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January 09, 2005

A Conservative is a Liberal Who’s Been Mugged by Reality.

I’m sure we all know the phrase, that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality. I think we might need to adapt this a little, to  a libertarian is....for what happens when  a right-on documentary maker goes off to study how the drug trade actually works?

In 20 years of filming around the world I have never taken cocaine, despite its ever-increasing availability. At the start of the project, I broadly supported the Blair government's more liberal policy of allowing people to have and to smoke cannabis. I agreed that hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin remained beyond the pale, accepting we had to fight them in every way possible. Though I have a number of friends who seem to be able to enjoy the occasional snort without problems, I have also witnessed the distressing effects of addiction.

This journey has revolutionised my views. I now believe that the tragedy we witnessed in Latin America has little to do with the damage the drugs do to people's heads. The tragedy is a result of the drugs being illegal. People will do a lot for a £34,000-per-kilo profit.

Quite. The problem with drugs is not drugs, it’s that they’re illegal.

January 9, 2005 in Drugs | Permalink


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"The problem with drugs is not drugs, it’s that they’re illegal."

Legalizing drugs will create a whole other set of problems. For instance, the opium wars between Britain in China in the 19th century. "60 Minutes" also did a piece a long time ago about a whole generation of South American kids beeing hooked on cheap drugs and essentially worthless to society if not outright preying on society. I've never heard anyone from the pro-legalization lobby deal with these issues in an honest way. Drug rehab doesn't seem to do the trick or all those rich celebrities with access to the best medical care wouldn't keep falling off the wagon.

Tim adds: Well, here’s some honest ideas. 19th Century England had legal opium, laudanum and morphine usage. Sales were 136 doses per head of population per year. It wasn’t the end of society, but the War on Drugs just might be.

Posted by: nash | Jan 9, 2005 6:26:02 PM

Even George McGovern learned something when he left the Senate and tried to open up a (failed) bed and breakfast business. Perhaps all liberals should be forced to do a stint in private industry or some other "reality-based" pursuit before they are allowed to propose their "solutions"(just kidding.)

Posted by: Irene Adler | Jan 9, 2005 8:06:41 PM

The Opium Wars were at least a result of China not paying for anything but opium in hard currency. There was a nice little reciprocal deal going on. Britain would by tea from China with silver and then sell China opium *for* silver, a bigger problem for the Chinese government than what little problems addiction itself caused.

Kids sitting around high on drugs can't be any worse than large numbers of otherwise employable youths sitting around on the dole/wellfare because high minimum wages make them unemployable.

When you look into the costs of drug use and you find that most of the money lost is either a result of fighting the WoD itself or "loss of productivity"due to drug use (and you have to wonder why they don't count the "loss" when you take an hour long lunch or not work the weekend, or see a movie) and you see that the overall cost to society of rampant addiction could quite likely be less than we're paying now.

And to add to Tim's add - that timeframe just so happens to coincide with one of the most productive periods of the UK's (indeed the whole west's)history. Not that I'm infering causation from that correlation or anything like that.

Posted by: Agammamon | Jan 9, 2005 10:35:51 PM

Tim - I've got some reservations on this one, as you might imagine. In my fantasy nation, drugs would be legal but we'd have a more restrained culture where people use them responsibly.

We might have had a culture like that in Victorian times, but I don't think we do now - look at the data on alcohol consumption and binge-drinking (yes, yes, I'm part of that problem). The ambition of every kid today is to lose themselves with chemicals - I know quite a few people for whom a normal saturday night involves not a few pills. I'm not sure legalisation might make things worse before they get better.

Plus, the abundance of hard drugs in supply channels already creates problems when they're illegal - especially along the opium channel from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

And the phrase is that a neo-conservative is a liberal who's been mugged by reality.

Posted by: Blimpish | Jan 9, 2005 11:19:34 PM

Considering how freely available most drugs are, I don't think legalisation will make very much difference to the number of people using them.

One aspect where it will make a huge difference is in that of the provision of accurate dosages, and that haven't been "cut" by the addition of scouring powder and the like. Most addicts are killed by inaccurate and contaminated doses rather than by the drugs themselves.

But the real bonus would be putting violent criminals who run the drugs trade out of "business" - because a "business" it is. One whose illegality ensures a price premium, but whose illegality means that this inflated price isn't taxed meaning yet more profits for the ruthless gangsters who enter the trade.

Posted by: David Wildgoose | Jan 10, 2005 7:44:35 AM