Monday, 16 July 2007

The Danger of "illegal" in Regard to Illegal Drugs.

Illegal drugs cause untold misery, crime and death. I now put the case to you that the reason illegal drugs cause so many problems and of such great magnitude is primarily the very fact that they are illegal.

A drug user needs to buy drugs. A dealer supplies the drugs at a price as high as they can get for it. The user needs cash. Very often they rob to gain that cash. This creates an environment of receivers/fences who pay for the stolen goods. The dealer’s high margin for the drugs makes the need for more cash and so more theft and criminality. Dealers implicitly or explicitly work to expand the range of drugs consumed by an individual and the number of users. The cash is collected and used to protect and expand the drug dealer’s market and for the cartel to purchase more drugs. The cash needs to be laundered for it to be seriously enjoyed by the upper tiers. Violence, intimidation and murder are the means to protect and expand market share. Such a structure becomes a read-made army for expansion and influence in other, otherwise legitimate areas. The Rule of Law is threatened by the sheer amounts of cash that are involved.

Here we have THEFT, FENCING, MURDER, ASSAULT and MONEY LAUNDERING at a bare minimum, even ignoring the fact that the importation, distribution, sale and even consumption of the drugs are illegal.

The key here is that vast sums change hands. It is why dealers are in the business. If selling balloons were as profitable, these people would sell balloons. It is why there is so much crime involved, as many users cannot generate sufficient funds. Rich people who have drug habits rarely commit crime and often their habit goes undetected. This is because they are likely to have a regular supply of good quality product and have no shortage of funds to buy it.

The crime is caused by the cost and the corresponding profits to be made and protected. The increase in users is in no small part down to “marketing” by pushers.

If you render selling drugs uneconomic, then drugs will hardly be sold. If you render it uneconomic by distributing it for free or at token cost, then the users will not need to steal to feed their habit. Similarly, dealers will not make a business and so there will be no point trying to expand their markets by violent turf wars or adding then upgrading users.

If users no longer have to steal, they almost certainly will not do so. It has been said that 60-80% of crime in the UK is drug related and much of this can be eliminated to a significant extent§. If addicts stop performing these crimes it is highly unlikely that another group will, as crime is not a trade as such, where thieves notice that the burglary niche is not being exploited in a region and move in, for example.

Decriminalise drugs and you reduce overall crime including theft, receiving, violence, gun crime, murder, assault and money laundering. The whole apparatus of intrusion into peoples’ financial affairs no longer has the justification of fighting “the war on drugs”.

The distribution of drugs should initially be via registered premises and for consumption thereon. The State should control the units, strength and quality of the produce sold so the user knows what they are getting and that it is predictable just as it controls the labelling of alcohol. After a time it many be possible to enable drugs to be taken off the premises, but this step needs to be taken with caution.

It is expected that freelance cannabis production would still occur for special varieties and tastes, but popular varieties would soon become mainstream and the private production would not be a massive industry.

There is a temptation to tax drugs. The whole idea is to remove the financial incentive to sell the products. Tax will create a black market. Taxation should be resisted at all costs.

An important dimension to this is that prostitution also be decriminalised and regulated and gambling regulations strongly enforced. It is almost certain that drug dealers will seek new niches. If limited niches exist in the UK, the idea is that they will relocate to another country. The UK should become an undesirable destination for the criminally minded.

It should be stressed that at all stages, the concept of personal responsibility holds. If you are adult enough to consume drugs, you are responsible for your actions thereafter. No excuses for drug use in regard to behaviour or action should be tolerated including driving, operating machinery, public conduct and being in positions of authority or trust.

This article is also posted at

§ E.g. Deitch, Koutsenok, & Ruiz, 2000. This is not universally agreed. Some criminals become drug addicts and continue to commit crime after coming off drugs. Another study (Pernanen, Cousineau, Brochu, & Sun, 2002) attributes 40-50% of all crime to drug use, up to 35% illicit.


Mark Wadsworth said...


Phil A said...

I hate to say it – but this is a pretty ancient argument. Don’t get me wrong. I agree with it 100% - but it was being put forward in progressive police circles in (I think) possibly the 80s. I have held to it at least that long.

It is an almost exact parallel to the impact the prohibition of alcohol had in the US, Criminalising a vast swathes of otherwise naturally law abiding citizens and making the Mafia in particular and organised crime generally a national phenomenon in the US. There was also the parallel problem of poor quality booze sending people blind.

It would be very difficult for the UK to go it alone on this matter. There would be heavy international pressure against it. The angle of taking funds from terrorists and providing a market for Afghan farmers might swing it a little though…

Roger Thornhill said...

I know it is an ancient argument, but then again, so is liberty!

Part of the problem the UK faces today is that old arguments are not being restated - habeas corpus, anyone? Selective education? Rule of Law?

I put this forward now as in the Breakthrough Britain report there was NOTHING about this except a load of twaddle for an army of people to manage the situation and not resolve it.

Phil A said...

Roger, Ancient or not, it is no less valid for it.

It, like liberty, certainly deserves to be re stated again and again, if only to stop it being completely forgotten.

mandrill said...

Agreed, and well said.
The powers that be have been deaf to this argument for decades though, ever since they realised that more power could be wielded in the name of 'the war on drugs' than if the war was declared over (it was over a long time ago and drugs won).
It is the same as the war on terror. An enemy which could enlist anyone, was hard to detect, and impossible to beat using the methods of normal warfare. Another ethereal enemy for the populace to be distracted with while the real enemy walks around like they own the place.