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.

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