The thing about drugs ARGH SCARY is that it’s difficult for a lot of people to have a sensible conversation about them.
They can be a genuine nightmare, after all. Becoming physically and psychologically dependent on heroin DEATH DOOM DESTRUCTION is no doubt a horrifying experience, and can lead to every single aspect of a person’s life crumbling if they don’t get help. And that’s not even the most insidious drug CRYSTAL METH WILL RAPE YOUR BRAIN widely available today.
And yet, many people seem unwilling to even think about drugs FLEE IN TERROR any further than the knee-jerk reaction that they must all be wiped out and obliterated utterly. But making decisions based on nothing more than the immediate, gut reaction and scary ideas that flash into people’s minds whenever drugs SAVE THE CHILDREN are mentioned might not be the most helpful strategy. They’ve been around for centuries; they’re unlikely to seize any more of a stranglehold over the planet if we take five minutes to think about what might actually work.
As always, it pays to be wary of fundamentalism. If eliminating the presence of drugs completely is the only acceptable course of action, you have to wonder why people are so convinced that this is necessarily a good thing in itself. There’s nothing intrinsic to any particular chemical compound to render its very existence unacceptable. It’s about their capacity to do things that are bad.
The war on drugs – if it’s not just a blind ideology that’s completely lost track of the effect it has on real people – should really be a war on drugs’ capacity to fuck you up.
And so if a campaign against drugs isn’t going to just barrel on with a zealous, zero-tolerance approach which completely disregards its results, it needs to pay attention to what strategies tend to reduce drug use, and what tend to exacerbate it.
Which is why it’s a shame that nobody in the UK or the US seems to be serious about doing that.
Possessing any drugs for personal use was decriminalised in Portugal nine years ago. Before then, drug use had been going up. Since then, it’s gone down.
There really does exist a middle ground between incarcerating half a million people for drug offences and replacing the Presidential inauguration with a cocaine party. It’s just not true that if you let your mind contemplate loosening your drug policy even for a second, waves of swarthy opium dealers will be battering down your door to haggle for your 8-year-old son’s pocket money.
You can make some changes, find some new ways to offer treatment, and keep some laws in place – as Portugal has done with trafficking – and things can get better. Teenagers will be less likely to start taking drugs if you dare to deviate from the accepted orthodoxy that all drugs are always terrible.
If you care, that is. But as Johann Hari excellently points out, some just seem to be set on raving manically against anything that sounds like it should fall into the category they’ve chosen to label MOST DEPLORABLE EVIL EVAR. The mephedrone fiasco is a fine example of the standard route that the discourse seems to take.
And if people are simply dead set against more effective campaigns on principle, because the most vitally important thing to them is that they’re not seen as being “soft” on the problem of drugs, then I can only conclude that they don’t really care how many people are taking drugs and killing themselves. If either harm reduction or respect for personal liberty was as high a priority as the perceived adherence to accepted dogma, they’d consider other options based on what works.
(The title is a Brass Eye reference, incidentally, partially explained here.)