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Friday, August 06, 2004

Danny Kushlick of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation explains the hidden costs of drug prohibition:

Transform estimates that drug prohibition has cost between £100bn and £200bn over the past 20 years. The government estimates that it currently costs £20bn a year.
. . .
There are 8 million heavy drinkers in the UK of whom 2 million are very heavy drinkers. The crime costs associated with the misuse of alcohol are £7.3bn a year - most of it violent crime. There is little property crime associated with alcohol use and none committed by the UK's 12 million tobacco users. Our million prescription tranquilliser addicts are not begging on street corners or breaking into houses. A far smaller population of heroin and crack users commit far more crimes, purely because their daily habit is prohibitively expensive.

. . .
Prohibition is a major cause of theft, is responsible for violent turf wars, contributes to urban degeneration and makes criminals of millions of otherwise law-abiding people.
. . . Prohibition also contributes significantly to the destabilisation of most of Latin America, Afghanistan and the Caribbean.

So far so good. But I wonder if this aside was strictly necessary:

Problematic use is clearly linked to social deprivation and only tackling its root causes will significantly reduce the numbers of new problem users. It is no coincidence that Britain has some of the highest levels of problematic use in Europe and one of the widest gaps between rich and poor.

Now, first of all studies about this link are ambivalent and by no means as clear as he suggests. For example one could easily ask about a linkage between religious observance and drug misuse. Why doesn't he say that the decline of Christianity in Britain has caused the large wave of drug misuse? Unlike the rich-poor gap this link is easily established by historical experience. In the 19th century different church movements were busy trying to make Britain a better place (how successful they were is another matter). Drugs, including heroin, cocaine and opium smoking were freely available and nobody thought of banning them. At the same time there was no problem. The gap between rich and poor, the gulf between the classes was infinitely bigger than it is today. So arguing that differences in wealth are the sole or even the main cause is nonsense. To be clear about this, religion isn't it either necessarily. Perhaps Kushlik wrote that because his article is in the Guardian, but I'm not so sure. I often find that people who support decriminalisation and legalisation are ideologically not quite in the same camp as me, to put a fine point on it. This is regrettable. There are many sensible right-wing arguments, both conservative and libertarian, that can be made in favour of such a change in policy. By using the cause of drug freedom in such an ideologically narrow way is making a multi-partisan consensus on the issue unnecessarily difficult.


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