Thursday, 25 September 2014

Debating Drug Prohibition at the Oxford Union

Guest post here from the Mises Institute, interviewing Mark Thornton, Mises Institute Senior Fellow, who recently took part in Oxford University’s Oxford Union Debates.

Mises Institute: Why were you invited to debate at Oxford?

Mark Thornton: The Oxford Union can pretty much get whoever they want to debate, including presidents, prime ministers, Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama, and even Julian Assange, so I was honoured that they invited me. I met several students in the Oxford Union and at Oxford University who were familiar with my work on the drug war and at the Mises Institute.
     Each side of the debate generally consists of a student presenter and three experts. The debate is similar in structure to the House of Commons and has been that way since 1823.

MI: What was your basic line of argumentation and how was it received? How did the other side justify the drug war?

MT: My opening joke, which came at the expense of the American public, was very well received and my arguments were also very well received.
    My argument was that the war on drugs has no benefits, just costs, and negative unintended consequences. These include drug-addict crime, drug-dealer violence, bribery and corruption, and the increase in drug potency to deadly levels. I gave them the theory of how to connect those dots and some history of how the dots connected.
    I then described ten benefits of legalising drugs that fit into the three categories of making us safer, making us healthier, and improving human welfare.
    I ended my presentation with four examples of what happens when drug laws are liberalised. One example was an experiment where heroin addicts were provided with doses of pharmaceutical-grade heroin. The result was a dramatic drop in their criminality, a large increase in their employment, and an increase of those seeking treatment. Another example was the needle-exchange policy. Countries with liberal needle-exchange policies (free needles on demand) have very low HIV/AIDS and other needle-borne disease transmission rates and countries with very strict needle policies (only available by prescription) have very high transmission rates.
    I received a very enthusiastic response from the audience.

The three experts on the pro-drug-war side made the following arguments.
    The first expert said that there was no war on drugs and that prohibition had never really been tried.
    The second expert’s argument was that drugs were bad — that’s it! She was a drug addict herself and revealed that she wanted a marijuana leaf tattooed on the back of her hand when she was young, but the tattoo artist refused because she was not 18 years old at the time. What makes her think that businesses will sell cocaine to 14 year olds if it was legalised?
    The final expert argued that if we legalise drugs then eventually almost everyone will be hard-core drug addicts.
    As you can see the other side’s arguments were mostly misinformation and fear tactics.

MI: We know that in the US, drug legalisation efforts have progressed significantly in many states, especially in Colorado and Washington. What was the view of these developments in the United Kingdom?

MT: Everyone I talked to about drug policy was aware of developments in Colorado and Washington, and several people questioned me about them. My general impression was that people were hopeful that the US had broken its hard-core attitude against drugs.
    More generally, public opinion in the UK and Europe also seems to be moving toward more liberalised drug policy. This does not necessarily entail full drug legalisation, but rather a policy where hard drugs are addressed as a medical problem, not a law enforcement problem, and where cannabis is regulated in a similar manner to alcohol and tobacco.

MI: Through the news media and popular culture, we all have a certain image of what the drug war looks like here in America, with gangs and smugglers and drug runners. Has the drug war manifested itself differently in Europe or are things more or less the same there?

MT: Like the United States, Europe is a large, illegal drug-consuming region, rather than producing region, with similar laws against drugs. South America also produces much of the drugs that are smuggled into Europe. So naturally the problems are very similar.
    Part of that similarity is also driven by international treaties that forces countries to conform to certain legal norms with respect to illegal drugs. So yes, they have smugglers, gangs that sell drugs at the retail level, organized crime, bribery, and corruption, etc. There are some obvious exceptions such as cannabis coffee shops in the Netherlands.
    There are some noteworthy experiments as well, such as the decriminalisation of all drugs in Portugal. It would not be incorrect to say that Portugal’s reform was an act of desperation, but one should remember that the US was equally desperate when we repealed alcohol prohibition in the depths of the Great Depression.

MI: Has the fight against the drug war become a worldwide movement, or are successful efforts cropping up in only a few countries?

MT: Both.
    Successful efforts are cropping up in only a few countries; however, I think there has been a worldwide ideological movement in favour of more liberal drugs laws. The balance in favour of more liberal drug laws in both Europe and the Western Hemisphere is starting to become apparent.
    Medical marijuana and decriminalized recreational marijuana are very acceptable throughout much of the developed world.
    The people of Mexico, Central America, and the drug-producing countries of South America have been devastated by the war on drugs and are desperate for a solution.
    It may seem as if the victories are sporadic and isolated, but I believe when history looks back on our recent past and near-term future that it will label the period the “End of the War on Drugs,” in much the same way we have the “End of the Cold War” and the “End of Communism.” At least that is my hope.

