Watters Goin’ on ?

My wife and I have been away for a couple of days, far from the madding crowd. We went 250 kilometres down the Stuart Highway to a place called Edith Falls, actually it’s called some other Aboriginal name now since it’s been incorporated into Nitmiluk National Park, but we’ll always refer to it as ‘that camping place on the Edith River’.

Lovely place it is, nice lawned sites next to a beautiful lagoon. This time we walked along the first 5 km of the 65 km trail between the Katherine Gorge and Edith Falls, up to a secluded spot by the name of Sweetwater Pool. My wife goes because she loves bushwalking, I go in the, as yet unsuccessful, hope that I’ll get lucky and get to perv on some Scandinavian backpackers skinny dipping in the river.

I’d like to say that it was my idea to get away by ourselves, you know, recharging the batteries, doing something together because the missus liked it, but unfortunately the reason for our unplanned bush outing can be laid at the feet of the Salvo Army Major Dork, that little Johnny dug up from the 19th Century to run the federal ‘war on drugs’.

What’s the connection between a Sally Army officer and a midweek bush excursion, to paraphrase Edward Gough, “well may you ask”. (It’s interesting that when I refer to our national treasure, EG, most people know immediately who I mean, but few seldom refer to Robert James Lee or the World’s Greatest Paul, and achieve the same recognition – but I digress.)

The reason that we hitched up the camper trailer and disappeared was that when I picked up Rosemary on Tuesday night she was in an emotional state, suffering from that common occupational hazard of pharmacists, she’d been robbed by a druggie. As robberies go it wasn’t particularly violent. Apparently the perp has been well schooled, probably in a previous visit to jail, that just as the drugs were handed to him he unwound the jacket from his arm and said “Look there’s no weapon, I won’t harm you”. The policeman told Rosemary that by doing so the robber could not be accused of armed robbery. Lot of good that did for my wife. She didn’t know that he didn’t have a gun or knife or, the latest in intimidatory weapons, a syringe full of AIDS infected blood. She was very frightened, by a clown that is so unafraid of the system that he will adopt very high risk practices simply to score two tablets of MS Contin.

I became very angry, anger spawned by a feeling of impotence, I couldn’t protect some one very dear to me. Aren’t the police and the judicial system supposed to do that on my behalf ? So I rang my brother who is an ex cop and who has a very close friend in the Narcotics Squad. I was told in no uncertain terms that, because the crime was non violent, even if sufficient resources were applied to the apprehension of the perpetrator, he would be not be harshly treated by the system. There is little or nothing I can do. I have another friend who is closely connected to the local Hells Angels club. What would it cost to have someone put in hospital for a month ?

A week or so ago I was cruising Sam Ward’s blog and saw a reference to a Cato Policy Analysis No. 121: May 25, 1989 putting the case for legalisation of drugs. Included in the paper was the following;

Even without criminal sanctions, many users continue to take drugs despite the severe physical penalties drugs impose on their bodies. Again, they simply consider the psychic benefit of drug use more important than the physical harm. The fact is, drugs motivate some people – those who most need protection from them – more than any set of penalties a civilized society can impose, and even more than what some less-than-civilized societies have imposed. The undeniable seductiveness of drugs, usually considered a justification for prohibition, thus actually argues for legalization. The law simply cannot deter millions of people deeply attracted to drugs; it can only greatly increase the social costs of drug use.

If whatever sanctions I am likely to apply would have little affect on the behaviour of the addict, then what is the point of ‘putting out a contract’ ? So what should I do, just leave it to the police in the somewhat forlorn hope that they’ll make the decisions as to whether it’s worthwhile to get the addict off the streets. Also from the Cato report;

On the other hand, law enforcement officers get paid whether they catch drug dealers or not. They have virtually no economic stake in the success of their efforts, aside from incremental salary increases. …… Drug dealers have 10 times as much money to work with as do drug enforcers. Drug enforcement is a bureaucracy and suffers from all the inefficiencies of bureaucracies, while drug dealers are entrepreneurs, unrestrained by arbitrary bureaucratic rules and procedures. They do what needs to be done based on their own judgment and, unlike drug enforcers, are not restrained by the law.

All of which brings me back to the Sally Army Major !

