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July 2009
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Pearls of wisdom hidden in crap

George Monbiot, has a column in the Guardian: Yes, Addicts Need Help. But All You Casual Cocaine Users Want Locking Up
It’s a piece with some really good stuff, but you have to hunt for it. He starts out by railing against his friends who recreationally use cocaine.

I believe that informed adults should be allowed to inflict whatever suffering they wish on themselves. But we are not entitled to harm other people.
I know people who drink fair-trade tea and coffee, shop locally and take cocaine at parties.
They are revolting hypocrites.
Every year cocaine causes some 20,000 deaths in Colombia and displaces several hundred thousand people from their homes.
Children are blown up by landmines; indigenous people are enslaved; villagers are tortured and killed; rainforests are razed.
You’d cause less human suffering if instead of discreetly retiring to the toilet at a media drinks party, you went into the street and mugged someone.

This is old stuff, akin to the Drug Czar’s office Superbowl ads about smoking marijuana and funding terrorists. His friends aren’t revolting hypocrites, others are — for claiming to care about all this worldwide suffering, yet supporting prohibition, the real cause of all the damage. Sure, his friends could stop using cocaine recreationally as some kind of symbolic gesture at saving the world, but it would accomplish nothing (their impact on the global market would be insignificant), whereas ending prohibition would actually make a difference.
Unfortunately, most people who read this article will stop there and won’t get to the more complex parts below.
There is, however, a whole lot more truth within…

The other possible policy is to legalise and regulate the global trade. This would undercut the criminal networks and guarantee unadulterated supplies to consumers.
There might even be a market for certified fair-trade cocaine.

Exactly. And then he examines the recent arguments of UNODC’s Antonio Maria Costa, and thoroughly dismantles them.

Costa’s new report begins by rejecting this option. […]
The report argues that “any reduction in the cost of drug control … will be offset by much higher expenditure on public health ( due to the surge of drug consumption )”. It admits that tobacco and alcohol kill more people than illegal drugs, but claims that this is only because fewer illegal drugs are consumed.
Strangely however, it fails to supply any evidence to support the claim that narcotics are dangerous.

Monbiot slams Costa:

The devastating health effects of heroin use are caused by adulterants and the lifestyles of people forced to live outside the law. Like cocaine, heroin is addictive; but unlike cocaine, the only consequence of its addiction appears to be … addiction.
Costa’s half-measure, in other words, gives us the worst of both worlds: more murder, more destruction, more muggings, more adulteration. Another way of putting it is this: you will, if Costa’s proposal is adopted, be permitted without fear of prosecution to inject yourself with heroin cut with drain cleaner and brick dust, sold illegally and soaked in blood; but not with clean and legal supplies.

In the next part of the column, Monbiot again betrays his own journalistic effort by claiming that Costa has a good argument, when he doesn’t.

His report does raise one good argument, however.
At present the trade in class A drugs is concentrated in the rich nations.
If it were legalised, we could cope. The use of drugs is likely to rise, but governments could use the extra taxes to help people tackle addiction. But because the wholesale price would collapse with legalisation, these drugs would for the first time become widely available in poorer nations, which are easier for companies to exploit ( as tobacco and alcohol firms have found ) and which are less able to regulate, raise taxes or pick up the pieces.
The widespread use of cocaine or heroin in the poor world could cause serious social problems: I’ve seen, for example, how a weaker drug khat seems to dominate life in Somali-speaking regions of Africa. “The universal ban on illicit drugs,” the UN argues, “provides a great deal of protection to developing countries”.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
It’s not a good argument. It is a pathetically weak argument. How is cocaine or heroin going to become more widespread in its availability in the poor countries under legalization than it is now? Is heroin unavailable in Afghanistan? Is cocaine unavailable in Colombia? How are drug problems in the citizenry going to pose a heavier burden on poor countries than the violence and corruption of prohibition?
With legalization, Latin American countries can raise coca for its health-giving uses, providing a vibrant non-cocaine industry that will raise the standard of living, and they can have the U.S. stop interfering as much in their lives (hopefully). There won’t be as many severed heads on poles or dead cops. Just as in the rich countries, there will be drug problems, but they won’t be underground, so they’ll be easier to deal with.
This is pretty obvious stuff. The notion that the poor countries will be damaged by legalization is a patently obvious stunt by Costa to deflect the press from discussing the damage of prohibition. Monbiot gives it too much credence by calling it a good argument, when he knows better…

So Costa’s office has produced a study comparing the global costs of prohibition with the global costs of legalisation, allowing us to see whether the current policy ( murder, corruption, war, adulteration ) causes less misery than the alternative ( widespread addiction in poorer nations )? The hell it has. Even to raise the possibility of such research would be to invite the testerics in Congress to shut off the UN’s funding. […]
Until that happens, Costa’s opinions on this issue are worth as much as mine or anyone else’s: nothing at all.

Frustrating column. It’s all there. But few who need to understand it will notice.
(Note: This column is a focus alert at MAP.)

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