Reports have it that “Prime Minister John Key is proposing to combat the drug P by banning its main ingredient, pseudoephedrine.” This is akin to banning the tides by insisting people close their windows at night so they can’t see the moon.
Have the proponents of the War on Drugs learned nothing in the thirty-eight years since that War was declared by Richard Nixon as diversion from other more pressing personal affairs?
If you ban the stuff it doesn't just go away. Thirty-eight years of "an increasing drug tide" should tell you that.
Have the proponents of bans learned nothing over those thirty-eight years about the results of their bans? That if you ban drugs, you simply put the sale and manufacture of drugs in the hands of outlaws. Sure, we all like to think our kids won't partake -- but how often did YOU ever "Just Say No" back in your day? And drugs are now much nastier than they were when you bought your buds from from a mate of a mate. Do you really want your daughter consuming virulent recreational pharmaceuticals cooked up by a bloke known only as 'Scabies'? Or would you prefer her buying from someone more trustworthy - like a pharmacist, a grower, a cannabis cafe, or from the makers of the formerly legal party pills, for example?
Have ban supporters learned nothing from figures showing lower rates of drug use in more liberal jurisdictions like Europe as opposed to the much higher rates in more prohibition-minded places like the US; have they learned nothing from the results of partial legalisation in places like London and the Netherlands, or of complete legalisation in places like Portugal.
"Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted research [on Portugal's 2001 decriminalisation] . "It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does." [Read Greenwald’s report for the CATO Institute here.]
Have they learned nothing from the prevalence of drugs in prisons? For goodness sake, if you can't even make them disappear from supposedly the most secure places in the country, then how on earth are you going to make them disappear from people's more private places?
Have they learned nothing from the results of all the bans? That if you ban particular stuff, it just changes its form.
You make it difficult to import cannabis and “buddha sticks,” and people bring in heroin instead. You make it difficult to bring in heroin, and people start making “homebake heroine” made from codeine. You make it harder to get hold of codeine-based drugs, and people find a way to make the even more virulent ‘P’ out of stuff contained in common cold remedies.
What’s next? It's almost like watching an episode of ‘McGyver.' Ban all the ingredients you like, but criminals are still going to find a way to make recreational pharmaceuticals using a roll of toilet paper, a lady's stocking, a tub of shoe polish, and a small bit of blue tack. And the drugs get progressively more virulent each time.
The reason they’ve got more virulent is what economist Milton Friedman called the ‘Iron Law of Prohibition.’
Friedman proved that prohibition changes the way people use drugs, making many people use stronger, more dangerous variants than they would in a legal market. During alcohol prohibition, moonshine eclipsed beer; during drug prohibition, crack is eclipsing coke. He called his rule explaining this curious historical fact “the Iron Law of Prohibition”: the harder the police crack down on a substance, the more concentrated the substance will become.
Why? If you run a bootleg bar in Prohibition-era Chicago and you are going to make a gallon of alcoholic drink, you could make a gallon of beer, which one person can drink and constitutes one sale – or you can make a gallon of pucheen, which is so strong it takes thirty people to drink it and constitutes thirty sales. Prohibition encourages you produce and provide the stronger, more harmful drink. If you are a drug dealer in Hackney, you can use the kilo of cocaine you own to sell to casual coke users who will snort it and come back a month later – or you can microwave it into crack, which is far more addictive, and you will have your customer coming back for more in a few hours. Prohibition encourages you to produce and provide the more harmful drug.
For Friedman, the solution was stark: take drugs back from criminals and hand them to doctors, pharmacists, and off-licenses. Legalize. Chronic drug use will be a problem whatever we do, but adding a vast layer of criminality, making the drugs more toxic, and squandering £20bn on enforcing prohibition that could be spent on prescription and rehab, only exacerbates the problem. “Drugs are a tragedy for addicts,” he said. “But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike.”
Friedman once told Bush Snr’s drugs tsar Bill Bennett, “You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favour are a major source of the evils you deplore.” The evils have only got worse since.
Banning pseudoephedrine is just another road down that sorry path. And it will make it damn difficult for all of us presently suffering from cold (and colds) because we haven’t pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to warm us up. ;^)
Frankly, and unusually, I agree with Arnold Schwarzenegger: “I think it’s time for a debate.”
UPDATE: Let's be clear, in the Herald report from which I quoted above JohnBoy said "he understood pseudoephedrine was banned in some American states, and he wanted to know if that would work here."
Well he doesn't have to look far to get his information -- only as far as Lindsay Mitchell who has a look at what happened in Oregon when they banned pseudoephedrine. No surprises. More meth - more meth-related crime.
But that's not the sort of conclusion he's calling for, is it.