While there are differing emphases among the group, all broadly stand under the “zero tolerance” umbrella espoused by the Prime Minister, John Howard. They want money spent on community and school education, on treatment, on cracking down hard on drugs supply. Their catchcry is “prevention”, not tolerance. Politically, they tend towards conservatism. For them, safe injecting rooms are an anathema, sending the wrong signals to their children and marking the first step along a road they believe will lead to legalisation.

Surely it’s time for some one to stand up and shout “The Major has no uniform on !” The war on drugs is not working, it has never worked, taxpayers are simply paying billions of dollars in prohibition costs and interdiction measures for no economic purpose. The Major even admits it !

Police estimate that 50 percent, possibly up to 80 percent, of crime is drug-related with estimated annual cost to the community at $500 million.

An invisible economic cost is the ever decreasing number of pharmacists willing to work in retail businesses that are subject to ever increasing attack by idiots off their faces, prepared to do anything necessary to get a fix. The Cato report is as relevant today as it was in 1989, perhaps more so, as can be seen from it’s conclusion.

As noted, the medical dangers of alcohol and tobacco are even greater than those of heroin or cocaine. There is simply no logical basis for the different legal treatments of these drugs. When prohibitionists attempting to articulate a distinguishing criterion confront the clear evidence of tobacco’s and alcohol’s greater deadliness, they lamely assert that the distinction is simply that legislatures have chosen to treat them differently. This is question-begging in its purest form: The very issue in dispute is the rationality of this choice.

In its simplest terms, the choice between decriminalization and legalization is a choice between solving part of the problem and solving the entire problem, or close to it. Since the black market in illegal drugs is the cause of most drug-related problems, the goal of reform should be to eliminate the black market. Legalization would do that; decriminalization would not. For example, dispensing drugs in federal clinics staffed by psychiatrists would probably draw some business away from the black market. But users who did not want to be treated by psychiatrists or take drugs in a clinical setting would continue to fuel a violent and destructive black market. How many drinkers would go to a hospital to drink liquor while being harangued by psychiatrists?

That is why, at this point in the argument, drug legalization unavoidably becomes a moral issue. The war on drugs is immoral as well as impractical. It imposes enormous costs, including the ultimate cost of death, on large numbers of non-drug-abusing citizens in the failed attempt to save a relatively small group of hard-core drug abusers from themselves. It is immoral and absurd to force some people to bear costs so that others might be prevented from choosing to do harm to themselves. This crude utilitarian sacrifice … has never been, and can never be, justified. That is why the war on drugs must end and why it will be ended once the public comes to understand the truth about this destructive policy.

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Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

I couldn’t agree more. The War on Drugs is at heart a moral crusade which bills itself as a health-based Laura Norder initiative. Brian Watters – like the PM – perceives “drugs” as a sign of incipient moral decline though the PM is rather more circumspect in excluding respectable traditional, middle-class drugs like alcohol – “properly used” – from the brief. One of the many inconsistencies that bedevils this whole approach is that we’re prepared to selectively concede a normative use construct to a drug like alcohol whilst emphatically denying such an horrific notion in respect of marijuana, amphetamines, psychotropics etc, etc.

I should also acknowledge that Watters and the Salvo’s do much good work with the minority of users whose chemical dependency predisposition wrecks their lives and those of the people around them. But their insistence that all drugs are inherently “addictive” for all users is simply not borne out in lived reality practice and the whole credibility case therefore collapses. I think specific difficulties and challenges present in indigenous communities but cause and effect here, as elsewhere, is not ultimately satisfactorily addressed by just saying no.

Zero tolerance is ulimately fruitless. All human societies have engaged with mind altering substances and potions throughout recorded history and there’s not a shred of evidence to suggest that legislatively denying the pursuit of pleasure somehow stops the human impulse towards it. Quite the opposite in fact.

The time for a rethink about all of this is well past.

Hope your wife is in a better space after the timeout.

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

My opinion on the Salvos generally is that they give pond-scum a bad name. I also concede that the utilitarian argument for legalising all drugs (except, IMO, tobacco, on the grounds of its clear harm to non-consenting imbibers) is compelling.

Nonetheless, I don’t think that the Salvos drug policy is utterly beyond the pale. Legalising
(particularly) heroin would indeed hugely reduce crime, but it would not reduce the number of toxic arseholes living among us. With their chemical addictions now being easily sated, they would no doubt find new ways of being in-your-face drains on society at large.

