Monday, 12 July 2010

Mayoral hopeful Simon Prast is right. Prohibition does not work. Has not worked. Can not work.

Mayoral hopeful Simon Prast is right. Prohibition doesn’t work.  If no government, however officious, can even keep drugs out of its prisons, then it's clear enough that drugs aren't just going to disappear from the streets no matter how many laws are passed--any more than alcohol disappeared when laws were passed prohibiting that.  All prohibition does is raise the crime rate, criminalise consumers, corrupt the cops, and put profits and quality control in the hands of gangs. 

But don’t ask “What sane person would want to do that?” because prohibition is not about sanity. Says the UK Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, "Drug laws are driven by ‘moral panic’… Whether we like it or not, drugs are and will remain a fact of life.”

_Quote_thumb[2][5]Demonising drugs does more harm than good… The use of illegal drugs is by no means always harmful any more than alcohol use is always harmful," Professor Anthony King of Essex University, the commission chairman told Britain's Daily Telegraph. Professor King added: "The evidence suggests that a majority of people who use drugs are able to use them without harming themselves or others... The harmless use of illegal drugs is thus possible, indeed common."

It’s didn’t worked for alcohol—banning alcohol in the US was history’s biggest boon for organised crime.

It hasn’t worked for cannabis—banning cannabis in NZ has been the biggest shot in the arm for gangs you could imagine.

It hasn’t worked for party pills—prohibition putting the ‘P’ into BZP, and more profits in gang coffers.

It hasn’t worked any better for ‘P’ either.

_Quote_thumb[2][5]Obtaining methamphetamine may be getting easier despite a Government crack down on the drug, a report says.

These are probably some of the reasons so many former law enforcement officers have joined the international advocacy group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) (wouldn’t it be great to hear Leighton interviewing one them on air?), which argues that prohibition only exacerbates the harms it purports to diminish…

LEAP Statement of Principles
LEAP does not promote the use of drugs and is deeply concerned about the extent of drug abuse worldwide. LEAP is also deeply concerned with the destructive impact of violent drug gangs and cartels everywhere in the world. Neither problem is remedied by the current policy of drug prohibition. Indeed, drug abuse and gang violence flourish in a drug prohibition environment, just as they did during alcohol prohibition.
To view LEAP's Statement of Principles in its entirety, please click here.

But why on earth is Simon Prast talking only about legalising ‘P’?  Yes, that’s a War that is already lost.  But the best way to get rid of ‘P’ would be to get rid of prohibition across the board. Or even begin formulating a serious transitional plan to start the process. Why do I say that to get rid of ‘P’ we need to get rid of prohibition altogether? Because, as Milton Friedman pointed out with his Iron Law of Prohibition, it’s the particularly virulent drugs like ‘P’ that prohibition actually encourages.  Johann Hari summarises:

_Quote_thumb[2][5]‘You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society [said Friedman]. Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favour are a major source of the evils you deplore.’ Friedman proved, for example, 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.’”

He’s still right.  And so is Prast.

So forget the ‘moral panic,’ and think instead of the immorality of telling others what they’re allowed to do to themselves. And consider: If it is impossible to ban drugs and iniquitous to try, then the only relevant question becomes: should we have a legal, transparent, accountable market for drugs, or an illegal, secretive, unaccountable one?

Your call.

* * * *

*No, I never thought I’d be writing a sentence like “mayoral hopeful X is right.”  But there you go.  Well done Mr Prast.

PS: For those not familiar with Uncle Milt’s ‘Iron Law,’ here’s a handy summary:



  1. Unfortunately the maxim "never take on a fight you cannot win" applies here. Of course Prast is right, but the odds of winning it are zero.

  2. Prohibition was a failure because the authorities tried to stop alcohol consumption which had been customary for centuries, and practiced by a majority of the population.

    Since opiate and stimulant drug use like heroin and methamphetamine is only done by a small segment of the population, is it worth the risk to an ordered, civil society to provide a pathway in which its use may become customary?

    Considering all of the problems alcohol consumption brings, it it worth the risk adding to the mix with other drugs?

    If so, that's a hell of a price to pay for being "liberal"

  3. Hi PC

    I may get deleted for thread Hijack but please consider thoughts (maybe answer if you care somewhere else)

    Watched a documentary yesterday on the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany.
    In 1928 elections the Nazi party polled around 2% of the vote. In 1932 they polled around 38%
    Why the change. What caused a civilised people to embrace such extremes?

