War on Drugs

Your Awful Pro-Drug War Editorial of the Day (From Australia!)


Whenever this whole rethinking the drug war thing starts to look like it's moving in the right direction, it helps to read a prohibitionist screed as a sort of refresher course on how many minds need to change before these policies really end; this screed comes from Australia. 

In today's Daily Telegraph, Tim Priest, a former Australian police sergeant who was a ringleader in fighting the heroin trade in the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta back in the early aughts, explains how drug legalisation is a terrible idea. Regardless of whether Cabramatta was a haven for scary, organized crimes which police were ignoring, Priest still has the mind of a thuggish prohibitionist. Here are some choice highlights of his argument:

I read an interesting analogy on speeding as it relates to policing on drugs. We all know that speeding drivers are responsible for a large majority of serious vehicle crashes. Police issue hundreds of thousands of speeding tickets – does that indicate that the "war" on speeding drivers has failed? Or do we look to an ever continuing road toll reduction and say enforcement is working?

In much the same way, the police should be actively enforcing the drug laws, no matter how watered-down they have become, particularly in NSW, and they should be coercing those offenders into treatment programs, not merely writing out meaningless court attendance notices.

There has to be a deterrent effect towards drug use, along with education – but when these fail, simply hooking up addicts to addictive medicines and supporting them for the rest of their lives is hardly a solution.

Basically, Priest is saying we didn't fight hard or mean enough. This is British writer Peter Hitchens' argument as well, (splashed with moralizing mumbojumbo). But of course, decades of this miserable policy proves that plenty of folks in the United States agree (and usually set the "civilized" jackboot trends in countries there they at least don't kill you for drug smuggling). This logic of fight harder, the misery and death means we're almost there, has lead to imprisoned millions the world over (mostly right here in the U.S.) It is DEA head Michele Leonhart's attitude about the 40,000 dead in Mexico the last five years being a sign that we are "winning."

How much human misery will it take to win? Nobody who advocates this policies seems to know. Drugs available in prison? Fight harder. Criminal elements? Fight harder. Humans been changing their consciousness for thousands of years? Fight harder. 

About a third of adults in Australia have tried marijuana, according to 2005 figures. 72 percent of drug arrest in that year were also over marijuana. 1 in 10 prisoners in Australia were there for drug offenses, mostly dealing or trafficking. The country's current policies, in place since 1985, initially was gentler than in many places, but then there was a backlash:

The first pillar, known as "supply reduction", aims to reduce the availability of drugs through legislation and law enforcement.

The second pillar, called "demand reduction", involves efforts to reduce the demand for drugs through prevention and treatment services.

The third element of the national strategy aims to directly reduce the harm done by drugs to people who continue using them – "harm reduction", for short.

In the 1990s, Australia was among the countries at the leading edge of international harm reduction.

In 1997, the Howard government drew back from harm reduction and placed renewed emphasis on supply and demand reduction. The government had come under strong pressure from international agencies committed to prohibition and then prime minister John Howard said the latest development in harm reduction strategies – making heroin medically available to some selected heroin dependent people – "sent the wrong message".

However, in recent years notable voices in Australia have joined the global chorus of people saying hang on, this isn't working. A roundtable debate, Australia21, in April included the Australian Health Minister's summary "The key message is we have 40 years of experience of a law and order approach to drugs and it has failed."

This reason for optimism for anti-prohibitionists means that people like Priest have to get desperate. And so he does, summing up his article with lazy, Reefer Madness logic:

As Justice Hulme of the NSW Supreme Court said last Monday in the sentencing of a chronic cannabis user and schizophrenic for the double murder of his father and an innocent 16-year-old girl: "I do not recollect schizophrenia, and the resulting horrendous consequences such as occurred in this case, being addressed in the recent advocacy of decriminalisation."

More awful prohibitionist arguments can be found here, or all over the place.