Monday, 4 May 2015

A War on Drug Makers, Not Drugs

The Economist had an editorial about drug policy this weekend. The article didn’t like existing policies, and felt that addicts should be treated as victims rather than perpetrators, but held off on what States should do about the perpetrators. Except to have a conference at the UN. That’s because what needs to be done is a little, well, not the sort of thing The Economist wants to be seen suggesting.

The First Rule of Futurology is that genies can’t be put back inside boxes. Which means that the West is stuck with a large-scale drug problem. The reason is that opiate-based, amphetamine-based and hallucinogenic drugs are absurdly cheap and easy to make, have a high value to the ultimate consumer, and therefore offer large and easy profits. If the State legalised these drugs, it would need to license their production and distribution, and it would inevitably tax the product. Those taxes would represent excess profits for criminals who continued to make and supply directly as they do now. To drive the criminals out, the prices would have to be low enough so that only large producers could get the economies of scale needed to reduce the unit costs of production and distribution low enough to still make profits. A tab of ecstasy would need to be priced at around the price of an economy aspirin. And that’s not going to happen.

A rule of any of the substance-recovery 12-Step movements is: “no mood-altering chemicals”. Exceptions can be made for prescriptions made for medical emergencies. The harm to the individual is that the drug prevents, one way of another, them from tackling the problems in their characters that make it hard for them to live contributing and considerate lives. The harm to the people around them is the trouble and drama they cause, and the harm to the taxpayer is the cost of the crime they cause, and the medical services they need and the welfare payments they receive.

Living without mood-altering chemicals, remembering that alcohol is one, requires some behavioural and psychological disciplines that are antithetical to what most people would consider a normal life. Banning all mood-altering chemicals would be inhuman: sobriety is for people for whom the alternative is death, not a hangover. Anyway, it’s been tried, and it failed in the 1920’s and it’s been failing since the 1980’s. For recreational drugs, I like the Dutch solution: use is okay, supply and manufacture isn’t. This stops the police and courts wasting time convicting users, when they should be after the manufacturers and distributers.

Mood-altering recreational drugs are one thing, but what opiates and cocaine do is another. What The Economist gets utterly wrong is that the important issue is not how we treat existing addicts (though that’s an issue), but how we prevent anyone else becoming addicted.

Manufacture and distribution of hard drugs (opiate- and cocaine- based) needs to be treated as an assault on the safety and dignity of the People, if I may use a hi-falutin’ term. It's chemical warfare conducted by terrorists. Following Lester Freamon’s Rule ("You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money, and you don't know where the fuck it's gonna take you”) we leave the addicts alone, and deal with the suppliers, importers and manufacturers. Governments, or at least their police and intelligence services, know who these people are, and who are their lawyers, accountants, bankers, doctors and other civilian-side support personnel.

These organisations need to be disabled from the top down, and from the outside in. Without their lawyers, accountants, bankers, corrupt judges, policemen, customs and immigration officers, the business has difficulty operating, and while the men at the top can always recruit mules and dealers, the mules and dealers can’t recruit the men at the top to do the organisation. Remove one cartel, and the others will expand, which means it will be a sustained campaign, and not a pretty one. This is why it needs to be seen, not as a “war on drugs”, but as defence of the realm. A war on drugs wants to stop people getting high, which has been proven not to work. Defending the borders of the realm, and the health and lives of many of its citizens, from non-State terrorists who have financial resources that dwarf those of all but the largest multi-nationals and States, is an altogether less questionable aim.

This must be done with public and legitimate use of the State’s armed forces and intelligence services, and that requires the jurists to develop the doctrines needed to legitimise the use of military force against non-State criminal organisations based in other States. The voters, soldiers and politicians need to understand that preventing the manufacture and distribution of opiate- and cocaine- based drugs (or artificial syntheses of these) that threaten the lives, health and well-being and morale of those who take them is the exact same aim as preventing pharmaceutical companies distributing and promoting drugs with vicious side-effects. The aim is prosecuted in a more vigorous manner different manner because drug carteliers don’t stop when they are asked, fined or imprisoned. Drug barons only stop when they are in a grave. Pharmaceutical company CEO’s give up a little sooner than that.

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