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.