MI: When we think of illegal drugs, we generally mean cocaine, opium, and marijuana. But there is increasing attention being paid to prescription drugs in this country. Is this a growing issue in other countries as well?

MT: This problem was predictable as I showed in my book, The Economics of Prohibition. As the war on drugs has progressed with more enforcement capabilities and greater penalties, the black market has responded with higher potency and more potent and dangerous drug types.
    When I was writing back in the 1980s, the progression was increasingly higher potency cannabis, to cocaine, crack, and heroin. Since that time crystal meth, ecstasy, and prescription opiates have been added to the mix.
    More recently, new chemical drugs have been invented that are technically legal. I wonder if today’s drug warriors had a button to push that could dial us back in time, prior to government intervention in drugs, and have a situation where people smoked low-potency pot and opium on the fringes of society and drank Coca-Cola (which contained cocaine rather than caffeine), would they push that button?

OxyContin (oxycondone) and Vicodin are opiate painkillers that are killing thousands of people in the US each year. Both are often wrongly viewed by addicts as safer alternatives to heroin. The use of the drug has already spread to Europe and elsewhere, and so have the deaths.


Mark Thornton is a senior resident fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and is the book review editor for the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. He is the author of The Economics of Prohibition, coauthor of Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War, and the editor of The Quotable Mises,The Bastiat Collection, and An Essay on Economic Theory.
This post first appeared at the Mises Daily.

18 comments:

  1. Mark Thornton inaccurately dismisses the debaters who opposed his view at the Oxford debate - they won the case. How much else of what he claims is equally inaccurate?

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  2. Mark Thornton is a sore loser disparaging his opponents arguments which held the day and parading his own flawless thinking which somehow failed to convince the student body assembled of the merits of ending the drug war. Mark thats the trouble with open debate you put your arguments and the voters decide what they think- you obviously dont like the way they voted so next time make a better case rather than grumbling at the outcome of that debate.

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  3. This young returned serviceman dreams of the day he won't be classed a second-class citizen in his own lands.
    Until then
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvaEJzoaYZk

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  4. @Anonymite: The score was 60-59 against. Can't see the sour grapes myself.

    ReplyDelete
  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXLmt6i-hBY

    A song for those still riding about on their high-horses
    I'll be waiting up on the high ground

    "I Get By" Everlast

    Government man keep calling my house
    Talking ‘bout I owe, harassing my spouse
    Gotta park my truck on another block
    Cause the sub-prime loan got my ass in hock

    Gotta couple good friends with helping hands
    I need a brand new job with a health care plan
    They closed the plant, they stole my job
    Told me crime don’t pay unless you ask the mob

    So I smoke a little grass, drink a little wine
    Watch a little tube, try to kill a little time
    And every single day I fall a little more behind
    But I’m paying it no mind, it’ll all be fine

    [Chorus:]
    I get by (got it good, got it good)
    I barely get by (got it good, got it good)
    I barely get by
    I laugh not to cry
    I stay a little high
    I ain’t gonna lie
    I barely get by
    I laugh not to cry
    I stay a little high
    I ain’t gonna lie (got it good)

    Party people in the place to be
    Put your hands in the sky if you barely getting by
    It’s on and on till the brake of dawn
    Got to keep the rent paid and the power on

    Yes yes y’all and it never stops
    I don’t trust the government, I don’t trust no cops
    We dip and we dive and we socialize
    We struggle and we strive just to stay alive
    I get by (got it good, got it good)
    I barely get by (got it good, got it good)

    When I finally get home I can’t relax
    Cause I’ve been over worked and I’ve been over taxed
    My bank accounts empty, all my cards are maxed
    And I ain't looking for no pity, I’m just stating the facts

    I voted for some change and it’s kinda strange
    "No" it’s all I got in my pocket
    I bought a few led’s, now I’m growing some trees
    And it’s a sweet fucking hustle don’t knock it

    I told y’all before I would break the law
    To put some food in my baby girl’s belly
    Cause the senator man took a bribe in hand
    And went and shipped my job to New Delhi
    [Chorus:]

    Party people in the place to be
    Put your hands in the sky if you barely getting by
    It’s on and on till the brake of dawn
    Got to keep the rent paid and the power on
    Yes yes y’all and it never stops
    I don’t trust the government
    I don’t trust no cops
    I dip and I dive and I socialize
    I struggle and I strive just to stay alive

