On the ethics of drugs

I’ve just finished watching Channel 4’s excellent 3 part program Our War on Drugs, a comprehensive study of the current policy on drugs by Angus Macqueen. In it he argues a case for the legalization of drugs, making the point that 40 years of zero-tolerance has simply failed. The supply of drugs has not been halted or even slowed slightly and the demand is rising. The people who are most effected by the drugs trade are the most vulnerable in society and they are being hung to dry while those who are actually profiting from it big time are, by and large, getting away with it.
I’m not a big user of illegal drugs, but I’ve had my share and my experiences have been overall very positive. I’ve heard the case for the legalization before, most recently when the whole fiasco of the sacking of the UK governments chief drug advisor, the amusingly named Profesor Nutt, who complained that politicians were ignoring scientific research into the effects of drugs as the basis for their illegal status. But as well as the ridiculous, blinkered, close-minded, head-in-the-sand, attitude of governments, a side I hadn’t considered was the far-reaching human cost of drugs.

Drugs and and serious international crime are closely interlinked, fueling everything from petty robbery to global terrorism. Everyone is aware of this and all attempts to alter it have failed. Buying and using drugs is, at some level, funding crime and helping to really screw someone over.

But just like the looming threat of climate change many people seem unable, or unwilling, to make this connection. It seems completely wrong that we who recycle, buy fairtrade tea bags and generally try to live ethically get it so wrong about drugs. Maybe it’s that there’s still a sense of glamour attached to drugs, that they’re quite cool and give you some rather pleasant experiences. I was at a festival a couple of weeks ago and the amount of drug use going on was as spectacular as it was blatant. It’s a terrible hypocrisy that those of us who take drugs can claim that we are having a good time, since they do such terrible damage to our society.

I don’t know whether the legalization of drugs would solve the problems there illegality has created but until you can guarantee me that whatever you’re offering me didn’t get smuggled up the back-crack of some poor sap, grown by a poverty-stricken farmer with no alternative in some god-awful country ruled by corrupt officials and police, then I ain’t having any part in it.

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3 Responses to “On the ethics of drugs”


  1. 1 Reuben August 22, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    I do see your point, but there is a question of where responsibility lies for the way in which drugs fuel suffering. Back in 1920s America if you wanted to get a drink then you would have to buy it off an Al Capone type character. And your boozing may well have fuelled murders. But the point is that most people, were they given the choice, would have bought their booze from a bona fide shop. It was the government that was forcing people to buy drugs off vicious criminals. In the same way, it is the government today that forces people to buy drugs from people who will use the proceeds for unsavoury means.

  2. 2 hedoesdesign August 25, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    Well, no-one is forcing anyone to buy drugs, in fact the government is making it as hard as possible to buy any at all. The argument runs that the government should be allowing drugs to be bought through licensed retailers in the same way as booze and fags, rather than criminalizing ordinary people.

  3. 3 Pointer Obvious September 15, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Huh, not sure how this came up as top search for some 411 on Urban Dead, but I need to add this.

    What makes you feel legitimate licensed retailers will make all the ugliness behind the current drug trade go away? Your earlier commentators point about Prohibition in the U.S. is off in that the majority of alcohol smuggled during that era still came from legitimate manufacturers (it was the distribution networks where things got criminal). There aren’t any real “legitimate” farmers of marijuana, the coca plant, or opium poppies of large scale outside the large illegal organizations. So let’s say, legalization gives all those criminal organizations a pass, so they can now sell legitimately in the industrialized world. Do you really think all the violence on the production side of things is going to stop just because there’s a legitimate endpoint. It’s the diamond trade all over, but worse because of higher volume, and arguable demand.

    It’s also pretty well known that the “legitimate” retailers of drugs and prostitution in, say, Amsterdam are basically money laundering operations for eastern european based criminal organizations, as well as points of entry for still illicit products.

    It’s just not as simple as everyone saying “legalize it.”


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