Saturday, July 17, 2010

More on drugs

I break the silence again, because yet again the high-ups are trying to get more drugs legalised; in this case it's the Chairman of the Bar Council. I've taken on the redoubtable (and courteous) Charon QC and expect to be hit over the head repeatedly by third-party Bolly-swiggers, but fear not the struggle naught availeth. I give below my objections, perhaps Devil's Kitchen will reappear and deny yet again that he's hooked.

M’learned friend has opened a can of worms. Those who would welcome liberalisation should first read, in a fair-minded way, the experiences and views of the former Birmingham prison doctor Anthony Daniels, aka the Spectator’s “Theodore Dalrymple.” (See his 1997 City Journal article here:

Readers may also wish to consider the different reasons for taking drugs. Some in the more successful and privileged levels of society may take them as a pleasure trip to stave off boredom, or to alleviate stress and mental overstimulation as they continue to pursue wealth and fame. A proportion will be caught in the toils of addiction, but their network of friends and their financial resources often (though not always) help cut them free.

Lower down, drugs licit and otherwise are a form of medication against unrelenting misery, even if that misery is carpeted and centrally heated. And they are a trap, just as much as the benefits system. They destroy initiative and ambition. This gestalt of hopeless idleness and fuddled fecklessness is then passed on to another generation, with the addition of negligent and abusive parenting. My teaching assistant also works in the evenings at a chemist, and told me yesterday how she was struck that practically everyone in Quinton (west Birmingham) was on a drug she didn’t recognise, so she Googled it up and discovered it was an antidepressant.

When I was at school, the futurologist’s choice was Huxley’s Brave New World or Orwell’s 1984. We now have a miserable coalition of both. Speaking of coalitions, there is a most unfortunate agreement between a government wanting to save money and so eyeing the allegedly unwinnable war on drugs, and a social elite (including members of the government) who grew up with drugs-for-fun and don’t see why anybody should be allowed to prevent one doing as one wishes. This glosses over the obligation to set an example to the less fortunate and to succour them. Much of the libertarian philosophy I read today seems to be a clever gloss on callous selfishness.

[Charon then directs me to a podcast interview with an American judge who also thinks the war is lost.]

OK, have now skimmed the transcript (for which, thanks). Now let’s have a look at some of these worms wriggling out of the can:

Racism: yes, a lot of non-whites in jail. Connect that to justice being like the Ritz. Also (maybe) more usage at the desperate end, and less ability to stay out of sight of the cops – no haciendas to fall apart on. And please consider what I have heard black colleagues in the looked after child system say more than once: the whites permit the plague of drugs, because it keeps the blacks down.

Judge Kane compares the “unwinnable” war on drugs to Prohibition. I understand that by and large, Prohibition worked. It was repealed after the Great Crash because the government needed a way to raise more revenue.

Legalisation means pure drugs, clean needles – point taken, so to speak. But I expect customers also got clean straw during the Gin Epidemic. “If it is available like an aspirin, then there is no market for it.” May I ‘umbly draw His Honor’s attention to the aforesaid epidemic.

Prisons are overcrowded: build more. This freeing of offenders for reasons of accommodation is part of the feedback system that tells the offender that the law has no teeth and will only gum you gently after the 150th offence. A firm – and class-blind – approach would send the message very quickly. I read not so long ago about a magistrate in a Scottish court (in the 60s?) who warned publicly that carrying a knife would be punished as severely as possible; the next offender got 10 years; knife crime ceased abruptly, immediately and for the remainder of the magistrate’s time on the Bench.

Prisons are expensive: not so much as crime. Cost of a year at Her Majesty’s pleasure £30k, savings in costs of crime £300k I have read recently. Perhaps a proportion of insurance premiums should be hypothecated to the prison system so the connexion might be made more explicit.

Legalisation means “no need to rob”. So how come liquor store robberies?

The war on drugs is unwinnable in the same sense that the war on murder, robbery etc are unwinnable. What you don’t see in advance is what will happen when the restraints are off; but we have historical precedent to teach us. The judge speaks of a steady 1.7% addiction rate to heroin and opium, but forgets (a) that there are now many other drugs available and (b) that in a far wealthier and more leisured society legalisation and ready supply could spread use and multiply addicts much, much faster.

Doubtless I’ll be told how pernicious tobacco and alcohol are; I agree, and I am also in favour of increasing restriction on both. The former shortened both my parent’s lives by some 20 years, I believe; and I recall when the latter was available from pub, offies and vintners, but not from supermarkets, garages, post offices etc and often at all hours. I recall one of my looked after children went home to celebrate his father’s release from prison; the poor sap of an adult drank everything in the house and then went out and got caught stealing a bottle of vodka from his local shop. Back in the jug agane.

I think the real driver in all this handwringing declamation of failure is the reluctance of the authorities to prosecute famous people as they will in cases of tax evasion.

Now, Charon will you read Daniels for me?

The case continues.


Sobers said...

Are liquor store being robbed of their liquor, or their cash? Probably more the latter than the former I suspect.

I'm afraid I regard all that stuff about 'drugs ruin lives' etc as pure middle class hokum. Its the old Nanny principle - do as I say, I know whats best for you.

I say if saomeone wants to ruin their life with drugs, let them. It is after all their life. Not yours to direct in a Victorian manner. Its blatently obvious that drugs f*ck you up, and result in a sh*t life. Plenty of education in schools, lots of junkies paraded in front of the kids. Fine. But then its up to them.

Freedom is not always pretty.

Sackerson said...

Rationalised callousness, Sobers, rather like the Victorian "Nature red in tooth and claw" argument for letting the strong batten on the weak. (or is it callosity?)

And I've given you an example where it was the liquor being stolen, not the money.

Paddington said...

I am sorry, but I don't agree. Serious studies show that rates of abuse don't chenge much when stuff is make illegal, or legal. Meanwhile, including the cost of imprisonment, the US government spends on the order of tens of billions per year, and hundreds are murdered each year in the illegal trade.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Sackerson said...

There's plenty of murder in the States anyway, and if it wasn't over this, it might well be over something else. Freakonomics showed that most in the drug trade would be better off financially with a low-paying job.

Many in prison for drugs offences might well be there for other reasons also - or should be.

At the bottom end, I think the story is much more about social inequality and lack of education, aspiration and opportunity.