Mr Hitchens Rests His Case

August 4, 2011

Peter Hitchens recently set forth in his blog his arguments against the legalisation of drugs in general and cannabis in particular. These are so hare-brained, so monumentally stupid, so hideously wrong and so asininely arrogant that I’m unable to resist countering them. Here are a few quotes from his rant.

Peter Hitchens

…my fear that the general legalisation of mind-altering drugs produces passive and easily manipulated citizens.

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June 6, 2011

The boarding school I attended when I was a small boy employed a Scottish matron to look after our medical welfare. She was rectangular, about four feet tall, had a broad lowland Scots accent, a face like a haggis and a loving heart, not that she would ever own up to that. Whenever we went to see her she would listen to our sad stories, then give us a large, round, blue pill. I always felt much better after this, and attributed the improvement to the pill. With hindsight, I’m sure the pill was nothing more than a multivitamin, and the talk conspired with the placebo effect to produce the improvement in mood. This is only tangentially relevant to my topic for today, which is illegal drugs and the relationship between their users and governments.

Judi Dench

Last week luminaries such as Judi Dench, Sting and Richard Branson expressed their view that the so-called war on drugs was a failure, and that use of illegal drugs should be decriminalised. Well, guys, thanks for pointing out the obvious–obvious to everyone, that is, apart from those legislators who persist in the delusion that they can legislate human nature.

The arguments for decriminalisation are practical: a huge amount law enforcement resources are diverted from fighting other crimes; outrageous profits on illegal drugs mean that the market is perfectly suited to exploitation by organised crime; the trade in illegal drugs cannot be regulated, so their consumers risk injury or death from poor quality merchandise; users are cast out of mainstream society and live dangerously, sharing needles and other kinds of risky behaviour.

In my view Dench et al don’t go far enough. Illegal drugs should not be decriminalised, they should be legalised. Apart from all the reasons given above for decriminalisation, there are compelling moral arguments for legalisation. The first is the lack of consistency in the law. There are no logical reasons why some drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco should be freely available to adults when less harmful substances such as cannabis are illegal. Secondly, there is the question of freedom: if you wish to have a free society, then adults should have freedom over their own bodies, which means the freedom to ingest any substance they like without being dictated to by the state. The function of government is to protect citizens’ rights against other people, not themselves. Free people must have autonomy over their own lives, and suffer government interference only when they infringe the rights of others.

Cannabis grow room (with rozzerette)

“But the the health system won’t be able to cope with millions of addicts!” critics will cry. This is simply untrue–the national fiscus takes in much more from taxes on the sale of alcohol than they expend on treating the fairly small proportion of drinkers who descend into alcoholism. Any drugs can be taxed in the same way as are tobacco and alcohol now, and the profits go to government (disorganised crime) instead of to the criminal cartels. Cynics or conspiracy theorists might make the point that government allows the sale of alcohol and tobacco because it saves a considerable amount of money; the best outcome for government is everyone dropping dead at their retirement parties, saving a fortune in pensions and geriatric care. A legal market in drugs can be regulated by health authorities, ensuring suppliers perform adequate quality control, and that users can be confident of the doses they are purchasing.

I’m sure that somewhere in the back of Richard Branson’s mind is the outline of the advertising campaign he will run upon the launch of Virgin Psychedelic, and the profits he will make out of marketing cheap, high quality product to an appreciative public.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

Drug Laws

January 29, 2010

Scallywag (who lights my darkness) enjoys the occasional herbal cigarette which she smokes in the evening.  Then, with slavering jaws and flashing teeth, she mows a great swathe through our household economy, necessitating an emergency midweek visit to the supermarket to replenish stocks of bread, eggs and dog pellets.  But, apart from giving her an appetite that would be the envy of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, her habit does no harm whatsoever to anyone except perhaps herself.

Yet if it reached the ears of the authorities that she she was partaking of this harmless substance she could be siezed by the rozzers and hurled, with the lowest thieves, perverts and murderers into the darkest dungeons Pollsmoor has to offer.  As sceptics we (rightly) rail against the absurdities of religion, quackery and pseudoscience wherever we encounter them; should we not also shine the light of reason onto the absurdities that make their home in the statute books of our country?

I challenge anyone to give me a rational reason why the mere possession of cannabis should be a criminal act, but alcohol and tobacco, which are arguably more harmful substances,  are legally available everywhere.

But the point is not the harmfulness of the substance—there is a more important principle to consider.  Governments are constituted to protect the individual’s rights from being infringed by others; that is the social contract.  It is a principal that no law should be passed that protects an individual against himself, because that is the foundation of the “nanny state” under which individual freedom is impossible.  If an individual wishes to smoke whacky weed, snort cocaine or shoot his veins full of heroin he should be permitted to do so, provided he does no harm to others by so doing.  Having dealt with the principle let’s move on to practicalities.

“But Mark,” you say, “what about the medical bills we the taxpayers have to foot when these junkies destroy their health?”  If the drugs were legal they could be taxed as are alcohol and tobacco now, and the taxes thus collected would be more than sufficient to offset any additional public health expenditure.

The illegal drug market is demand driven, and prices bear almost no relation to the amount it costs to produce and distribute them.  There is a huge risk premium built in because the distributers (criminals) risk imprisonment if they are caught.  Legalizing drugs would take the market out of the hands of gangsters and place it in the hands of entrepeneurs where it can be easily regulated.  Drug users would be able to rely on consistent quality and acurate doses at a far lower price than they are currently paying.

Which brings us to the question of crime.  The entire industry is controlled by organised criminal networks and the users themselves are often forced to indulge in crime in order to pay the exorbitant prices demanded by the gangs.  Were the products to be legalized, one of the props supporting organised crime would be be neatly amputated, and an all-round reduction in crime could be expected.  Government (disorganised crime) would receive a revenue boost that would be of benefit to ordinary taxpayers whether or not they are drug users.  Over 1,5 million people are arrested in the USA every year for drug offenses, most of which are trivial.  Imagine the reduction in crime that would be possible if the resources wasted on drug enforcement were to be diverted to combatting real crime.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.