Which may suggest that I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the average junkie. Well, yes and no. I fully acknowledge that the average junkie has had a nightmare childhood – so meaning that a Joe/Jill Average adulthood was never going to be on the cards for them.

Well, that’s life – and it’s not *all* bad, either. People who’ve had nightmare childhoods also have a high correlation with over-achievement in adult life. In other words -“Junkie, it’s always your choice”.

2022 years ago

Last Monday my youngest sister was discovered unconscious, taken off to hospital in an ambulance, had her stomach pumped, was sent home. On Tuesday, she was found wandering about, didn’t know who she was, where she was, what she was doing – she was carted off to hospital, given blood tests that showed nothing, but glue was found on her hands, & her nose was bruised in a way that suggested she’d been sniffing glue. (this all according to her husband, anyway, not necessarily the most reliable source)

She’s a woman in her thirties, has a nursing degree, a young child, and a raft of addictions….her life was reasonably under control (well, she was at least able to pretend it was) until she managed to concoct an illness that meant she was supplied with oxycontin in ever-increasing amounts … until, hey presto, she confessed to having a therapeutic addiction and was given a letter stating this, and an ongoing prescription.

Despite having unlimited access to a drug that’s legal and affordable her life’s now pretty much – well, whatever it is, it’s not a life. She takes whatever she can get – methadone, valium, anti-depressants, grog, now glue. Her desire to be out of it is seemingly insatiable. She steals, lies, neglects her child – who has lead a pretty wretched existence ( things like food, bed, school, hygiene & affection aren’t his mother’s priorities).

Over the past couple of years we’ve tried everything – but it seems there’s nothing we can do. Now we’re just waiting for the call.

Anyway – my point, for what it’s worth – is that her ‘legal’ access (& she’s had plenty of illegal drugs over the years) to drugs seems only to have made things worse, not better.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

wen, it’s a sad and tragic case, but what comes first here I wonder: your sister’s addiction/dependency problem, or the means of exacerbating it? I note there’s some interesting work going on around genetic triggers in addiction which might provide some insight – and maybe therapy – downtrack.

In the meantime, I guess the fundamental question – in this as in most things – is the extent to which we legislate for what is a minority (albeit with booze etc, a not insignificant minority) problem.

I think the zero tolerance case would say something like “remove the agents and the problem is solved.” I’m unconvinced.

2022 years ago

From what I’ve read – which is admittedly not a great deal – Sweden seems to practice a form of zero tolerance that has had some beneficial effect (a lot fewer drug deaths than here, anyway). The Swedes decriminalised for a few years in the sixties – an experiment that failed, partly due to a ‘moral’ backlash.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

Sweden introduced zero tolerance in the 1980’s and had some success. In the 1990’s however reported drug use rates returned to levels commensurate with other EU countries and the Swedes seem now to have moved to a somewhat more flexible position: i.e. needle exchange and methadone maintenance programs have been reintroduced etc.

2022 years ago

It was P.J. O’Roarke’s comments that convinced me of the uselessness of drug prohibition.

He pointed to prisons. Prisons have walls and barbed/razor wire all around them. There are armed guards 24/7. There are constant searches without the need for warrants, there are security cameras. There is more control than even a country like North Korea could apply to the whole population, let alone any country pretending to be free.

They can’t keep drugs out of prisons.

Therefore, enforcement doesn’t work. QED.

2022 years ago

Wen, my heart goes out, it really does. I can only imagine how desperate you are to find a solution to your sister’s addiction. But, at the risk of upsetting you further, I still maintain that the system is wrong when it penalises a great proportion of the community for the failings of a few.

I know, I know, one of those ‘few’ is not my sibling, nonetheless, if a new approach is taken to the whole problem of drugs, starting with the legalisation of narcotics such as heroin and cocaine, designer drugs such as ectasy and marijuana, some of the resources now being wasted on the ‘war against drugs’ could be re-allocated to studies into addictive personality for instance, something that just might have some beneficial results for your sister.

The most important thing for me is to change the system to one where pharmacists can get on with keeping the vast majority of the community sedated and whacked out on prozac without fear of being held up.

2022 years ago

Anyone see the articles in the weekend press talking again about how much more devastating, damaging and prevalent alcohol abuse is? But you don’t see John Howard including alcohol in the War on Drugs, do you.