By Susan Ryder
Damn the Kiwis. Any other weekend I’d have been ecstatic at the upset win over the Kangaroos in Brisbane on Saturday night, to capture the Rugby League World Cup for the first time in its 54 year history. To say that the win was unexpected would have been refuted by only the most diehard of diehard supporters, and therefore all the sweeter.
But I couldn’t savour the win on Saturday due to receiving some shocking news that morning. It was the sort of news that you just can’t stop thinking about, try as you might.
I’d heard the radio news report of a brutal sexual attack (is there any other?) upon a 99 year old woman in her home during the early hours of a morning last week. You read it correctly: the lady was 99. I remember being momentarily horrified. The story was repeated over the next couple of newscasts and then that was that. Just another forgotten victim of another horrific attack right here in Godzone.
Until, that is, I spoke to Mum on Saturday morning. It turns out that the victim – let’s call her Mrs X - has three children, one of whom we’ll call Jean. Mum and Jean share a hobby and when Mum rang her on Friday, Jean was just leaving for the hospital where she and her two siblings are providing a 24-hour watch over their mother who, unsurprisingly, is in a terrible physical and mental state. This sprightly, independent, female nonagenarian tried to defend herself against a 20 year old male under the influence of P. Jean does not believe her mother will come out of hospital.
If it’s possible to feel sick and numb and horrified and repulsed simultaneously, I did. I still do. I have a 95 year old grandmother who’s of the same ilk as Mrs X. Nana, too, insists on living alone and doing for herself. These women have lived good lives and raised families. They have witnessed the events of most of the 20th century in all its glory and despair. They do not deserve even a fraction of the fate that befell Mrs X.
Which brings me to her attacker and his choices, namely to take an illegal, highly dangerous drug. The media is full of stories as to the potency, danger and addictive properties of methamphetamine, known in New Zealand as “P”. It is the latest drug horror story to reach our shores. And with each horror story, the calls for even more regulation and policing are heard all over again. I know, because I used to be one of those voices.
I used to scoff at those who called for the legalisation of marijuana. Well, it was pretty easy to scoff. They were largely hippies and no-hopers or, most painful of all, affluent varsity students sporting Greenpeace t-shirts and adopting the latest social cause … while quietly cashing regular cheques from boring old Mum and Dad. Notwithstanding my ongoing scorn for the hippies, the truth is that they were right and I was wrong.
It’s oh so difficult to be rational about the subject of illegal drug use -- it’s an emotive topic and you’ll appreciate that I’m very emotive at present -- but if you wish to reduce the problem, it is essential to be so. Consider this:
- When you ban something – anything – you create a black market: an illegal market that operates underground, ie outside the law.
- Black markets are run by outlaws. In NZ’s case, they're run by gangs -- those despicable criminal gangs.
- In contrast to the peaceful resolution carried out in ordinary legitimate businesses, criminals solve problems associated with the distribution and supply of their products violently.
- Not being subject to the natural product regulation that occurs in an open, legal market, the banned product is always of sub-standard quality.
- Consumers have limited knowledge as to product ingredients, which may be dangerous and harmful.
- Black markets create artificially inflated product prices, perfect for criminals who are only interested in high profits with no regard for their own risk.
- Addicts resort to crime to pay the high prices, creating community distress and further stretching police resources.
- Criminals do not care to whom they supply, hence your children and grandchildren become prime targets.
Contrast all that with, say, the sale of paracetamol, a widely-used, easily available pain relief medication. No matter from which outlet you purchase paracetamol -- a pharmacy, supermarket, dairy or even petrol station -- you can be assured that it has been legitimately manufactured by a reputable company, and duly tried and tested before being released for sale at a price acceptable to the market.
But if we banned it, and overnight tried to limit its supply, you would then have to resort to buying your pain relief (whatever it consists of) from some crook behind a filthy public toilet in your local crappy council park. Gee, I can’t wait. And who knows what is in that bottle you'd be so keen to purchase.
Did you ever stop to think that neither kids nor criminals are interested in stealing Viagra or Cialis from their local pharmacy? These are wildly popular but the kids aren't interested precisely because they are legal, which means there's no money in it for them.
