‘War On Drugs’: Too Many Casualties.

I hate the term ‘War on Drugs’, it’s an expression used for propaganda purposes. It suggests drugs are some sort of insidious, invisible enemy that we must protect against at all costs.

Drug use is a cultural norm – always has been, always will be.

Drug use is found in every culture, and throughout every period of history. As just one example of many I could cite, most of us have seen footage of Amazonian peoples using hallucinatory drugs as part of some cultural ritual or ceremony? Whatever you may think when you watch those images (and I’m not thinking ‘a bunch of junkies, getting off their heads’), the fact is, drug use is a cultural norm – always has been, always will be. And it’s clear, there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about that. So why are we having this ‘war on drugs’?

‘War on Drugs’ – Who Does it Help?

Even with little or no understanding of the law, it’s easy to see why most laws exist. Murder and burglary are criminalised to protect people, and laws such as compulsory education help people in terms of access and opportunity (in theory). So how does banning drugs help or protect people? What are the positive effects of drug criminalisation?

I’m guessing some people may think that the main reason drugs should remain illegal is to protect against drug ‘misuse’; diminished abilities under the influence, risk to others, overdose dangers and addiction? Most of us would probably agree, that protecting people from those aspects of drug use is indeed a good thing. But is there any evidence that drug criminalisation does that?

Deterrent

So first, and most importantly, can we tell if drug criminalisation acts as a deterrent to drug use/misuse? Unfortunately there’s not much information we can use to determine an answer to this, because in developed nations drug use and supply has been illegal for many years, and we don’t have a contrary position that would allow us to make any meaningful comparison. There have been times however, when drug use wasn’t illegal, but there are no historical references to suggest that this led to any serious breakdown within those societies, relating to mass drug use.

Portugal decriminalised (not legalised) drugs in 2001, and there’s no evidence to suggest an increase in drug use as a consequence. In fact, drug overdose deaths and HIV infections related to drug use, have decreased.

Other areas of interest that might help us to determine the effectiveness of criminalisation as a deterrent, are legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco (highlighting harm through education), the recent advent of ‘legal highs’, and by reviewing studies of events such as prohibition in the U.S. for example.

Probably the most effective aspect of drug criminalisation acting as a deterrent is in the message it carries, that drug taking is wrong. Some people who might otherwise consider using drugs, refrain from doing so because they either do not wish to break the law, or fear the consequences of breaking the law. Of course conversely, others may interpret this message as interference with their personal lives, by restricting their behaviour. Additionally, there’s the idea that ‘banning’ something can lead to greater interest – how often do banned records get to number one?

It’s probably true to say that we don’t really know what impact criminalisation has on the numbers of people using drugs, and therefore specifically, how well it acts as a deterrent. Could we say that ‘logically’ it’s likely it does have some limited effect?

Another point that needs to be considered as part of the bigger picture, is why do we want to deter people from using drugs anyway? This is a complex subject area, but we can start by asking, what percentage of drug users are actually seriously harmed in doing so? Is it any greater than those using legal drugs such as alcohol?

Supply

Another important objective of the ‘war on drugs’ is to try to limit supply, but that appears to be even less successful than criminalisation acting as a deterrent to drug use. Evidence strongly suggests it’s very easy, considering their illegal status, for anyone to obtain a whole range of ‘recreational’ drugs. Even those directly involved in efforts to close down illegal drug production and interrupt supply, regularly characterise their successes as merely ‘the tip of the iceberg’. Putting it bluntly, illegal drugs are readily available in large quantities throughout the world.

Illegal drugs

 

So in conclusion, despite the ‘war on drugs’, millions of people around the world are still choosing to use illegal drugs (it’s that ‘cultural norm’ mentioned earlier), and supply remains plentiful. In looking at the intended positive objectives of drug criminalisation alone, would it be unreasonable to suggest that the ‘war on drugs’ is failing?

‘War on Drugs’ – Who Does it Harm?

Even if the positive effects of drug criminalisation were ten times greater than they seem to be, it’s the negative consequences of that policy that show how the ‘War on Drugs’ is so sadly, tragically failing.

Drug criminalisation means activities directly related to illegal drug production, illegal drug supply and illegal drug sales, accounts for more deaths than any other single human peacetime activity.

Let’s start with a fact most likely to concern even the most conservative types among us – illegal drug production is used to fund terrorism (shock, horror!).

A Monopoly for Criminals

Because drug criminalisation has little effect on stemming the ‘demand’ for drugs, and because that same law means any legal supply is forbidden, then what we have is a vacuum in supply that needs to be filled. We all know that fundamental tenet of capitalism. So obviously, inevitably, what we get in reality is the ‘war on drugs’ creating a mass ‘market’ that only criminals are able to operate in.

For terrorists, the illegal drugs trade is a perfect fit. With much of their activity already operating outside the law, they have the ‘underground’ infrastructure already in place, that easily allows them to move and trade drugs to those who demand them. Many terrorist groups use illegal drug production and supply to fund their ’causes’.

Terrorists may hit the headlines with their acts of barbarity and murder, but this pales into insignificance when compared to the millions of people suffering as a consequence of ‘everyday’ drug related crime.

Drug criminalisation means activities directly related to illegal drug production, illegal drug supply and illegal drug sales, accounts for more deaths than any other single human peacetime activity.

In the very worst case examples, ‘drug gangs’ have become so wealthy and so powerful, they’re able to effectively annex large parts of a city or region, creating ‘no go’ areas in which the legitimate authorities have absolutely no control over. To find the places most effected by this situation is easy, just find the places with the highest murder rates. Reports coming out Central and South America suggest these areas have the most serious problems with drug related crime, and who has the most entries in the top ten murder capitals of the world – Central and South America? In Caracas, Venezuela for example, 25,000 murders were committed in 2013 alone. If drugs were legal, how many deaths would likely occur as a result of drug use in that city?

