"The so-called drug war has been with us for perhaps 75 years. The 'war' targets drug growers, sellers, buyers and users. Its chief weapon is the criminal law, vigorously enforced by vast numbers of state and federal agents, police and prosecutors. It has been a very successful war - gradually destroying our courts, our cities, our budgets, our morals, and other countries. It has failed in one respect only: it has had no inhibiting effect upon the traffic in drugs. Indeed, that traffic, as a direct result of our criminal laws, has increased. It is time to consider some form of legalization."
- Tim Worstall, reviewing "Illicit" by Moisés Naím in "The Telegraph"
Bad as drugs are - and many of them are deadly - it is not the drugs themselves but the illegality of drugs that is corrupting individuals and whole communities. It is Prohibition writ large.
- Milton Friedman
We won't dispassionately investigate or rationally debate which drugs do what damage and whether or how much of that damage is the result of criminalization. We'd rather work ourselves into a screaming fit of puritanism and then go home and take a pill.
- Gene Roddenberry, on America's war on drugs
Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.
Ireland has a drug
prohibition policy that isn’t working. The latest report on Irish crime
statistics from the CSO shows crime levels in every category falling with
one obvious exception: controlled drug offences. Indeed, many of the worst
crimes in other categories — gangland killings, for example — are a consequence
of our failing prohibition policy... By legalising drugs we can apply the
same controls to their production, distribution and consumption as we apply
to alcohol and tobacco. And there’s a triple bonus to society: spending
on crime prevention will plunge, not just on drug-related policing but
on all the criminality arising from the activities of drug-financed gangs;
crime levels overall will plunge; and the government becomes a net recipient
of monies from drug consumption rather than a net spender via law enforcement.
Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that the United States spends
$44 billion (€32.76 billion) a year fighting the war on drugs. If
they were legal, the US government would realise about $33 billion a year
in tax revenue — a net swing of $77 billion... As for worried parents (like
me) the message is simple: your children are already living in a society
with ubiquitous access to these drugs. Their decision to use them is as
much subject to what you advise them to do as is their consumption of alcohol
and cigarettes. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it something
you have to approve of. I discourage my children from smoking. One hundred
years ago, our newspapers carried front page advertisements for opium and
cannabis. Ecstasy was legal up to the 1960s. Magic mushrooms to the 2000s.
The point is that society’s attitudes to drugs changes all the time. We’ve
tried prohibition and it has failed. So my advice is this: legalise it,
control it, tax it.
- Gerard O'Neill, in Ireland's "Sunday Times"
"If you can't win the
war on drugs in a prison, where the hell you gonna win it? I ask you."
- Prison Warden, in "The Wire"
The Wire is a sort
of a visual novel. We knew exactly what we wanted to say about the bureaucratic
aspects of the drug war. It is about what happens in this land of ours
when product ceases to matter, when the institutions themselves become
predominant over their purpose... We bought in to a war metaphor that justifies
anything. Once you're at war, you have an enemy. Once you have an enemy,
you can do what you want. I don't think that the government will ever find
a meaningful way to police desire and human frailty. I'm not supportive
of the idea of drugs, but what drugs have not destroyed, the war on them
has managed to pry apart. The government created war zones where the only
economic engine is the self-perpetuating drug trade. It survives no matter
what, and they expect people to walk away from it. The naiveté is
just incredible. They've spent 34 years taking these neighborhoods and
basically divesting them from the rest of America. We've embraced a permanent
war of attrition against the underclass and it can't work.
- David Simon, creator of The Wire, interviewed on Salon.Com
"In California, it
is illegal to smoke marijuana unless you have your hair cut at least once
- One observer's view of haphazard enforcement in the 1970s
Lest anyone think I
actually support the *use* of drugs, here's an excerpt from a "Sports Night"
episode when Dan, one of the main characters, is threatened with the sack
unless he retracts comments in favour of legalising drugs...
"Any law that makes criminals out of 15 million Americans is probably not such a good idea. The point was that drug abuse isn't a criminal issue, it's a healthcare issue. And the money and manpower we spend prosecuting a surfer in San Diego might better be used fighting things that genuinely threaten our national health and safety. That was the point."
- Dan, defending his opinions, "Sports Night"
"This network, the
Continental Sports Channel, has asked me to clarify some remarks I made
in a publication that hit your newsstands this morning. It is possible
that one could come away from this article with the impression that I don't
believe that drugs are not a destructive and deadly force in our culture,
our economy and on the lives of our children.
I have a younger brother named Sam. Sam's a genius. I mean, literally. As a kid, he tested off the charts. The first computer I ever had, he built from a kit he bought with money he earned tutoring other kids in math. He's energetic and articulate, curious and funny. A great source of pride to our parents. And there's no doubt that he'd be living a great life right now, except for that he's dead. Because when you're fourteen years old, all you ever really want to be is your sixteen year old brother. And in my case, that meant smoking a lot of dope. The day I went off to college was the day Sam got his driver's license. And he celebrated by going for a drive with some of his friends. Drunk and high as a paper kite. He never saw the red light that he ran. And he probably never saw the eighteen-wheel truck that put him into the side of a brick bank, either. That was eleven years ago tonight. And I just wanted to say... I'm sorry, Sam. You deserved better in my hands. And I apologize."
