Purple Clouds
Matthew Shute's thoughts on pretty much everything

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Drugs and Democracy

The RSA recently published a report about the British government’s drugs policy. The report concluded that our policy is not fit for purpose, that cigarettes and alcohol are more destructive than some illegal drugs, and that the whole approach to drugs in this country is driven by moral panic instead of reason.

As to the latter point, I don’t believe that the politicians are driven by their own moral panic. They’re driven by the sensibilities of the voters. The policy will never change until the attitudes of the public change.

The British public are a reactionary lot. There is a reason, after all, why the Daily Mail newspaper is the most popular tabloid in the country. The Daily Mail is the voice of perpetually-outraged Britain. It is an ideological newspaper that appeals to a certain set of negative emotional responses to a number of key issues, particularly Asylum Seekers and Richard Dawkins. The typical Daily Mail fan spends a lot of time sneering and tutting, but less time thinking.

I find the popularity of the Daily Mail and its attitudes difficult to fathom. Much of what it preaches would appeal to members of the Christian Right in America, and yet this country is supposed to be one of the most secular and rational countries in the world. Columnists like Peter Hitchens preach that the theory of evolution is a sham, that single mothers and sex-education are evil… and the Mail on Sunday readers lap it up.

I must confess that I enjoy reading Peter Hitchens, if only to see who or what he might bitterly attack next. It amazes me that this pious conservative is the brother of the atheist and antitheist Christopher Hitchens, who gave us the following brilliant line: “what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

The Daily Mail, sadly, is a tremendously influential newspaper. There are actually people who consider it to be an authoritative source on the subject of drugs and much else besides.

I’m not a fan of recreational drugs, personally. I don’t consider all drug-use inherently sinful or immoral in a scientologist kind of way, but narcotics and LSD are unlikely to be great for your health.

Having said that, Sam Harris once pointed out the following instructive statistic from America: “While adverse reactions to drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen account for an estimated 7,000 deaths (and 76,000 hospitalizations) each year in the United States alone, marijuana kills no one.”

My main reason for criticizing our government’s drug policy is simple: the policy has failed. Worse, it creates a range of appalling social problems and knock-on effects that we could eradicate easily with a rational policy.

Drugs prohibition in Britain is as effective as alcohol prohibition was in Chicago when Al Capone was making his fortune. Drugs are readily available to anyone and everyone who wants them. Prohibition is not making the slightest difference to either the supply or demand of these substances. What it is doing is making multi-millionaires of drug-barons, fuelling gang warfare, and criminalizing eccentric old ladies who consume tiny amounts of cannabis to help with arthritis pain.

If the government controlled and regulated these drugs, dealers would go out of business overnight and addicts could be weaned off the drugs instead of being thrown in jail to rot – an especially stupid move since our prisons are known to be full of illegal drugs!

Our prisons, incidentally, are a national disgrace. They’re storage containers full of the dregs of our society. Something like 1 in 3 prisoners in our jails are mentally ill. Because there’re no treatment places for the mentally ill, whenever they inevitably foul-up they’re sent to rot in prison again. Now there’s a crisis with our prisons being full up. The proposed solution to this shambles is to build yet more prisons and lock up yet more drug addicts and mentally ill people.

We also send prostitutes to jail in a futile attempt to stamp out the world’s oldest profession. The illegality of prostitution is excellent news for both the pimps and the drug-pushers. Pimps rake in the cash by effectively keeping women as slaves, strung out on crack and heroin. The women can only get their next fix if they obey their pimps and work the streets for them.

Opening legalized brothels would put these pimps out of business. The women could then receive help to get off the drugs, which are why many of them are prostitutes to begin with. Once off the drugs, they would be free to seek their own pathway in life.

There was a proposal made a while ago for licensed brothels, with the additional safeguard that only two women could work from any particular address at any time. Proposals are fine, but action is required to tackle the daily misery and exploitation that is a logical result of misguided government policy.

Prisons should be there for pimps and gangsters in the first place, not for their victims.

How much money does our government waste trying to enforce laws that are helping to ruin lives instead of having any positive benefit? Millions? Billions? With rational policies, the money saved could be funnelled into health and drug rehabilitation programs, and education. Drugs could be taxed in the same manner as tobacco, to create more funds to funnel into healthcare and weaning people off the drugs.

I’m pessimistic about seeing any change to our failed policies on drugs and prostitution. Daily Mail values are deeply entrenched in this country, and our politicians must appease them. Don’t blame the politicians, though, blame the public. Democracy is an ideal system of government whenever there are fewest idiots.

Note: I can't access my comments at the moment because I can't de-activate the pop-up blocker on this library computer. Sorry for whoever might be waiting for a reply on something.

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