Sunday, 15 March 2009

Counsel of despair?

Occasionally The Economist and I think alike. Just a few weeks after I began to mull over in conversations again the idea of legalising most drugs [including at the recent NTI residential – how good is that, a theological and ministry training conference where we can talk about hard drugs, watch The Devil Wears Prada, enthuse over the doctrine of the Trinity, marvel at Calvin’s biog and seriously debilitating ailments, slip around in the snow and shed tears of joy at our salvation!?] there was a big editorial making the case. 

First, the liberal principle. 

Second, the major economic and public order benefits to producer countries. 

Third, the reduced power of organised crime (along with reduction in risk of contamination or poor quality product) in richer, user countries. 

Fourth, the tax receipts coming from the trade rather than the billions spent on enforcement, which has not, despite the financial and human costs, altered the overall amount of Andean cocaine produced nor prevented drug taking in Britain from rising dramatically over the past few decades, nor…

Of course there are major questions about public good, morality and the role of the law (and the state) in restricting access to certain things. But although this might sound like a counsel of despair, it may be that whatever the moral evil in this case [which may not be sooooo great, if properly handled, in moderation, etc], the practicalities of enforcement are SO awkward that the law simply should not go there. Consider personal nastiness, a moral evil, responsible for plenty of suffering (small and large, short- and long-term) the world over; yet no government tries to ban it in law! [Of course, some of the ways in which interpersonal nastiness is expressed are banned in law… but not all!]

Of course, a major question regarding legalization is amnesty for past crimes of drug smugglers. But is it possible that breaking the power of the organised gangs by reducing their income and their dark monopoly on a economically and socially important substance would make it easier to catch up with the leaders?