Wednesday, February 15, 2012

End the war (on drugs)

If we ever needed more reason to stop the War on Drugs, here it is.  Ten years ago Portugal decriminalized all drugs and changed their national strategy to one of rehabilitation and treatment instead of incarceration.  The result:  Drug use is down by more than half.  Rather than paying to incarcerate 100,000 people Portugal is now paying to treat 40,000 people.  Those people being treated still have jobs, social lives and hope for a better future instead of a criminal record and years of isolation.  The cost to the state in direct terms is drastically less both in terms of police, court time and jails and the benefits are incredible even if you discount the massive reduction in drug use.  There is no doubt that jails are brutally expensive and socially destructive affairs so they should be employed only when all else fails.

We should also consider how much better off the addicts are when their drugs are legal.  Getting people involved with violent criminals to support their habits is going to generate all kinds of problems from increasing the power of organized crime to creating worrying issues with quality.  Being an alcoholic is bad, but if we imagine that every alcoholic had to go to the mafia to get their booze and then sometimes ended up becoming a criminal as a result we can see how crazy fighting the war on drugs is.  Mixing desperate addicts with organized crime is a recipe for disaster.

I wonder if Portugal has had a change in how criminals are portrayed in media.  It is dead common for the bad guy in action movies to be a drug lord here in Canada and I wonder if that is true around the world.  If being a professional seller of drugs was no longer illegal would our heroes in books and film would start fighting a new type of baddie?  Imagine an alternate world where we tire of the constant accidents and occasional death that results from downhill skiing and criminalize *that* behaviour.  Would we see a new generation of action films where the final evildoer is someone providing illegal access to pristine powdery slopes for those who just can't get enough?

If people want to get messed up they can sniff glue or gas, buy perfectly legal alcohol or just take a couple cold tablets from the drug store (those mess me up good!).  You can't stop people doing dumb things, getting addicted or being high by pursuing the war on drugs.  What you can do is push people who are doing stupid things into hanging around with criminals, provide money for biker gangs and give leverage to violent, dangerous people.  We need to take Portugal as an example and stop this pointless war.  People love the idea of 'justice' for those that step outside the lines but it is far more efficient and effective to simply treat those who go too far.

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