    ReplyDelete
  6. Air America starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr.
    Anything, Anywhere, Anytime, that's our motto!
    CIA's propaganda about their drug-smuggling antics back in 'Nam
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dnq8o_7hPcc

    ReplyDelete
  7. Leave me alone I'm over it
    And everybody's movin' on
    I can't see my tomorrow and yesterday has come and gone
    So leave me alone
    My mind is blown but it's my own
    So deal with it
    I'm feeling fine most the time
    I may be on the outside but no ones getting in
    So leave me alone
    We're O.K. reelin' in the days
    We're alright we're just getting high
    Let us be it'll be all right
    I got no strife I'm loving life
    Could you say the same
    You don't have to move to groove
    So come on up and see me but leave that judge behind
    'Cause I'm loving life

    [Repeat Chorus 2x]

    I'm gettin' stoned and what's wrong with that
    The president seems to be just fine
    Come on up and see me
    Come on up just know that I'm gettin' stoned
    I'm gettin' stoned I'm gettin' stoned I'm gettin' stoned

    [Repeat Chorus]

    Smashmouth-Stoned
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGYKbJmN3Go


    OPM Heaven Is A Half-Pipe
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0KYiYMagaA

    If I die before I wake
    at least in heaven I can skate
    'cause right now on earth I can't do jack
    without the man up on my back
    CHORUS

    now heaven would be a DJ
    spinning dub all night long
    and heaven would just kicking back
    with Jesus packing my bong
    and if you don't believe in Jesus and Muhammad or Buddha too
    and while the world is warring
    just sit back and laugh at you singing..
    CHORUS
    now most people think of heaven
    they see those pearly gates
    but I looked a little closer
    and there's a sign says "do not skate"
    so if you wanna come to my heaven
    well we're all gonna have a ball
    and everyone u know is welcome
    'cause we got no gates or walls singing.

    If I die before I wake
    at least in heaven I can skate
    'cause right now on earth I can't do sh*t
    without the man f***ing with it
    and then I got to the gate
    pulled a list that I'd been calling fate
    I'm sorry friend you can't come in
    you gotta a list here that doesn't end
    you're mad 'cause I smoke dope!!!
    you teaching any classes in how to cope???
    I'll find a place to rest my head
    I rather be alone now that I'm dead
    like Christian hossoi way back in 87
    we'll be busting Christ air's until we get to heaven
    think I really care that I miss my biology
    got my education in stale fishology
    with all your rules you got to chill
    I'm gonna twist out Mike McGill
    I'm gonna twist out 'cause I got the skills
    I'm gonna twist out 'cause I got the skills... got the skills got the skills

    heaven is a halfpipe..
    heaven is a halfpipe..
    CHORUS

    ReplyDelete
  8. Here they come to snuff the rooster
    Yeah here come the rooster, yeah [2x]
    You know he ain't gonna die
    No, no, no, ya know he ain't gonna die
    CHORUS

    Ain't found a way to kill me yet
    Eyes burn with stinging sweat
    Seems every path leads me to nowhere
    Wife and kids household pet
    Army green was no safe bet
    The bullets scream to me from somewhere

    CHORUS

    Walkin' tall machine gun man
    They spit on me in my home land
    Gloria sent me pictures of my boy
    Got my pills 'gainst mosquito death
    My buddy's breathin' his dyin' breath
    Oh god please won't you help me make it through

    CHORUS

    Alice In Chains Rooster

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAE6Il6OTcs

    ReplyDelete
  9. Society, We all know there's something wrong and we've know it all along
    Sincerity, You may think there's no one else till they put you on a shelf
    Society, Pay your taxes stand in line help them plan for your demise
    Society, Crush the weak to get your share cause nobody's playing fair
    And no one cares

    [Chorus:]
    How long you pray makes no difference today
    When it's society devices how you'll pay
    When finding the truth makes no difference to you
    Anyway you look at it you're gonna get screwed
    You lose

    Society, No one here can get along cause our history's too long
    Sincerity, Think you're going with the flow but you never really know
    Society, To all the leaders it's a game and it's making you insane
    Society, Data patterns are supplied proof tap back up all the lies
    hardly alive

    [Chorus]

    Society, We all know there's something wrong and we've know it all along
    Sincerity, You may think there's no one else till they put you on a shelf
    Society, You can go on with the flow but you never really know
    Society, Pay your taxes stand in line you can vote or get a life
    Society [4x]

    Pennywise Society
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_B0uXwLCTg

    ReplyDelete
  10. All the bullsh*t that I see
    so much I can't believe
    grown man just tryin' to be true to myself impossibly
    I may not ever get rich might wind up diggin' a ditch
    I won't cry no I won't bitch
    I wont back down and I'll never quit


    It is my badge of pride -hardcore 'til the day I die
    just tryin' to survive
    I won't back down or apologize
    Say what you wanna say
    I'm not listening anyway
    I'll believe what I wanna believe
    true to myself
    that's how it's gotta be.