It should be remembered that if drugs were available through legal sources, these gangs wouldn’t exist as ‘drug gangs’. Arguably they might instead exist as gun runners, people traffickers or sex ‘traders’, but there’s a lot less money to be made through these criminal activities, and in many ways they’re easier for the authorities to detect and control.

Without the drugs trade these criminals would have a far less corrupting influence, and their violent, threatening culture of terrorisation and death would be greatly diminished.

Drug crime

I wanted to add a photo to illustrate the horrors of drug crime, but most are too graphic. Try searching Google Images with ‘drug murders’ (safe search off), if you want to see the real consequences of the ‘War on Drugs’.

Policing

As has been already stated, the illegal drugs trade is by far the single largest criminal activity in the world, and although all attempts to police it seem to have largely failed, state authorities are ‘forced’ to try. The ‘War on Drugs’ is a very dangerous war, with criminals prepared to go to any lengths to protect their ‘hard earned’ wealth and power. For front-line police officers it must sometimes really seem like war; taking on heavily armed drug gangs in large scale bust operations? Of course many police officers are killed in their pursuit to uphold the law, adding yet more to the increasing casualty numbers, that come as a consequence of drug criminalisation.

Drug gangs are also able to obstruct effective policing through bribery and by threatening individuals and their families. In some instances police authorities are so corrupted by these practices that they themselves become a major part of the problem of law enforcement.

Places deemed ‘no go’ areas are considered too dangerous to even offer an attempt at law enforcement. The risks are too great, the authorities have no choice but to surrender, the war is lost. Drug criminals are then left to devise their own horrific laws: murder, torture, extortion, rape, are a common means to keeping order there now.

Finally, there’s the cost in monetary terms. How many millions are spent every year policing drug related crime? Considering the scale of drug crime it’s likely to be, if not the largest, then a very significant portion of any policing budget. Could it be said that this money is just being wasted? Could this money be better spent elsewhere, either tackling other crime, or perhaps in other areas such as education or health?

Drug Users

Because drugs are illegal, people are forced to buy them from unregulated, uncontrolled sources. Those producing illegal drugs are motivated by money, and with a constant fear of being discovered, they either can’t, or simply aren’t overly concerned for the health or safety of those they’re supplying. It is a well known fact that illegal drugs are often ‘cut’, with other potentially dangerous chemicals being added to the compound. Worse still, drugs are falsely sold, containing substances completely different from those claimed. Drug users then just have to hope that what they’re taking is going to be OK. Sometimes it is not OK, and people die. Medical professionals dealing with drug related medical emergencies say this is a serious problem.

With commonly used recreational drugs such as heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, medical staff can quickly implement well known procedures to counter-act the damaging effects of these chemicals. However, if the substance is not known, effective treatment is made much more difficult. This situation appears to have got worse in recent times, with the emergence of ‘legal highs’, and people being falsely sold substances they believed to be MDMA (ecstasy), etc.

If drug users could buy drugs from reliable, controlled sources, then fewer deaths would occur as a consequence of illegal drug use.

Drug User Crime

Although prices may vary over time and place, illegal drugs can be expensive, especially for those people who suffering drug addiction. Some drugs require an addict to administer a ‘fix’ two or three times a day just to stave off the effects of withdrawal.

Depending on the drug in question, drug addiction can often make it difficult for an individual to lead a stable, normal life, and some drug users may turn to crime as a means to fund their drug habit. Those involved in the illegal drugs trade may even encourage addiction as it offers regular income, but more importantly, it means the addict becomes reliant on them. Consequently, addicts may be more easily coerced into participating in other crime, as an alternative to monetary payment for the drugs they need.

There’s another important element relating to drug user crime; because drugs are criminalised, taking drugs is considered wholly unacceptable by many. In light of this, drug users (especially addicts) may find it difficult to seek help or treatment for their drug related problems, for fear of being ostracised by friends and family as well as being labelled a criminal. These fears may make drugs users feel trapped, and less able to break away from their spiralling life of crime.

Obviously, crimes committed by drug users is just another example of how drug criminalisation causes harm, but drug users understandable reluctance to seek help only extends their criminal activity, whilst hindering their chances to improve their lives through treatment.

Conclusions

Laws and the criminalisation of behaviour and/or activities can only be justified if, in the vast majority of cases, it can be shown to benefit either the individual or society at large. Justification is central, because it excludes any of the self-serving nonsense found in autocratic systems. However, if a law, either directly or indirectly, is shown to be doing more harm than good, then there’s no justification for its existence, and it should be abolished.

It is quite clearly the case that drug criminalisation does far more harm than good, so logically, sensibly, if we give a damn, it should be abolished. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are killed every year as a direct consequence of this situation. So why then, do we continue with this truly absurd law that causes untold suffering and misery on a gigantic scale? Is justice being served whilst the law remains?

The ‘War on Drugs’ is a sickening, despicable piece of propaganda, a dogma that no one is even prepared to consider the merits of. So to repeat the question at the start: why are we having this war on drugs?

Post Script:

I saw the end of a peculiar film a few days ago, about the murder of five woman in Ipswich in 2006. Looking at further details on the case I discovered all the women were prostitutes, and it seems, all had taken to prostitution to fund their heroin addiction.

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One Comment

  1. I think this is a pretty sound analysis. The only reason I can see for the continued waging of the ‘war on drugs’ is out of political or religious dogma. It’s often used for winning votes on the campaign trail, but for anyone who bothers to look deeply at the issues, there is no justification for maintaining the status quo. Portugal has shown the way and it’s time more politicians showed a bit more backbone and looked at radical alternatives, those that would reduce the awful toll of crime, violence and death.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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