally comparable healthcare stats are the most reliable going. If you know of more dependable international stats on the infant mortality rate in America compared with other affluent countries then please post up the necessary links so we can all see.

    This extract is from the Wikipedia entry for US healthcare:

    “The U.S. spends more on health care, both as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) and on a per-capita basis, than any other nation in the world. Current estimates put U.S. health care spending at approximately 16% of GDP, the world’s highest. . . The debate about U.S. health care concerns questions of access, efficiency, and quality purchased by the high sums spent. The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2000 ranked the U.S. health care system first in both responsiveness and expenditure, but 37th in overall performance and 72nd by overall level of health (among 191 member nations included in the study.)”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_care_in_the_United_States

    All the independent, international studies on healthcare that I’ve come across rate healthcare in America as pretty mediocre except for the rich. In fact, international studies usually rate healthcare in America on average as worse than we get from the NHS in Britain and that is rated as mediocre compared with standards in several other countries in western Europe.

    Americans get a very bad deal from their system of healthcare.

    The US pharmas may have done splendidly in the past but their patents for blockbuster drugs are running out according to several recent reports in The Economist and there there too few new blockbusters in their pipelines to make up the prospective gaps in profitability. Hence:

    “Pfizer is to cut 10,000 jobs, or about 10% of its workforce, as it seeks to trim annual costs by up to $2bn (£1bn). . . ”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6288031.stm

    Your remarks about the civil service are pure ad hominem abuse and add nothing to your argument – such as it is. Try rational analysis with links to citations instead. That’s far more impressive.

  35. “Who says that people leaving school at the first opportunity is a ‘problem’ ?”

    Well, government ministers evidently regard it as a challenging problem:

    “The school standards minister [David Miliband, at the time] has described as ‘a national shame’ the numbers of teenagers who drop out of education when it ceases to be compulsory at the age of 16.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/2238424.stm

    The government is so concerned that it is now proposing that:

    “Young people will be required to stay in school, training or workplace training until the age of 18.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6254833.stm

    Whatever the merits or otherwise of compelling reluctant learners to stay on in the education system after 16, the present relatively high drop-out rate from schooling at 16 in Britain is certainly unusual compared with almost all other OECD countries. That is good cause to pause and think a little – especially if we consider the numbers of graduates coming out of the universities in China and India each year.

    The evidence is that graduate pay in Britain for most degree subjects is at a premium compared with non-graduate pay and that graduates have higher employment rates and lower unemployment rates than non-graduates.

  36. Bob, when Milliband or Balls or whoever says they think XYZ is a problem, I don’t give this much credence: they hope to advance their political career by being seen to do something about XYZ, and further, they believe that in order to advance their careers they need to drum up things to ‘do something about’. So if it’s not XYZ it will be ABC.

    Leaving school at 16 is not a bad thing in itself. What you could say is that it is a poor reflection on our politically-controlled education system if a significant proportion of its target market will not have its products, even free of charge, because this probably implies a large amount of taxpayers money is being wasted on services which would not ‘clear’ at cost price.

  37. For all that, it still seems very remarkable to me – and others – that Britain has such a high drop-out rate from education at 16 compared with most other OECD countries. Why do folks in all those other affluent countries consider it so important to stay on in school?

    Could it be that unskilled manual jobs in affluent countries are rapidly going out of fashion?

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