As societies all over the world struggle to contain and control the spread of drug use among its people, government after government are beginning to rationalize the reduction of penalty on drug users. For many years, Holland has been a bastion of liberal drug policy with its decriminalization of marijuana and hashish. 9 states in the US already have bills in their legislative houses calling for similar decriminalization. Left-wing politicians in Britain, France and Germany, having long championed the possible gains from “soft-drug” decriminalization, they are beginning to gain considerable grass root support. Certainly, this is a worrying trend and it won’t make the problem of drugs just disappear.
The logic of those who support the decriminalization of drugs – ranging from marijuana, cocaine and heroin to the more synthetic amphetamines – is that since drug use is so difficult to control, why bother? The enforcement of drug laws have become so costly, the strain of society is becoming unbearable. Laws in place requiring mandatory sentencing for drug possession such as those found in the US are only serving to filling up the jails to capacity – convicted of drug possession for a relatively “softer” drug such as cocaine, the convict would be exposed to much more serious drugs while incarcerated. Making drug illegal drives up the street price of such substances, profiting organized crime; decriminalize drugs and you get rid of organized crime. The arguments go on and on.
Each argument presumes that drug use is not inherently bad and this presumption is flawed. It may be argued that drugs themselves are not inherently bad – most drugs do have a legitimate medicinal and chemical purpose. But to justify its consumption by human beings for the sake of gaining that “rush”, that “high” is to turn a blind eye to the ultimate long-term consequence of repeated drug use. For example, even in small amounts, marijuana has been shown to permanently alter the mood patterns of its users, sometimes leading to the chronic bouts of depression. As the Dutch experience has proven, use of soft drugs has led users to seek stronger alternatives as their senses begin to become accustomized to the effects of soft drugs. With the latest poll showing 14% of the Dutch population being classified as “regular” uses of marijuana, such a lead on effect can have disastrous consequences.
Essentially, by making drugs more legal than they are now is an attempt to sweep the problem under the carpet rather than actually solving it. So, then the question remains: how will the problem of drugs in society be solved?
Be harder, be stronger – just bite the bullet
All attempts up to now have failed, for one reason or the other. Current laws against drug trafficking, possession and use are primarily deterrent laws in nature. All have failed; drug use is still on the rise. Current laws decriminalizing soft drugs have failed for the reasons stated above; the reduction of drug use has still not happened. Then what? A possible answer would be for the authorities to be even harder still on offenders.
Drug trafficking provides the supply of drugs to society. Measures are already in place to control the inflow of drugs to most countries but these measures normally only catch the small fish, drug runners who are usually paid well for the time they spend in jail. Some countries like Malaysia and Singapore execute convicted drug traffickers, and yet even this is not enough for the same reason – the drug lords, the drug barons who actually control the trade are never caught. Law enforcement agencies know who they are but they are normally safe from prosecution because it is very difficult to tie them into the daily drug operations from which they profit. But some way must be found to remove them.
The hammer to crush the rock
Governments have it within their ability to declare war on these individuals and their organizations. But most will not for fear that they will be accused of using excessive force, for fear that they will be seen to be trampling on the rights of individuals. This assumes that the current conflict is of a criminal nature; if the conflict is reclassified as a direct threat towards society, as a threat to national security, then governments will have the legal justification to use whatever is at their disposal to remove the threat. Basically, a government at war against drugs will shoot first and ask questions later.
A particularly stark comparison can be drawn with the ongoing Middle East crisis where Israeli security forces regularly assassinate suspected Palestinian militants through such devious devices as the exploding hand phone. They justify their actions with the reason that these militants, left alive would have brought great harm to society. Why not do the same with the drug lords? Undoubtedly, they will be quickly replaced. But if governments can sustain such a campaign for an extended period of time, the drug cartels that bring poison into society will quickly be decimated – no producer, no product.
Many argue that not enough has been done educate the society, to reduce their demand for drugs. But then, maybe the truth is that not enough has been done to cut the supply.
Appearing in www.renungan.com 10 May 2001.