Legalization is not a single point at the end of a continuum

October 17, 2012
By

… it is a continuum.

I was reading an article by Tom Chivers in the Telegraph: Drug laws and evidence-based policy: it’s time to start doing experiments on the British people. Interesting article with some good points, but this hit me:

I’m asking these questions to show that it’s a complicated business, the “War” on “Drugs”. Complicated and multilayered, so much so that it’s almost silly to think of it as a single “war” (if we must insist on the martial metaphor) on a single entity called “drugs”. Anyone with a simple, straightforward answer – “Legalise everything” or “String ‘em all up”, usually – is almost certainly completely wrong.

He’s right, of course, on the fact that there are a lot of people out there giving attributes to the word “drugs” (harmful, addictive, etc.) as if all drugs were the same. And they’re not.

However, the “‘Legalise everything’ or ‘String ‘em all up’” bit is a false equivalency.

Let’s take a look at it (I’m sure Tom would allow us to substitute “all drugs” for “everything” for the sake of this discussion).

“Legalize all drugs” is actually another way of saying “find another way of dealing with drugs other than prohibition.” It isn’t a single solution, nor is it a simple, straightforward answer. It isn’t a statement proclaiming “legalize all drugs and don’t regulate them in any way, unlike every other product on earth.”

No legalizer expects that we will legalize all drugs and have no controls whatsoever. We’ve made it very clear that the definition of legalization includes a whole host of possible regulations (and yes, different ones for different drugs). Read Transform’s Blueprint for Regulation for a prime example of some of the myriad of different options that exist within legalization.

Legalization isn’t an extreme point. It’s a call to no longer use one particular kind of regulation: criminal prohibition.

Criminal prohibition is only one of many ways to regulate drugs. And it’s the worst one.


Don’t miss:

It’s drugs politics, not drug policy, that needs an inquiry – a righteous rant by Simon Jenkins

Britain on drugs is where China is on hanging, Saudi Arabia on beating, Russia on censorship and the Taliban on girls’ education. Drugs policy is the last legislative wilderness where “here be dragons”, a hangover from days when abortion and homosexuality were illegal and divorce expensive. [...]

The mere word drugs gives every politician the heebie-jeebies and turns libertarians into control freaks. [...]

What should be researched is not drugs policy but drugs politics, the hold that taboo has on those in power, and the thrall that rightwing newspapers have over them. This has nothing to do with public opinion, which is now strongly in favour of reform. Most sensible people find the present regime disastrous and want drugs regulated, rather than the wild west that is the urban drug scene today. It is politicians who think “soft on drugs” implies some loss of potency.

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Pete Guither is the editor of drugwarrant.com

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