    All the methods that I use
    all the things I use and abuse
    it all leaves me confused
    I've beer torn up, beat down and bruised
    but somehow I was saved and I'm standing here today
    Now I do things my own way cause I'm never going back again

    Pennywise Badge Of Pride
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZ1kM_HV4EA

    ReplyDelete
  11. Come on come on
    I see no changes. Wake up in the morning and I ask myself,
    "Is life worth living? Should I blast myself?"
    I'm tired of bein' poor and even worse I'm black.
    My stomach hurts, so I'm lookin' for a purse to snatch.
    Cops give a damn about a negro? Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he's a hero.
    Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares? One less hungry mouth on the welfare.
    First ship 'em dope and let 'em deal to brothers.
    Give 'em guns, step back, and watch 'em kill each other.
    "It's time to fight back", that's what Huey said.
    2 shots in the dark now Huey's dead.
    I got love for my brother, but we can never go nowhere
    unless we share with each other. We gotta start makin' changes.
    Learn to see me as a brother 'stead of 2 distant strangers.
    And that's how it's supposed to be.
    How can the Devil take a brother if he's close to me?
    I'd love to go back to when we played as kids
    but things changed, and that's the way it is

    [Bridge w/ changing ad libs]

    Come on come on
    That's just the way it is
    Things'll never be the same
    That's just the way it is
    aww yeah
    [Repeat]

    I see no changes. All I see is racist faces.
    Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races we under.
    I wonder what it takes to make this one better place...
    let's erase the wasted.
    Take the evil out the people, they'll be acting right.
    'Cause both black and white are smokin' crack tonight.
    And only time we chill is when we kill each other.
    It takes skill to be real, time to heal each other.
    And although it seems heaven sent,
    we ain't ready to see a black President, uhh.
    It ain't a secret don't conceal the fact...
    the penitentiary's packed, and it's filled with blacks.
    But some things will never change.
    Try to show another way, but they stayin' in the dope game.
    Now tell me what's a mother to do?
    Bein' real don't appeal to the brother in you.
    You gotta operate the easy way.
    "I made a G today" But you made it in a sleazy way.
    Sellin' crack to the kids. "I gotta get paid,"
    Well hey, well that's the way it is.

    [Bridge]

    [Talking:]
    We gotta make a change...
    It's time for us as a people to start makin' some changes.
    Let's change the way we eat, let's change the way we live
    and let's change the way we treat each other.
    You see the old way wasn't working so it's on us to do
    what we gotta do, to survive.

    And still I see no changes. Can't a brother get a little peace?
    There's war on the streets and the war in the Middle East.
    Instead of war on poverty,
    they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.
    And I ain't never did a crime I ain't have to do.
    But now I'm back with the facts givin' 'em back to you.
    Don't let 'em jack you up, back you up, crack you up and pimp smack you up.
    You gotta learn to hold ya own.
    They get jealous when they see ya with ya mobile phone.
    But tell the cops they can't touch this.
    I don't trust this, when they try to rush I bust this.
    That's the sound of my tool. You say it ain't cool, but mama didn't raise no fool.
    And as long as I stay black, I gotta stay strapped and I never get to lay back.
    'Cause I always got to worry 'bout the payback.
    Some buck that I roughed up way back... comin' back after all these years.
    Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat. That's the way it is. uhh

    [Bridge 'til fade:]
    Some things will never change

    Tupac-Changes
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nay31hvEvrY

    ReplyDelete
  12. In case you are wondering what's with all the music???
    The slaves knew the power of music....

    Wade in the water children
    Wade in the water god’s gonna trouble the water
    Wade in the water
    Wade in the water children
    God’s gonna trouble the water

    Ella Jenkins Wade In The Water
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vg_8L96E3eU&list=PLA07A0C01D9732572&index=1

    ReplyDelete
  13. Is Jamie pissed?

    ReplyDelete
  14. You can bet your last dollar on it!

