Drug policy is a space where moral stubbornness is costing government money, financing criminals and contributing to one of the world’s biggest blood baths, where daily police risk life and limb – the 100 year war on drugs has failed. Let me clarify my perspective on drug use; a good many of them are the scourge of the earth, others are less harmful and alcohol is something I consume on a regular basis. My suggestions here are in the interest of protecting society from ill and are in no way condoning the use of drugs, especially the more damaging substances. We need however, here more than any other issue, to speak truth to power. There is deep seated entrenchment resulting in the repetitious use of policy and tactics that are failing their objectives and worse, bank rolling the very criminals we seek to curtail. The advocacy for the present course of action borders on fanaticism, a doctrine has emerged that is, driven by a misprioritisation of morals, placing aversion in front of the hedonistic pursuit of an altered state and the absence of the rational assessment of the outcomes. To date, the war on drugs has resulted in the grossly immoral circumstance of death to many and the enrichment of criminals. The most obscene reality of all, after 100 years of war on drugs, billions of dollars spent, billions of police hours miss-directed, millions of lives ended, good and bad – and there are more and greater varieties of drugs now than when the war started. We need to accept the error in our present course of action and choose another path.
Presently it is estimated that some 30% of Canadians choose to use Cannabis, this is a large segment of the population who are marginalized for a choice that is really the business of the people using Cannabis. The government has absolutely no rational basis for imposing itself on these people. The law as it stands now criminalises the actions of millions of sound and contributing people, people of considerable knowledge and sound judgment. While Cannabis is something foreign to my life, I am acquainted with people who enjoy its use, people who range from medical doctors to construction workers – all productive and aware people. Surely, we can trust the judgment of the individual as to whether to use a substance or to avoid it. This is a classic circumstance of morally driven state paternalism and a gross abuse of state power through the use of coercion. On the basis of freedom of choice, people’s right to manage their own lives should motivate the state restraint on Cannabis to be lifted.
By criminalising drugs when a large and creditable portion of the population want to use them, bad outcomes emerge. When a substance is illegal its distribution falls into the hands of people who are willing to risk the legal consequences and these are often people the mass of society would consider unsavoury. The first outcome is that the unsavoury gain a ready source of income. The more damaging outcome however, is that creditable people are forced into association with people they would otherwise avoid; this takes corruption more deeply into the main body of society. In this way the criminalisation of Cannabis acts as a gateway for the unsavoury to gain channels to influence.
Prohibition of a broadly popular substance was tried with prohibition of Alcohol. The result was, as it is now, the trade in Alcohol bankrolled criminals to engage in other damaging activities and there was violence in the streets. The prohibition of Alcohol was an unmitigated failure as has been the prohibition of drugs. Whenever we employ the heavy hand of prohibition to squelch the use a substance, something really ugly seeps out the side, most often it is violence.
Violence in fighting the drug trade finds is source in economic fundamentals – supply and demand. When laws enforced exerts pressure to stem the distribution of drugs they are partially successful by capturing some drugs, but in their success is failure because they have constrained supply. In constraining supply the value of drugs in the market increases which provides more incentive to sell drugs and the willingness on the part of drug marketers to take bigger risks – to engage in greater violence to distribute drugs. The police respond with greater force, now you see the pattern of escalating violence. The harder society seeks to extinguish the use of drugs in society, the more prevalent they are becoming and the more violence comes to our society. People can stomp their moral feet, government can get tough on crime and donate massive resources to stop drug use and it only severs to worsen the situation.
In martial arts the fundamental premise is to use your opponent’s weight against them, it is a process of intelligent engagement. As a society we need to use the weight of the drug trade to battle the use of drugs. In order to do this we have to hold our noses and have courage – we have to turn the game inside out. In the 1970s, 70% of adult Canadians smoked cigarettes, today that number is about 15%. This was a product of effecting a cultural shift through education, the revenues generated from tobacco tax was directed toward educating the public to the fact that smoking was dangerous, and most people quit. We need to create a similar circumstance with drugs, rather than legislate, we need to educate.
Why, even in the face of complete failure, is the drug war still being executed in a draconian and ineffectual manner? Because people believe it is a way to protect society at large from some terrible substances. This is analogous to ordering by government degree the levelling of all cliffs in the country so people are unable to fall off them, a labourious task that is impossible to execute. The best way to protect our children from drugs or any other harm is to teach them about the dangers and imbue society at large with a culture of awareness of appropriate action. The way we have with smoking.
There is a common axiom around the creation of legislation referring to the Baptist and the bootlegger. The Baptists successfully lobby to curtail the sale of liquor on Sunday and the bootlegger is grateful for the market. This is an almost perfect parable for our present circumstance with drugs in the western world. It also highlights the point that in spite of massive efforts to curtail drugs, anybody can go get some now. Drugs are, whether we like it or not, a permanent part of the fabric of society. Each individual needs to make choices as to avail themselves of their use or not. When the whole game is in the open, we’ll still have a drug problem, but the criminals will be gone or reconfigured, and the intense violence we have now will be mostly absent. And all the resources of law enforcement can be directed toward making our society free of violence from other sources.