    Answer given in the Documentary
    1. Mass unemployment, inflation hitting the lower class
    2 Great Depression

    The six major banks in Germany collapsed causing a major loss of wealth to the middle class. These people started listening to Hitler and following his solutions

    Hitler rose to power on the back of this as people in desperate times looked to someone to provide a way ahead

    I thought back to your posts PC,about state intervention in this depression. That we should let the banks fail if that was what was going to happen. The free market would sort things out.

    Maybe taxpayer funded bank support, printing of money, inflation is not a bad price to pay in lieu of millions dead

    David M

  4. @David M. : That's about as thorough a thread hijack as it's possible to make.

    Suffice it to say that I would regard that as wrong both historically and theoretically--the sort of over-simplification one might expect from a TV documentary.

    There's much that might be said about the reasons for Hitler's rise, but perhaps the most important *economic* reason for Hitler's acceptance among German voters was the Weimar Government's hyper-inflation of the money supply, which effectively destroyed Germany's middle class--and with it one of the last bulwarks against barbarism. Any TV doco that talked pre-war German economics and didn't at least mention that hyper-inflation would be suspect on the face of it.

    And of course, the Great Depression was made Great by the economic meddling of the world's governments, not least by the central banks you appear to think are the world's saviours. (Who, for example, remembers the Great Depression of 1920? The reason you don't is that THAT crash, worse initially than the later 1929 crash, was the last time at which western governments kept their hands off and let economic recovery happen.)

    Perhaps the best economic explanation for Hitler's rise that I could recommend is Ludwig Von Mises's 'Omnipotent Government.' If the topic interests you, you should find that useful.

    But in the meantime, and since this IS a thread hijack, I'd appreciate it if you'd please leave further discussion about this until the next relevant thread.

  5. S&W Said : "Considering all of the problems alcohol consumption brings..."

    For the vast majority of people, consumption of alcohol provides few if any problems, and considerable enjoyment.

    Why should you be punished for doing something based on the possible effect of its abuse by someone else?

    Chances are the kind of people who are likely to abuse drugs are already doing so.

  6. PC

    Thanks for your reply

    David M

  7. Gooner

    'Unfortunately the maxim "never take on a fight you cannot win" applies here.'

    Any major change is preceded by lots of outspoken people taking on unwinnable fights. The public will never change its collective mind without exposure to different ways of thinking.

    On this subject I read a great quote last week;

    In all ages and in all times, people must make a choice. Will we accept the world as it is and try to fit in, getting as much as we can from the system until we bow out? Or will we stick to principle, pay whatever price that involves, and leave the world a better place?

    — Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr.

  8. I couldn't agree more, but I don't know why you think Leighton would have any pro-legalisation people on his show. He is a conservative old bigot who would be a vocal critic of such a move.

  9. @ Redbaiter:

    You are right. The sentence should be:

    "Prohibition does not work. Has not worked. Can not work in a free society."

    It will work perfectly fine in a dictatorial police state. If if it doesn't you can simply hide the evidence of it not working.

  10. FYI: The figures the troll is trying to post have been incorrectly presented from the original data.

    The original source for the figures the troll is attempting to post are here, pages 44-47.

  11. I think the topic should be steered towards: "Why is a local-government hopeful campaining on a platform more suited to central government?"

    Drug policy cannot be dictated by local government, it's an issue for Wellington, and campaining on an issue you will have no say in, no matter how emotive, says that you don't really want the job, you just want to use it to get into Parliament.

    Campaign on improving financial transparency in local office, improving public facilities and amenities, and making Auckland a place where not only Aucklanders want to be, and then you'll get my respect. Hell, just campaign on transparency and you're streets ahead of Brown and Williams in my book.

  12. Q: "Why is a local-government hopeful campaigning on a platform more suited to central government?"

    A: Because the topic of Prast's own former consumption came up in his interview with the Herald's Carolyn Meng-Yee, and after being pressed on the issue he decided to front-foot it rather than fudge it.

    And other than this and his policy to return the proceeds of Auckland's new virtual toll bridge, the Grafton Bridge, I don't think anyone has any idea what his other policies are, if any.


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