Legalise drugs if you want to deter their usage

The Age, an Australian newspaper reports today the following:

Australians should be able to buy a pure form of the drug ecstasy from their local pharmacy to curtail the harm caused by contaminated blackmarket pills, a Melbourne pharmacist and a leading doctor say.

I agree, for more reasons beyond just that. Let me explain.

Three things about drugs that changed my views

Growing up, largely due to the respect I wished to show my parents, I didn’t touch drugs and had no interest in them, seeing it as a moral issue. That perception changed when I was 21 and traveling the world, I read a book by Ariana Huffington of “How to Overthrow the Government” and she discussed how hemp was a major competitor to the cotton farmers, detailing how hemp had been used for hundreds of years as a way to make textiles. However based on the coordinated lobbying of the cotton industry, the marijuana plant was made illegal and so formed the basis of its illegality today. Times have changed and cotton is no longer the important (political) industry it was in past but the role of the cotton farmer has now been replaced by the pharmaceutical company. With that it remains illegal for the same reason (economics reasons) not health reasons: marijuana and a blue pill can both help you with depression and anxiety, the difference is you can’t grow a blue pill in your backyard.

The second thing that has struck with me is Portugal, which is now well documented since they decriminalised drug use in 2001. Now that it’s *not* illegal, it turns out people take drugs less, continuing drug use is in decline, drug induced deaths have decreased steeply and HIV infection rates have dropped to a manageable level. Read more what 14 years of decriminalisation has done.

The third thing that has struck me since living in America, is the prison population and it’s size. (Today, the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners.) More specifically, how it’s dominated by certain races, whereby African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population. Source: Criminal Fact sheet. And why is that? Because poor black young men turn to drugs as an income source.

Make drugs legal

One of the biggest reasons people say we need to keep drugs illegal is because it acts as a deterrent. We need to accept it’s failing at that.

We should legalise all drugs for the purposes of controlling their supply to eliminate impurities and better monitor their consumption by individuals. But the big realisation I had today when I read that article by the Age, is the best way to deter people from something is to educate then, not to make the supply illegal (which has has the unintended affect of not eliminating the supply, but simply making it less pure and harmful). Imagine if we spent all that money on law enforcement into health advertising and education instead? That’s a much better way to deter the public from harming themselves.

Legalising drugs could have dramatic social change around the world, not least the US which is improving the increased racial tensions of its African-descent population despite progress for civil rights. Legalising drugs will also means the supply can be better regulated, to reduce the harm on the people who consume it — MDMA, cocaine and heroin are all drugs that damage due to impurities. And by legalising, it also means we can free up resources (primarily enforcement) from trying to restrict the supply to instead dampening demand by educating society on the dangers of drug consumption.

Let’s accept the fact that criminalising drugs has done little in restricting supply outside of making it more expensive and less pure. If you want a deterrent, do that through advertising and education; if you want to keep the prices high to reduce demand, do that through price controls. And if you want reduced drug consumption in society, accept it’s time we think about the demand side not the supply side as the only solution.

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