Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Drugs furore

Should leisure drugs be legal or illegal? The debate is raging yet again after the sacking of David Nutt, a government adviser on drugs policy.

This journalist is urging complete legalisation of leisure drugs on the basis that adults should be free to consume whatever they want, at their own risk.

It's a tricky argument, mainly because nobody knows exactly what the effects of going legal would be. Would it make little difference, or would there be many more people taking drugs and possibly ruining their lives?

It seems to me that the prediction of lots more druggies and lots more social decline is probably half-baked scaremongering. Yes, we would replace the existing problems with some new ones, but the new ones would be much easier to manage and not so damaging.

All the harmful effects of illegality - contaminated drugs, unintentional overdoses, unhygienic consumption and gang warfare - would be drastically reduced. But it's also true that going legal might encourage more people to take leisure drugs, and health and social problems may increase.

Hang on, though. Yes, consumption might increase, but under much safer conditions, so the chance of coming to harm would be much less. It would be more like taking prescription drugs, with all the rigorous controls that apply to them.

And the argument that adults should be free to ingest whatever's on offer is a strong one. If we're free to eat junk food or slimming pills or herbal remedies, why shouldn't leisure drugs be on the menu?

Intelligent adults are capable of assessing the pros and cons of the drugs in question and deciding whether to accept the risks or not. Why should the state make the choices for us?

But leisure drugs won't be legalised any time soon. The government is terrified of what it might unleash. They prefer the status quo with all its stink of crime and trickery.

20 comments:

kylie said...

hmmmm
very tricky question

slightly off track but in the theme of the nanny state, i get SO annoyed that the law requires me to lock my car. if i want to take the risk of having 57cents of loose change, a cruddy street directory and an old work shirt pinched that would be my business

Hullaballoo said...

When people are desperate, they always find a way of getting a hold of drugs, whether inside or outside the law.

Perhaps their illegality acts a deterrant, however, to those who may be tempted to dabble.

Suburbia said...

I don't think that many more people would indulge in drugs if they were legalised, than do now.I think if people want to take them, then they would already be doing so there are plenty of people willing to sell them, all available easily (though illegally) but available none the less.

Meanwhile the harm and crime that the black market creates thrives.

Leah said...

I don't know what I think about this.

I do, however, know that statistically, alcohol causes more crime and harm than almost anything else, and it's perfectly legal. So, I'm not sure whether one can extrapolate to illegal drugs. Many illegal drugs I would think would cause less harm than alcohol--case in point, alcohol tends to loosen inhibitions and compromise impulse control in a way that, for instance, marijuana does not.

Nick said...

Kylie - Ha, dodging the question, I see! I think those in favour of legalising drugs would say that prohibition is also an act of the nanny state....

Hulla - I think people are tempted to dabble not so much by legal status but by peer pressure. If your friends are all popping ecstasy, you look a bit nerdy if you don't join them.

Suburbia - That's more or less what I think. It's the black market that creates so many of the problems.

Leah - Exactly, alcohol causes a lot more harm, as David Nutt was saying. But I don't think that's simply because it's legal, it's more because of peer pressure and cultural norms.

Megan said...

Before I answer, I'm wondering what would be considered a leisure drug? And where is the line drawn, if there is one drawn?

Leah said...

Oh, you're right, I hadn't gone to the link!

I guess after thinking it over, I'm not for legalization, for a variety of reasons, with the exception of marijuana.

Cinnamon said...

Drugs are so easily available- they are everywhere- I wonder whether it would really make so much difference?

Nick said...

Megan - I suppose leisure drugs are ones people take purely for their own pleasure or stimulation, rather than for medical reasons.

Leah - A variety of reasons, eh? I'm intrigued.

Cinnamon - True, you can get so-called illegal drugs just about anywhere these days, even in the depths of the country.

Baino said...

I think we have enough 'legal' lethal weapons without introducing others frankly. Although I'm a great proponent of 'injecting rooms' for junkies. They're going to do it anyway so make it safe. Party drugs? Frankly if you need them, the party must be pretty ordinary.

Nick said...

Baino - "They're going to do it anyway so make it safe". I think that's actually the main reason for legalising all leisure drugs! Have to agree about party drugs - who needs them if the assembled company is lively and intelligent?

Leah said...

...although, re: above, I have to confess that, for me, booze really lubricates the party, even when lovely, intelligent, funny people are involved...I mean, it's not always necessary, but it can make things even more fun.

I think that I come at the topic from the perspective of my grad school academic background (criminal justice), knowing what I know about the effects of these things and the resulting bad behavior. Anyway, Amerikay has become the Great Nanny State (much to my disgust) and so it'd never happen anyway, here.

All that said, I long to make a grown-ups-only trip to Amsterdam to experience the coffeeshops for myself.

Nick said...

Leah - Ha, Jenny and I went to Amsterdam but had no desire to try the coffee shops. I think the authorities are now trying to close them anyway.

That close knowledge of what leisure drugs do to people must have influenced your thinking. I admit I have little personal experience of addiction and drug-related problems so my attitude may very well be too naive and liberal.

Thriftcriminal said...

Would drug use increase? I mean, if people want to take drugs at the moment there is very little stopping them. It's not my thing, but it seems that criminalising it does very little to stem it, while generating a lucrative black market. Mind you, if they are legalised and someone does ruin their life, does that leave the government open to being sued?

Nick said...

Thrifty - I think you're right, if people really want to take drugs they can find a source pretty easily. I guess if a legal drug screwed up someone's life, they would be able to sue the manufacturer. Whereas if a drug is illegal (a) you don't know who the manufacturer is and (b) you couldn't sue them.

Rummuser said...

This is a no win question. Either way, society loses.

Nick said...

Ramana - Not necessarily. As I said, I don't think it's legal status that causes the problems, it's more peer pressure and people not taking responsibility for their own behaviour.

Megan said...

I've been thinking about this a lot. And I still haven't come to any conclusion. Darn you, Nick. Post an easy one sometime, will ya?

:)

conortje said...

look at this for interesting statistics oon legalising some drugs http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2009/11/dutch_cannabis_usage_below_eu.php

Nick said...

Megan - Sorry, no dumbing down on Nick's blog. The management reserves the right to be challenging and mind-stretching at all times. Just get off the fence!

Conor - Very interesting that despite the Netherlands' soft line on drugs, they only have 8 drug-related deaths per million compared with almost 50 in the UK. Clearly the UK is doing something very wrong.