Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

By Euclides Montes (@Gatulino)

I’m sure by now we’ve all heard the horrible stories coming out of “Mexico’s drug war” or maybe heard about the street battles between different gangs trying to regain control of the drug business in Medellin (Colombia) and I’m sure that like me you have shuddered at the idiocy and senselessness of the situation.

Whilst this is happening, drug use in the West is said to have stabilised and it is not uncommon to find guests at different parties powdering their noses away without any care in the world. Although drug using still conjures up images of dirty flats and broken lives (see current Eastender’s plot line for proof!), this is also an image that is being challenged by my late 20s generation and this is a move that will certainly continue – lest some major cultural shift takes place – being pushed by the younger generations.

So, what’s my ponder? I read over the weekend an article by Antonio Maria Costa (executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) who in very diplomatic terms peddled the view that the decriminalisation of drugs would lead to ‘catastrophic consequences’ in the world. Although it cannot really be called scaremongering – after all, Mr Costa does make some very valid arguments about the way we as societies deal with drugs and their consumption – I found myself disagreeing with him in principle and fact in several passages.

So, rather than fisking his article here, I thought I’d open the floor with my ponder. Is it really such a bad idea to decriminalise drugs? I’m personally of the view that introducing a system akin to the one introduced by Portugal over a decade ago on a large scale in the West would help not only to curb the problem of addiction but it would help the countries producing the drugs to fight the production of what would be no longer illegal substances. This has been true for decades of tobacco and alcohol, why not just extend it to other substances? (it’s worth pointing out that Portugal’s system has been rather successful in helping the country to deal with the massive drugs problems it faced a decade ago)

I have rewritten this article a couples of times now because I really want to avoid the preachy tone many articles like this one usually take but I hope you will all forgive me one little indiscretion in that respect. After all, every line of coke that we in West consume at our parties and festivals contributes to the deaths, violence and poverty enveloping so many nations right now. So, rather than asking you to ‘stop and think’ before you use drugs, which would be a hypocritical stance by anyone who enjoys many of the other benefits that life in the West has to offer, I’d like to ask you to ponder about where you stand in terms of the argument for decriminalisation and help us bring the debate forward regardless of which side you fall upon. To quote Mr Costa, “are we ready to engage?”

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  1. Good post Euclides. It's a long debated topic and yet still we appear to be at the same standstill. The 'War On Drugs' instigated by Reagan in the US in the 80s has been adopted by every president since. It is primarily an American war directed against the South American drugs trade but it also consumes American citizens - often from the lowest rungs of the social ladder.

    It's a war that will achieve no victory but will continue to cost people their lives. When I think of the billions of dollars poured into policing and prosecuting the production, trafficking and dealing of drugs it makes absolutely no sense to me. Surely legalising and turning drugs into a profit making taxed industry (like cigarettes and alcohol) would make far more sense.

    Anybody that thinks drugs (even cocaine and heroin) are more harmful than alcohol is blinkered to the reality. Alcohol is incredbily dangerous and damaging to society if misused, yet governments are more than happy to reap the benefits of taxing whisky and vodka. So why not drugs?

    I too think that cocaine is a despicable drug in so many ways but the social damage it does is no worse than with booze. I would personally legalise all drugs with the exception of crack which is not a 'pure' drug but a modified, highly addictive, hideous, toxic nightmare. All other drugs should be turned into a globally interconnected trade bringing income to countries like Mexico and Afghanistan and servicing Western consumers.

    It will happen eventually so why delay the obvious.

  2. joshy, cocaine is also synthesised. a lot of indigenous south americans chew coca leaves (and have done for thousands of years), but that is not quite the same as the marching powder we in the west know and love