Did you ever stop to think that the government is not there to tell adults what they may voluntarily put into their bodies?
That the great majority of people who use illegal drugs do not abuse them, are not addicted, are harming nobody (are just getting on with their own lives), but are nevertheless considered criminals in the eyes of the law?
That we already, rightly and properly, have laws that prosecute those who harm others or neglect children, whether “under the influence” or not? And that every single time you call for more regulation, you have just put even more money into the gangs’ pockets?
Yes, I’m talking to you, the well-meaning person who’s actually making matters worse. You cannot save people from themselves (and God knows the state can’t) but you sure as hell can make things worse -- and you have.
Your local pharmacist is a drug-dealer. But he or she is a much nicer person with whom to do business, and you can do it in much nicer surroundings. They are fully qualified, supplying reputable products priced to meet the market. They are hardly likely to hang around school gates in order to supply children. They stand and fall upon their service as per any legitimate business.
Criminals, on the other hand, can never compete with private enterprise for the reasons provided, which means that a drug like P would simply not exist in an open market. No pharmaceutical company would manufacture it, marketing a safer substitute instead. But in the market made by prohibition, it's the ideal drug for dealers to push.
Look, I don’t like drugs any more than you do. I don’t even like taking prescription drugs if I can avoid it. But the truth is that the likes of Al Capone and Pretty Boy Floyd only went out of business in Chicago after Prohibition was thankfully repealed. Their black market profits disappeared at the stroke of a government pen (virtually the only good thing Roosevelt ever did with his pen) and at that stroke the gang violence and the police corruption of alcohol prohibition ended as well. The only difference between the Chicagoan gangsters and New Zealand’s Black Power? Capone and his colleagues had better dress sense. Prohibition of alcohol didn’t work then, and prohibition of drugs doesn’t work now.
One last word, please. Do not make excuses for the vile individual who attacked Mrs X. I’m in no mood to listen. You see, he could have chosen an alternative drug that day, one that wasn’t so destructive. He could have chosen not to consume anything, not to fry his brain at all. He could have done a lot of things. But the choices he did make saw him end up brutally violating, perhaps destroying, a sweet lady old enough to be his great-great-grandmother. For that, I damn the bastard to hell.
* * * More brave and brilliant writing from Libertarian Sus here at Sus's Soundbites * * *
UPDATE 1: Disgraced former media tycoon Conrad Black, convicted last year for his theft of company funds, and now sharing a prison with assorted Florida felons ("It is a little like going back to boarding school," he says of his stay) has finally woken up to the effects of The War on Drugs - a war he himself once championed. But in a letter to London's Sunday Times he says the the War has failed:
"U.S. justice has become a command economy based on the avarice of private prison companies, a gigantic prison service industry and politically influential correctional officers' unions that agitate for an unlimited increase in the number of prosecutions and the length of sentences."
Fruitless attempts to wipe out the illegal drug trade are to blame for the situation, says Black, taking up a battle cry long espoused by people he's never traditionally associated with - those on the left of the political spectrum, including groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.
"The entire 'war on drugs,' by contrast, is a classic illustration of supply-side economics: a trillion taxpayers' dollars squandered and (one million) small fry imprisoned at a cost of $50 billion a year; as supply of and demand for illegal drugs have increased, prices have fallen and product quality has improved."
it looks to me like Black thinks money spent on the war on drugs is money "squandered." That in spite of blowing through ridiculous sums of money, there is just about nothing to show for it.
Conrad Black understands what Milton Friedman said so long ago: "The war on drugs is a failure because it is a socialist enterprise." It always amazes me that there are still so-called conservatives who manage to somehow reconcile opposition to social engineering and big government, with the ultimate social engineering and big government program: the war on drugs ...
UPDATE 2: And let's not fail to mention Milton Friedman's Iron Law of Prohibition,,which explains why outlawing drugs only increases the virulence of recreational drugs: The more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the prohibited substance becomes. Which means 'P' is precisely the sort of drug you should expect when you start a War on Drugs.