The so called “war on drugs” is a misnomer. History shows us that whenever something wanted by many people is prohibited, others will break the law to get it for them. Hence, prohibition increases the number of crimes and criminals rather than reducing them. What’s worse is that because many of those that supply are hardened criminals, their interest is not in using that which they supply but in making profit from it. They do so in various ways, from casual encouragement by pretend friends to gradually induced addiction and the resulting dependence. This often has the further effect of causing the users to descend into crime or, at best, loss of dignity and self worth in order to feed their habit. It also compounds the pressures on those charged with fighting this non-war and dealing with its consequences: the police, the courts, the penal system, mental health institutions, rehabilitation centres, and the like.
Drug taking is a health risk. Potential for harm exists with any drug, from ‘over the counter’ medications to prescription drugs. Yet, few people will refuse drugs that can relieve pain or prevent or eliminate a medical condition. Our medical practitioners depend increasingly on drugs and I’d suggest that it would be very difficult to find one who will never prescribe drugs, regardless of the knowledge that most, if not all of them have at least some potential for negative side effects.
Leaving aside, for a moment, the medically associated drugs, the reality is that our society has a massive consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances known to have or have the potential for significant interference and detriment to the natural processes of the body.
The fact is that we are a drug using society. Centuries of socialisation have led us to see drug use as an unexceptional aspect of normal life. What is exceptional is the hypocrisy of the so called ‘war on drugs’. It is not so much a war as something more akin to ethnic cleansing. It is a targeted & selective attack on the users of selectively illegalised drugs. It attacks victims of a variety of life situations that cause them to turn to an illegal rather than a legal drug for solace or support.
There is a major inconsistency and many flaws in how we deal with the health risks and the crime that this causes. Some illegal drugs, such as Marijuana [Cannabis Sativa] have been known to have medicinal benefits for many years. For instance, Queen Victoria took cannabis to ease period pains. Cannabis is not addictive in the way of heroin and cocaine. Cannabis does not cause the massive changes in nature and accelerated aggression such as can happen with methamphetamines and some other drugs. Cannabis does not have the known damaging effects to health that *legal* alcohol and tobacco have, yet these are advertised and used by many, many, people. Yet these drugs are not included in the so called ‘war’.
The authorities, no doubt because of the influence of the huge corporations that benefit from the sale of these substances, do little or nothing to dissuade people from their use and it seems highly improbable that they will be made illegal, certainly not in the next few decades, if at all.
Of course, the reader will, by now, perhaps be metaphorically crying out, “but what of the producers and suppliers of Marijuana, of cocaine, of heroine. Surely most of these are criminals who engage in savagery and intimidation to make huge sums of money out of these illegal drugs. Surely they should be sought and caught and punished. Shouldn’t they?”
I can empathise with that perspective because it is what is generally portrayed by governments and their agencies. Such an attitude is used as part of what maintains the delusion of the ‘evil’ of drug taking and how hard our elected representative and systems of law and order are working to eliminate it. I also have no problem with stopping the actions of these people who drive the illegal industry of drug production, distribution and supply. However, I suggest that the notion of a ‘war on drugs’ is indicative of a flawed approach to the issue and serves only to obscure and divert our attention from the real issue.
Whenever we place a prohibition on something we create crime and so, in turn, we create criminals. If drugs were not illegal then there would be no place for those criminal players who gain wealth and power through coercion, intimidation and physical threat.
It is the very illegality of these substances that provides the conditions for those who are prepared to break the law for personal gain, regardless of who it harms. If we take away that illegality, we also take away the majority of the potential for those who would seek to profit from the production and distribution of these drugs. In addition, legalisation would allow for building relationships with addicts and other users and provide opportunities for useful intervention or therapy. In addition, taxation of these products could be used to fund rehabilitation and therapeutical services for those who have become caught up in habitual misuse of drugs.
Put another way, the concept of a “war on drugs” disguises the reality that this is a social problem of our own making. Having created the problem, we then cry and tear out our hair about the damage it does. We accept the notion that we mus provide additional and costly resources for ourpolice and security services. Yet the enormous costs of chasing those individuals and cartels at the top of the chain of supply and distribution are, perhaps inconvenienced, but rarely significantly disrupted or stopped.
In the main, this massive and expensive “war on drugs” has little more effect than to criminalise those who are victims already because of their own needs. They actually need help rather than penalties. Those caught for drug offences are far more likely to be the ‘little’ players and the couriers, than those at the top of the chain. The wealthy individuals who finance the large production, movement and distribution of the drugs are rarely exposed and convicted.
So, drug use is a social problem. It runs across society and is a health issue as well as one of deprivation and poor life circumstances, ignorance and inability to withstand peer group or significant other influence. Instead of treating it, falsely, as a *war*, we should be treating it as a social ill, a disease, a danger to health and well-being, and one over which we can and should take control.
Instead of [even if inadvertently] helping the drug barons who thrive on the illicit use and dependence of drug users, we need to remove the underlying causes of the need felt by those who use them. The hypocritical and selective criminalisation of some drugs which pushes those wanting them, particularly those who are addicted, to turn to turn to criminals for supply and thus creates a massive illegal market for these drugs. That illegal market is, by definiton, largely out of sight and uncontrolled.
That is why I will always support the legalisation of drugs rather than their demonisation and that of those who use them. Pouring money and resources into a mock war, supposedly aimed at stamping out a criminal enterprise that we have created, is self-defeating and can never succeed.
Such an approach is, in any case, focused only on symptoms of the real issue. We need to face up to the drug ethos that our society has created and tackle the underlying causes for it. We must be willing to accept responsibility for this situation, as a society. We need to make a realistic assessment of our use of natural and synthetic substances that we put into our bodies. We need to understand the implications of that use and recognise that many substances that are legally sold to us can be as detrimental to our health as some of those illegal ones.
Only when we take a rational and realistic view of drug use and abuse in society will we be able to come to terms with it and make effective change that will minimise misuse and remove the criminality caused by it.