George Walford: The Message Spreads

According to newspaper reports General Noriega made enough out of dealing in cocaine and marijuana to maintain an army and police force that secured him control of Panama, forcing the USA to mount an invasion as the only way of checking his trade. IC cannot claim to have predicted this in any detail (you won’t find much detail in Nostradamus or Old Moore or the pyramid measurements either) but IC26 (March 1987) did contain what follows:

As attempts to suppress illegal drugs have become more vigorous so the number of addicts has increased, and it is not difficult to see why. Suppression produces scarcity, keeping prices up, and it creates drama; drugs are news. The media provide free publicity and even the schools help by keeping the children informed. Under these conditions the laziest pusher can hardly help making big profits. A pound of heroin bought wholesale in Nigeria for £250 is worth £50,000 in Britain (Sunday Times, 26 Oct 86). Is it any wonder the business flourishes?

Much of the damage comes less from the drugs themselves than from their being driven underground. This forces the use of dirty needles, transmitting herpes, hepatitis and AIDS. It raises prices, forcing addicts to steal. Worst of all, by making illegal dealing hugely profitable it creates a drive to make new addicts.

We in Britain have known the same set-up, in a far milder version, at least twice in recent times. Remember how the black market flourished while goods were scarce during the war? Remember how well the street bookies were doing while off-course betting was illegal? And is there nothing to be learnt froth the American experiment with Prohibition? It was while alcohol was banned that it produced its worst consequences, including poisoning by sub- standard liquor and the establishment of organized crime on a scale not known before.

It is probably impossible to put an end to the harmful use of addictive drugs without controls not acceptable in a democracy. But do we have to go on investing them with the glamour of the forbidden while vigorously publicising them and making it immensely profitable to deal in them? If spinach were treated in that way the young would go for it.

Addictive drugs are not a recent invention. For centuries they have been part of the culture of large areas in Asia and Africa, and through the nineteenth century they were on open sale in Britain and American without doing enough harm to cause panics like those of today. The evidence suggests that so long as they remain a normal part of life, unremarked, undramatized, unadvertised, they remain also one of the normal risks of life. It is when they are promoted that the widespread destruction begins, and they are being promoted now because it is immensely profitable to do so. By forbidding the uncontrolled use of heroin, coke, crack, pot and the rest the authorities have produced spreading addiction. In trying to enforce the ban they have got themselves into a position where it becomes difficult to see how they can win; every success in restricting supplies puts the price up and attracts more supplies.

It is beginning to look as though the best way to limit the damage done by these drugs would be to legalise the horrible things. That would take most of the profit out of the trade, freeing young people from the pushers.

Since then we have twice returned to the subject. IC31 withdrew the term “horrible things”; it is the banning of these substances that causes most of the harm, and heroin and cocaine, at least, have properties valuable in medicine. IC38 suggested that the danger from these drugs falls into proportion when set against the 20,000 people killed or injured on British roads each year by drivers high on alcohol.

Events in Panama have confirmed these views, and seem even to be turning general opinion in the same direction. In the Evening Standard (29 Dec 89) Jonathan Guinness has a half-page article on Noriega saying the US made his activities possible by making drug dealing so profitable. There are, Guinness says, others like Noriega, and when the threat they pose to international order becomes intolerablethe laws against drugs will be dropped. The only comment IC can make is: Why wait till then?

from Ideological Commentary 43, January 1990.