Culture Watch 18 February 2014
I continue with more claims made by the drug legalisation and/or decriminalisation crowd, showing how their oft-heard claims really do not stack up to the evidence. Here then are four more such claims.
Fifth, crime rates may in fact rise. Advocates of legalisation claim that such a move will reduce drug-associated crime. But will it? Not necessarily. Even if we assume that lower prices will cause addicts to steal fewer valuables, we know that this will be offset by the general crime increase associated with the increase in users. Any police officer will tell you that a person on drugs will be more likely to neglect a child, abuse a spouse or take a life.
The point is, drug use contributes to crime. It is the illegal activities people engage in while on mind-altering drugs that is the real problem. As one American commentator put it, “It’s not just that people do bad things to get drugs; drugs make them do bad things”. Consider some statistics:
–A 1991 US federal survey found that a majority of those arrested in 24 cities for robbery, assault, burglary and homicide tested positive for drugs.
–A 1994 study of 31,000 abused and neglected children in Cook County, Illinois found that more than 80 per cent of the cases involved drugs.
–In New York in 1987, 73 per cent of child abuse cases involved parental drug abuse.
–In Holland, from 1988 to 1993, when drugs laws grew more relaxed, the number of organised crime groups jumped from three to 93.
–A 1992 study of NSW inmates found that 67 per cent of prisoners had been on drugs while committing the crime they were imprisoned for.
–A 2000 study of Australian detainees found that a large percentage had tested positive for drug use. For example, 70 per cent of adult male detainees charged with violence tested positive to any drug, and 86 per cent of adult male detainees on property charges tested positive to any drug.
–The deputy chief magistrate of the Melbourne Magistrates Court, Jelena Popovic, says that between 80 and 90 per cent of criminal matters coming before the court are related to drug addiction. “I don’t think people have any conception of how much crime is directly related to drug dependency,” she said.
–Finally, the 2001 annual report of the Victorian Youth Parole Board and the Youth Residential Board found that most young offenders were drug-affected, drunk, or both, when they committed their crimes.
Also, cheaper drugs do not necessarily mean less crime. When inexpensive crack cocaine flooded America in the early 1980s, the rate of addiction soared, as did crime rates. Indeed, police noted that wherever drugs were the cheapest, crime rates were the highest. And when Britain gave out heroin to addicts in the 60s, a very large proportion remained involved in crime.
And lest it be argued that it is mainly hard drugs that are associated with criminal activities, bear in mind that almost all people enter the world of hard drugs via the door of “soft” ones like marijuana. This is the overwhelming testimony of those working with drug addicts.
Six. Prohibition has never worked.
Critics often argue that prohibition has never worked. But the facts speak otherwise. During Prohibition in America, consumption of alcohol declined substantially, as did the cirrhosis death rate for men (cut by two-thirds between 1911 and 1929), and arrests for public drunkenness dropped 50 per cent between 1919 and 1922. When Muslim societies removed restrictions on hashish in the 15th century, it is said that this resulted in “a large number of people from all walks of life [being] in a constant state of intoxication”.
But the reformers want to argue that the abstinence-based or get-tough approach is not working. For all the laws and penalties, we still have drug users. I have already examined how a get-tough approach has been working in such places as Sweden and the US. But more importantly, this reasoning is seriously flawed. To say that we should legalise drug use because so many are violating the law is like saying since so many people are killing and raping, perhaps we should legalise these crimes as well. Such arguments from utility are facile. When America sought to racially integrate public schools in 1954, should it not have tried because so many people believed in school segregation? Morality, more than mere utilitarian considerations, should guide our legal system. Law, with its concern for the common good, should shape behaviour and compliance, not just reflect them.
Nor should we abandon moral principles simply because in an imperfect world not everyone lives up to such ideals. It would be great to pass a law that banished all murder or alcohol-related road deaths. This we cannot do. But we nonetheless pass laws that deter murder and drink driving by making these activities illegal. To argue that such laws be abolished because they are frequently violated is foolish in the extreme.
As Francis Fukuyama argues, no regulatory regime is ever foolproof. “But this misses the point of social regulation: no law is ever fully enforced. Every country makes murder a crime and attaches severe penalties to homicide, and yet murders nevertheless occur. The fact that they do has never been a reason for giving up on the law or an attempt to enforce it.”
Seven. The war against drugs has been lost.
How often do we hear the claim that the war against drugs is a failed war and it is time for a new approach. The truth is, Australia, like most other nations, has never been part of any serious war, let alone battle, against drugs. Very few countries have actually made a concerted effort to become drug-free. Sweden is one of the few countries to undertake a serious, protracted war against drugs. And the result, as has been noted, has been markedly successful.
True, drug use began to increase in Sweden during the last decade of the twentieth century, but this is because Sweden let down its guard. It felt it had won the battle, and therefore relaxed its efforts, only to discover that in the battle against drugs, eternal vigilance is the order of the day. An ongoing battle must be sustained in order for the war to be successful. But since countries like Australia have never entered into such a war in the first place, it is foolish to speak about losing the war against drugs.
Moreover, to say that we are losing the war on drugs because a number of people still take drugs is about as silly as saying we are losing the war on rape (and should therefore legalise it) because some people still rape others.
Eight. We are all drug addicts anyway.
This argument is often used by those who advocate liberalisation of drug policies. It is pointed out that even if people do not use illicit drugs, many people are hooked on legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco. There is an element of truth in this. Such people need to be helped to overcome their addictions, and society needs to do more to deter the use of such drugs.
Yet the point is often made that everyone is addicted. Children, for example, are asked if they have ever been given Panadol when they felt sick. A “yes” response by the child is seized upon by the drug law reformers: “See, you’re a drug addict as well!”. Such statements are of course nonsense. To take a safe medicine in prescribed doses when the need arises does not make one an addict. There is just no comparison between being strung out on heroin and taking the occasional pain reliever or aspirin when sick. Such comparisons are ridiculous.
Other such arguments being put forward could also be discussed. But suffice it to say that the various claims being made by the drug reform lobby – repeated with mantra-like repetition – do not stand up very well at all when held up to close examination.