    I can be loud man, I can be silent
    I could be young or I could be old.
    I can be a gentleman, I can be violent.
    I could turn hot or I can be cold.
    I could be just like the calm before the storm
    Waiting for all hell yeah to break loose.
    I could be innocent or I could be guilty
    Doesn't mean that I man believe in no noose

    I could be rich like a wandering Gypsy
    I could be poor like a fat wallet lost.
    I could be first or I could come last
    Its not who breaks the ribbon
    It's how you get across.
    I could be red blue black + white sunset
    Darkest at day man brightest at night
    I could be the sun man I could be the moon
    I'm made up from the stars man
    I shining so bright.
    I could be asleep man, I could be awake
    I can be alive or be the walking dead
    I can be ignorant, I could be informed
    I could lead my life or i could be led
    I can be anything i put my mind to man,
    all i gotta do is give myself half a chance
    I can bring love back into my life
    and share it with the world if i got some balance

    John Butler Trio Zebra
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PO2b3cggqs0

    ReplyDelete
  15. A little less conversation, a little more action please
    All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me
    A little more bite and a little less bark
    A little less fight and a little more spark
    Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me
    Satisfy me baby

    Baby close your eyes and listen to the music
    Drifting through a summer breeze
    It's a groovy night and I can show you how to use it
    Come along with me and put your mind at ease

    A little less conversation, a little more action please
    All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me
    A little more bite and a little less bark
    A little less fight and a little more spark
    Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me
    Satisfy me baby

    Come on baby I'm tired of talking
    Grab your coat and let's start walking
    Come on, come on
    Come on, come on
    Come on, come on
    Don't procrastinate, don't articulate
    Girl it's getting late, gettin' upset waitin' around

    A little less conversation, a little more action please
    All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me
    A little more bite and a little less bark
    A little less fight and a little more spark
    Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me
    Satisfy me baby

    Elvis Presley A Little Less Conversation
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDkvwbQwtyo

    ReplyDelete
  16. As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
    I take a look at my life and realize there's nothin' left
    Cause I've been blasting and laughing so long,
    That even my mama thinks that my mind is gone
    But I ain't never crossed a man that didn't deserve it
    Me be treated like a punk you know that's unheard of
    You better watch how you're talking and where you're walking
    Or you and your homies might be lined in chalk
    I really hate to trip but I gotta loc
    As they croak, I see myself in the pistol smoke, fool
    I'm the kinda G the little homies wanna be like
    On my knees in the night saying prayers in the streetlight
    Been spending most their lives, living in the gangsta's paradise
    Been spending most their lives, living in the gangsta's paradise
    Keep spending most our lives, living in the gangsta's paradise
    Keep spending most our lives, living in the gangsta's paradise

    Look at the situation they got me facin'
    I can't live a normal life, I was raised by the streets
    So I gotta be down with the hood team
    Too much television watching got me chasing dreams
    I'm an educated fool with money on my mind
    Got my 10 in my hand and a gleam in my eye
    I'm a loc'd out gangsta set trippin' banger
    And my homies is down so don't arouse my anger, fool
    Death ain't nothing but a heartbeat away,
    I'm living life, do or die, what can I say
    I'm 23 now, but will I live to see 24
    The way things are going I don't know
    Tell me why are we so blind to see
    That the ones we hurt are you and me

    Been spending most their lives, living in the gangsta's paradise
    Been spending most their lives, living in the gangsta's paradise
    Keep spending most our lives, living in the gangsta's paradise
    Keep spending most our lives, living in the gangsta's paradise

    Power and the money, money and the power
    Minute after minute, hour after hour
    Everybody's running, but half of them ain't looking
    What's going on in the kitchen, but I don't know what's cookin'
    They say I gotta learn, but nobody's here to teach me
    If they can't understand it, how can they reach me
    I guess they can't, I guess they won't
    I guess they front, that's why I know my life is out of luck, fool

    Been spending most their lives, living in the gangsta's paradise
    Been spending most their lives, living in the gangsta's paradise
    Keep spending most our lives, living in the gangsta's paradise
    Keep spending most our lives, living in the gangsta's paradise

    Tell me why are we so blind to see
    That the one's we hurt are you and me
    Tell me why are we so blind to see
    That the one's we hurt are you and me
    [Fade out]

    Coolio Gangster's Paradise

    ReplyDelete
  17. @Jamie: Enough with the faux poetry! Short, pithy and on-topic comments are good. Off-topic meanderings like this however are beginning to look like spam. No more, please.

    ReplyDelete
  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete

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2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
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