Thursday, April 16, 2009

Time to legalise drugs?

Throughout my life the blight of drug abuse has plagued our world and the societies we live in.... and I would bet your experience has been the same.

So... is it time for a radical re-think? I think so!

I suppose the abuse of drugs has been going on... forever. In the distant past though, we didn't control or prohibit the use of drugs. This is pretty much a 20th century innovation... an innovation which, to my mind, is long overdue for review.

I've often heard some argue about the legalisation of drugs many times in the past and through my adult life... but these pleas always used to come pretty much from liberal fundamentalists, 'glassy-eyed hippies' and the more 'airy fairy' fringes. But... in recent years, I have been hearing it more and more, from other more 'maverick' thinkers and ideologues... even from what one might describe as more 'conservative' or 'establishment' sources.... and I have to say... I'm finding the ideas on the legalisation of drugs are no longer so outlandish after all!

One of these, perhaps more radical thinkers, very much in the forefront of the international debate going on right now (and very welcome it is)... is Dr Jeffrey Miron, who I listened to on BBC Radio Five Live's Up All Night last night, with great interest. His arguments for the legalisation of recreational drugs are very compelling!

Dr Jeffrey Miron is an American economist. He served as the chairman of the Department of Economics at Boston University from 1992 to 1998 and is currently a Professor of Economics and teaching at Harvard University. He is also the author of several books including Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition.

Dr Miron basically contends that there is a strong economic argument to be made in favour of the legalisation of drugs. In 2005, he authored a paper, relating to the US drug problem, in which he argued that marijuana legalisation would effectively generate more than $10 billion per year. He has since reviewed this and now estimates the legalisation of drugs could save the US economy around $74 Billion! (see video below)

Miron's report and claims have since been endorsed by scores of other prominent economists and commentators across the world.

More recently, in an article on CNN this month, entitled 'Legalize drugs to stop violence', he says the "prohibition of drugs creates violence because it drives the drug market underground".

"This means buyers and sellers cannot resolve their disputes with lawsuits, arbitration or advertising, so they resort to violence instead.

Violence was common in the alcohol industry when it was banned during Prohibition, but not before or after.

Violence is the norm in illicit gambling markets but not in legal ones. Violence is routine when prostitution is banned but not when it's permitted. Violence results from policies that create black markets, not from the characteristics of the good or activity in question.

The only way to reduce violence, therefore, is to legalize drugs. Fortuitously, legalization is the right policy for a slew of other reasons.
His 'slew of other reasons' include....

  • Thousands killed in ongoing drug wars across the world
  • Governments' prohibition of drugs policies lead to corruption of politicians and law enforcement
  • Legalising drugs is the best way to reduce drug violence
  • Drugs should be controlled through regulation and taxation
Five years ago, in the UK, a Cabinet Office report estimated the cost to the UK was around £24bn a year - £16bn of that from the costs of acquisitive crime by users funding their habit.

So... what if those drugs were legal and regulated? What if heroin and cocaine were available on prescription or at affordable prices?

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 the possible legalisation of drugs. As a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee he accepted that "many sensible and thoughtful people" have proposed legalising all or most presently illegal drugs. "There may come a day when the balance may tip in favour of legalising" the committee said but concluded they were being invited to take a step into the unknown. "To tread where no other society has yet trod" and declined, in their words, "to recommend this drastic step".

Drastic, but worth talking about. Why? Because it was becoming increasingly clear that what Richard Nixon first called "The War on Drugs" was not... and IS not being won.

Earlier this month a report by the campaigning Transform Drugs Policy Foundation argued that government must look at the current drugs policy with the cold eye of a cost-benefit analyst. If they did, it is suggested, ministers might save the taxpayer close to £11bn a year!

At the centre of their analysis is the claim that prohibition itself is the root cause of almost all drug-related acquisitive crime. If government took control from the pushers, dealers and gangsters, they suggest, levels of such crime would be "negligible". Even in the "highly unlikely" event that drug use doubled, suggests Transform, a regulated market for cocaine and heroin would see almost £7bn of savings in the cost of crime.

Well, I don't know about you, but I find these arguments very convincing... and let's face it... the so called 'anti drugs war' has patently obviously not worked... is not working. We see more and more drug related crime, especially violent crime with shootings and killings, increasing daily on our country's streets... so it is time to take a much more radical look at the whole issue of drugs. Seems to me legalising the damn lot is a very sensible and radical alternative that could have a huge and beneficial effect, worldwide.

In his CNN article, Miron concludes:

"The U.S. repealed Prohibition of alcohol at the height of the Great Depression, in part because of increasing violence and in part because of diminishing tax revenues. Similar concerns apply today, and Attorney General Eric Holder's recent announcement that the Drug Enforcement Administration will not raid medical marijuana distributors in California suggests an openness in the Obama administration to rethinking current practice.

Perhaps history will repeat itself, and the U.S. will abandon one of its most disastrous policy experiments."

I certainly do not advocate the legalisation of drugs as a cure for our economic ills right now... far from it... but I can't see it doing much harm and I do see a lot of benefit to be had by the legalising of drugs across the board!

Here's Dr Miron offering us further food for thought, discussing Marijuana Legalisation on CNN recently:

You can read more about the Arguments 'for and against' the legalisation of Drugs and Prohibition on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition by Dr Jeffrey Miron


Matt said...

Certainly well worth looking into, 11 billion pounds would bail out a small bank, or alternatively pay for a shed load of medical staff

Garrett said...

I have felt for years that one of our worst societal drugs, alcohol, shouldn't be consumed. I'm just glad that it's legal, though, because it can be monitored, controlled and taxed. Same with tobacco.

Alternately, marijuana and other illegal drugs may have legitimate medicine applications.

As a matter of principle I agree with Ernest and the others above: specifically, I am anti-drug abuse and pro-legalization.