Wednesday, 30 June 2010

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR'S: How To Win The Drug War

Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath ransacks the newspapers for stories in issues affecting our freedom

This week: How To Win The Drug War

_richardmcgrath The other day I was reading a regular column in one of our local giveaway midweek rags, penned by a former Wairarapa mayoral candidate, giving his opinion on the woefully lenient 34 month sentence handed down by Judge Judith Potter to the vicious killer of Hawea Vercoe. This brute not only punched Mr Vercoe in the head but kicked him in the swede as he lay unconscious on the ground.

Unfortunately, after calling for a more appropriate sentence commensurate with the scale of the crime, the writer suddenly  dropped in from left field a suggestion that drug dealers be summarily executed with no recourse to the appeal courts. I wasn't overly surprised at this turn of reportorial events, as the author of this piece was the worst sort of teetotaller—one who had for many years enjoyed a tipple but now seems to believe that if he doesn’t drink, no-one else should either.

No doubt writer Walter Block would take issue with this gentleman, as Block considers drug dealers, pimps, slum landlords—even corrupt cops—to be heroes. He lavishes praise on them in his book Defending the Undefendable. Indeed it is hard to feel warmth for some of the people Block idolises—the blackmailer, the slanderer, the strip-miner and the employer of child labour—but he makes a solid case in support of each of them, using the argument that the best, fairest and most socially just way for people to interact is via the free market.

Remembering the Cato Institute’s report on the success of drug decriminalisation in Portugal, I flicked the local rag a response:           

_Quote RL's recent column (June 16) suggested bringing in the death penalty for drug dealers. I suspect the underlying motivation for his radical proposal is a desire to lessen the harm done to others by people who use drugs. Such a sentiment I find commendable. But quite apart from the fact that the state often gets it wrong and ends up killing the wrong person, if the government started executing everyone involved in selling drugs, there would very soon be a grave shortage of liquor outlets, corner dairy proprietors, chemists and pharmaceutical companies, not to mention some very overworked funeral directors.
    “A far more effective way to put the current generation of drug dealers out of business would be to legalise the manufacture, sale and consumption of their merchandise - which sounds crazy, but just think about it for a minute. The people currently selling illegal drugs love the current law because it guarantees them control of the market along with enormous profit margins. The last thing these dealers want is the sort of competition they would face if other vendors were allowed to sell better quality product at a lower price, openly and legally. 
    “R speculates on the motives behind the actions of the thug who robbed and murdered an elderly South Auckland woman. This heinous and disgusting crime may very well have been perpetrated to help finance a drug habit. But has R ever asked himself why illicit drugs are so damned expensive? Could it have something to do with the fact that they are illicit?
    “Just in case anyone is wondering: I don't use currently illegal drugs, I don't promote their use, and I spend one day a week working at the local addiction service trying to help people into a healthy alternative to a drug-centred lifestyle. And I can attest that the exorbitantly high price of drugs does not stop people using them. It just makes them poorer, and makes the people selling these drugs wealthier.
    “R may dislike the thought of other adults taking drugs, but if no-one gets hurt in the process, it's really none of his business. Like it or not, for a multitude of reasons, there will always be a segment of society wanting to self-medicate with whatever drugs they can lay their hands on. I believe the scope for harm to the greater community would be lessened if these people had access to cheap, high-quality product sold by reputable traders. Ideally, they should also have access to education on the risks of drug use. “

If R doubts whether substance decriminalisation works, he should look to what has happened in Portugal, where personal possession of all drugs was decriminalised in 2001. It now has the lowest adult rate of lifetime marijuana use in the European Union. The United States, home of the War on Drugs, has proportionately higher rates of cocaine use than Portugal has of marijuana use. Rates of new HIV infection in Portugal are dropping, and the number of people coming forward for drug treatment has doubled.

R clearly sees the use of drugs as a scourge on society. There is a kernel of truth in what he says. There are more constructive ways of addressing the stresses of past traumas than clouding one's brain with mind-altering medication. But a bigger evil, perhaps, are the laws that drive the market for intoxicating drugs underground, and into the hands of gangs and other organised criminals.

There are so many arguments that can justify legalising the use by humans of any and all drugs immediately. My letter  appeals to the disgust many people feel for the violent and terrifying gang culture enmeshed in the New Zealand drug trade. But more importantly, I should remind readers that it is everyone’s right to self-medicate with whatever they wish, just as it is everyone’s responsibility not to harm other people or their property. My body belongs to me, yours to you. Most emphatically, your body does not belong to the state. It is yours to use or abuse as you wish, depending on what standards you set for the quality of the short time you have on this planet. That is the libertarian view, and that is the view a Libertarianz government would take. It’s nobody’s business but your own what you choose to eat, smoke, snort or inject.

Not only have the Portuguese got a pretty useful football team, they’ve got some inspired politicians willing to give people the freedom to learn from their mistakes they make, and not turn a health issue into a legal one.

Someone is bound to complain that once again I have chosen to support an unpopular cause – drug legalisation – just as I backed the harvesting of sea cattle a week or two back. But issues like these, steeped in controversy and emotional overlay, serve as a litmus test as to whether one’s libertarian values apply to all peaceful people, not just the good-looking ones.        

When the people fear the government, there is tyranny - when the government
fear the people, there is liberty.
- Thomas Jefferson  


  1. "Someone is bound to complain that once again I have chosen to support an unpopular cause..."

    Very well reasoned and articulate piece Richard, and given the number of recreational drug users out there, probably more popular than you appear to think.

    You will probably get a lot more support on this than you would with the whale farming idea, and those opposed to it are likely to be the kind of people who are opposed to the very principle of freedom anyway.

  2. Richard McGrath30 Jun 2010, 11:41:00

    @twr - thanks for the support.

    I will let readers know if my letter gets published.

  3. Well said. I'd think it would get more support than you'd anticipate as well


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