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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Legalising drugs won't eliminate criminals

Guido's influential call for drugs legalisation goes against all my instincts. You see, there will always be those amongst us whose desire for quick money overcomes both their moral scruples and their fear of risk. Right now they're dealing drugs. Does anyone seriously imagine that if drugs were legalised, this cohort would meekly march down to their nearest McDonalds to apply for burger-flipper jobs?

Of course not. The drug-dealing scum would just turn to alternative criminal activity. At best this might be burglary, mugging and robbery. Or the profits to be made from dealing illegal handguns (and would those who advocate legalising drugs also advocate legalising handguns on the same basis?). At worst, our welfare ghettoes may grow to resemble Brazilian favelas, where a 'hit' can be bought for $50 and human life becomes cheaper than beef.

Unless you remove this criminal cohort from society completely - and I've yet to meet a Libertarian who would advocate concentration camps for the underclass - then criminalised drugs may be our best defence against something far worse.


Curmudgeon said...

Or the drug-dealers would just turn to supply to minors, which presumably would not be legalised.

The Great Simpleton said...

The argument about legalising (decriminalising?) drugs isn't about the dealers, its about the way it criminalises 1000's of users who are otherwise upstanding citizens.

Pat said...

It would not eliminate criminality- but it would considerably reduce it.
Firstly those committing the crime of buying drugs will all cease to be criminals.
Secondly, from "freakonomics" most drug dealers earn very little- many do have jobs flipping burgers to supplement their income. They're in it for the chance of promotion to the higher ranks, where the reward is considerable. Deprived of their chance they'll pursue the next best available option- which is quite likely to be legal. When prohibition ended the bootleggers didn't all take to robbery, nor did they switch to selling drink to minors.
Of course criminals want the easiest money they can get- so does everyone- if it is easier to get money legally then less will do it illegally.

Anonymous said...

What Pat said.

Especially this bit: "When prohibition ended the bootleggers didn't all take to robbery, nor did they switch to selling drink to minors."

Raedwald said...

Uhm, whilst true that many minor players went legitimate after the end of prohibition, many hardened criminals simply switched to gambling, narcotics, extortion and the like - witness the criminal career of Gambino. Or Bugs Moran, who was one amongst many that turned to armed robbery.

marksany said...

What we want are the young unemployed to be working in productive jobs. As well as decriminalising drugs, we need to reform the benefit and tax system to make low paid work pay. For many, crime is the only realistic option they have to make money above the level of benefits.

Budgie said...

One of the main reasons that 'recreational' drug taking is so common is that it has been made fashionable and 'cool'; a bit like cigarette smoking 50 years ago. Cut the 'daring', 'young' and 'cool' image and drug taking would plummet.

The effect of legalising drugs would vary. Drugs are cheap to make, say the legalisers, so the retail price could be taxed to achieve prices higher, lower or the same as street prices now.

If the same or higher the drug barons would remain in place (with all the existing criminality). If low enough to keep out criminals, the use would greatly increase. This would lead to more addicts, not less, more costs to the NHS, and more people incapacitated (at least whilst under the influence).

There would be an increase in the number of drug users children, spouses and parents suffering as a direct result.

The drugs, if supplied by reputable pharmaceutical manufacturers, would have to be tested as all new drugs are. Frankly I doubt whether most would get a licence. There would then be the interesting situation where drugs would be 'legalised' but unavailable. In any case what pharma company would expose itself to future litigation over such potent drugs?

All in all, it seems the legalisers just haven't thought this through.

Blognor Regis said...

One of the main reasons that 'recreational' drug taking is so common is that it has been made fashionable and 'cool

Which makes no sense really. I think it must be some sort of self-delusion in action.

In the cold light of day imbibers must come to the realisation that they really are feeble creatures if the only way they think they can get a smidgen of enjoyment from their pointless existence is by poisoning themselves. That having dawned on them they try desperately to turn that into something vaguely positive, "hey I'm hip!" Oh please.

Pat said...

Gambino and Moran were sociopaths before during and after prohibition. I've seen no evidence that they stopped their nastiness when given the opportunity to bootleg. And in this country- has the crime rate dropped since the start of the war on drugs- which it should have done if drug dealing drew villains away from more obnoxious activity?
Budgie does have a point in that the image of being a rebel is attractive for some people and many teenagers. Clearly any legalisation would have to protect suppliers of the substances legalised.
Marksany's point is also important and not just in relation to this issue.
I would wish to add that for successful implementation a law needs support, or at least acceptance from an overwhelming majority of the population. A law against murder, which is strongly supported by 99% of the population is successful because there is only a small number of potential miscreants to control and a large number of people willing to inform on them. The law against drugs has nothing like this level of support. A 51% majority in favour of some law is likely to get us stuck with an unworkable law- and though I'm sure the majority in favour of banning drugs is currently greater than this, it is nowhere near big enough to make the law workable. Especially since the majority of those in favour of a ban will contribute nothing to its enforcement, and just expect the police to do it all for them, at no cost.
Finally picking up your point about legalisation of handguns- does anyone believe that either Gambino or Moran (or anyone else of their type) would give up the carrying and use of firearms just because it's illegal? If not then why is it a good idea to give them a monopoly of force?

Budgie said...

Pat said: "... any legalisation would have to protect suppliers of the substances legalised."

So you want to protect suppliers of drugs that are not tested, that would not be passed if tested, that incapacitate you for hours (at best), that could reduce your lifespan drastically, that are highly addictive, that result in child neglect whilst mummy is off her head, that can make you psychotic?

And all while cigarettes and alcohol are vilified, derided and deeply taxed? You don't think you are are a bit unbalanced here, do you? Because I do.

Wyrm said...

"that incapacitate you for hours (at best), that could reduce your lifespan drastically, that are highly addictive, that result in child neglect whilst mummy is off her head, that can make you psychotic"

You,re talking about alcohol, right?

Anonymous said...

There are places where some drugs are tolerated or quasilegal. Cannabis in Holland and Canada spring to mind. I suspect there is a lot of lobbying going on from users in the media, as I know little of any other county's tobacco or alcohol policy but recall lots of attention being paid to various drug policies.

Anyway, I seem to recall reports that suggest the problems caused by the attitude of those countries above are imported. Users from neighbouring countries sieze the opportunity afforded to go to town, or to smuggle. But then our own citizens go off the rails when confronted with cheap beer in Eastern Europe. If the legal status and price of all intoxicating substances was the same in all places one wonders what effect that would have on individual behaviours.

I think I tend to the opinion that people should be free to kill themselves if they want. So legalise. The drug situation just now is having as corrosive an effect on commercial and political life in the UK as it has in many Narco states. Money laundering drug money is affecting markets as diverse as supply of excavators to property prices. The greatest impact of prohibition was redistribution of money from the tax coffers to people like the Kennedy clan. I know of one case reported where a drug dealer donated money to a prominent politicians campaign in Lanarkshire.

We are only going to know the impact of a legalisation policy if we try it. But the wall of drug money seems to be huge. It might be better if a lot of the profit flowed to the treasury.