- Dan, explaining his position, "Sports Night"
I like to think of
drugs as part of the defiant, ongoing and really rather miraculous spiritual
life of Hollywood. After all, we know that drugs are bad - they destroy
brain cells, warp the individual's sense of order, reason and responsibility,
undermine the family and unravel the social fabric, not to mention what
happened to River Phoenix. Plus, drugs put you in the company of
lowlifes in deals in which you have no protection, and they're humiliating
and they never last long enough. In the end, they are not even photogenic,
so if they boost a career for a while, they end up cutting it short.
On the other hand, just between vous et nous, drugs are to-die-for sublime,
which the drug czars never mention. Why in the world do we have to
lose our sense of humour and ignore that, bottom line, drugs make
you feel good now? And now is nice, as well as near, and now can keep happening.
Drugs are easily the best way to handle the paranoia God invented,
and sooner or later in Hollywood everyone ends up doing paranoia in
a serious way. I mean, suppose the Bomb is 16 minutes away - are you going
to read the new Joan Didion novel, or do the smack you've been hoarding?
What is Joan going to do? I don't ask.
- David Thomson, "Beneath Mulholland"
The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.
- Philip K. Dick
"We don't seem to be able to check crime, so why not legalize it and then tax it out of business?"
- Will Rogers
"All I ever did was supply a demand that was pretty popular."
- Al Capone
The British Government
believes, or affects to believe, that the connection between crime and
heroin addiction is a simple one: namely, that addicts rob, steal and burgle
in order to pay for the heroin without which they will suffer the most
terrible withdrawal symptoms. This is nonsense. Actually, addiction to
opiates is not incompatible with work. The great anti-slavery campaigner
William Wilberforce took a tincture of opium every day of his very productive
life. In the United States in the 1930s, it was found that the majority
of injecting morphine addicts still worked, despite their problems with
supply. The criminal records of most addicts who end up in prison are extensive
before they ever took up heroin — indeed, a few of them claim to have first
taken heroin in prison.
In so far as there is a causative connection between addiction and criminality, it is that criminality — or whatever predisposes people to it — causes addiction and not addiction that causes criminality.
Nor is it true that addicts can give up if, but only if, they receive the “help” they claim they want. Huge numbers of American servicemen addicted themselves to heroin during the Vietnam war. Almost all of them gave up spontaneously soon after their return to the US, and two years later their rate of addiction was no higher than that among drafted conscripts who never made it to Vietnam because the war ended. Moreover, Mao Zedong managed to “cure” 20 million opium addicts by his usual rather uncompromising methods. It wouldn’t have made sense for Mao to have threatened retribution for people who contracted, say, appendicitis or cancer of the bowel, in the hope of reducing the incidence of those conditions: this suggests that addiction to opiates is a pretend illness and treatment is pretend treatment.
- Theodore Dalrymple, "The Times"
As a prison doctor,
Dalymrple tells us, he’s seen a rise in the use of heroin in the last few
years, and, quite rightly, he doesn’t find this surprising... Drug use
grows as the cultural landscape becomes blander and more depressing. Poverty
is a factor. But, as Dalrymple points out, feeling poor is what counts.
And these days, the culture of the poor — and not just the poor — consists
primarily of looking at pictures of people who have suddenly been dragged
into a world of extreme luxury. These days, almost everybody feels poor,
even if they’re not... At the prison, Dalrymple was able to understand
how heroin addicts operated. When they arrived, he says, they were in a
terrible state — thin from malnutrition, with purple vitamin-deficient
tongues, their skin cracked and ‘pocked with sores.’ In prison, though,
most of them ‘stopped taking opiates’. Soon, they were healthier. ‘The
addicts,’ says Dalrymple, ‘came into the prison starving and miserable,
and went out healthy and happy.’ Freedom, as he puts it, had been their
concentration camp. Captivity gave them structure. With structure, heroin
was easier to give up.
There’s a famous example of a similar thing happening on a large scale. During the Vietnam war, large numbers of American soldiers unsurprisingly became heroin users — their lives were stressful, and there was a plentiful supply of heroin. Many would have considered themselves addicts. And yet when they went back home, very few of the heroin-using soldiers continued to use heroin. They tried to slot back into their old lives. They did not experience appalling physical withdrawal.
Heroin users, says Dalrymple, like to portray themselves as passive victims of a predatory drug. When asked why they began to take heroin, they tend to say ‘I fell in with the wrong crowd,’ or ‘heroin’s everywhere’. They see their heroin use as the result of an accident, or as an inevitability. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? Actually, says Dalrymple, heroin is something you must seek out, and it’s not easy to get addicted to... If you’re spiritually and culturally bereft, an addiction gives you a shadow-life — something to get up for in the morning, a network of acquaintances, highs and lows; it’s almost a job. And that’s what people are addicted to — the heroin life, not just the heroin.
- William Leith, reviewing "Junk Medicine" by Theodore Dalrymple, "The Spectator"
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