George Walford: Drugs

Pat Robertson, a television preacher now seeking the Republican nomination in the US Presidential election, recently visited a school in the remote and mountainous north of New Hampshire. He asked the pupils whether they had taken drugs or knew anybody who had done so, and everybody in the room put a hand up. [1]

If that represents the general position in America, or anything like it, then it has to be admitted that the attempt to suppress the sale of drugs has failed. It also has to be recognised that their general availability does not spell ruin for a country; America gives no sign of being in any worse condition than it has been in the past – in the thirties for example – when the drugs now causing so much alarm were little used.

Home Office statistics show the number of officially registered cocaine addicts in Britain increasing by more than 500 a year. (there are nearly 10 times that number of new heroin addicts), but there are good reasons for believing the total annual increase to be closer to 1500. [2] The attempt to suppress use of these drugs does not enjoy universal support:

there, are still eminent people in the medical and other professions who argue that the danger to society from tobacco and alcohol is much more widespread than that from drugs like cocaine or even heroin. They say that, in a situation of free use, addiction would not be much different than it is at present. [3]

These people seem to have a case; through the latter part of the 19th Century and well into the twentieth heroin was on open sale in America without doing enough harm to cause panics like, those of today.

The present position not only makes drugs available, it also gives the dealers enormous incentives to push them, drives users to crime to get the money to pay the inflated prices and puts vast amounts of money, and the power it brings, into the hands of people who have shown themselves to feel less than the usual amount of responsibility for their fellows. Legalisation would avoid the problems now being caused by unsuccessful efforts to suppress them and, by reducing the prices to a level where no large profits could be made, relieve young people from the pressures exercised by the pushers.

[1] Sunday Times, 14 Feb 88
[2][3] Observer, 21 Feb 88)

from Ideological Commentary 33, May 1988.