Thursday, December 31, 2009
Stopping the illegal drug trade
Originally announced in 20081 as tougher rules on psuedoephedrine, John Key has since announced that you and I will be unable to obtain psuedoephedrine based cold cures without a prescription as a way of fighting the 'P' (Methamphetamine) crisis this country is undergoing. Sure, it will still be available on prescription, but while his wife may have nothing better to do than sit in a doctor's waiting room for an hour or so, normal people aren't going to the doctor for a cold. Normal people are going to be denied the one really effective treatment for the symptoms of the common cold.
Will it work to stop the 'P' scourge? Of course it won't work, most of the psuedoephedrine that gets into the illegal drug manufacturing business is smuggled across the border and that's why customs will be given 140 extra staff to try and stop the flow of this substance. Even so, customs are reported as saying "'It won't be enough if people still want it, what the Government strategy lacks is adequate demand reduction - preventing people from using the drug in the first place. Education, marketing and changing social norms - put money into that [because] the smart money is trying to steer people from using.'" 2
And there's one problem for the government. To the best of my knowledge, no black market has ever been stopped by going after the suppliers. Even having the death penalty for drug trafficking as happens in several Asian countries doesn't stop the trafficking, as long as there are addicts prepared to pay for the product, there will always be someone desperate enough or stupid enough to supply that market.The only way to eliminate the illegal drug black market is to eliminate the demand, something that governments are unwilling to do. In November 2009, the UK government fired David Nutt, the chairman of their official advisory body on drugs because he told them what they didn't want to hear:
"IF THERE is one thing that politicians can and should do to limit the damage caused by illegal drugs, it is to take careful note of the evidence and develop a rational drug policy. Some politicians find it easier to ignore the evidence, and pander to public prejudice instead.And Nutt's actual offense? Repeating in public that there's substantial evidence demonstrating alcohol and tobacco to be far more harmful than either cannabis or ecstasy. Which is the other problem for the government (ours or the UK's), they can't or won't be rational about drug use. Politicians stand up pointing out that a drug addict needs to burgle houses or commit armed robberies to raise the $1,000 a week or so without apparently asking themselves why that addict is
“I can trace the beginning of the end of my role as chairman of the UK's official advisory body on drugs to the moment I quoted a New Scientist editorial (14 February, p 5). Entitled, fittingly enough, 'Drugs drive politicians out of their minds', the editorial asked the reader to imagine being seated at a table with two bowls, one containing peanuts, the other the illegal drug MDMA (ecstasy). Which is safer to give to a stranger? Why, the ecstasy of course."3
- Willing to pay $1,000 a week for the drug, and
- Forced to pay that much
Answering the second part is easier than the first. The addict needs to pay $1,000 for drugs that probably netted 3 or 4 dollars for the original grower somewhere in the third world because of a combination of the massive drug enforcement regimes by our government (and similar governments overseas) and a ruthlessly enforced monopoly by the illegal drugs cartels.
If the government wants to stop drug use, their only option is to ruthlessly go after the users. Lock them up in rehabilitation until they are "clean" and if they relapse, lock them up again. Keep doing this until they choose to stay clean. Deprived of the users, the criminal gangs will soon switch to other black market activities. I doubt that our government has the guts to do this, so the addicts will continue to consume drugs.
The other part of the equation is that $1,000 a week, per addict, going into the crime cartels. If you want to stop that without forcing the addicts to stop buying drugs, the answer is simple: Supply the addicts with clean, pure, drugs at a reasonable cost. The UK has done this off-and on for decades with heroin. When they are brave enough to supply addicts with medical morphine, crime goes down, when they force the addicts back into the black market, crime goes up. The addicts don't go away, and when they are being supplied through the black market, the black market exists and has "samples" for potential customers.
I wish our politicians would acquire the strength to face up to the facts about drugs and stop the hysterical, usually meaningless, and ultimately futile efforts they make against the supply side ... the demand side is where you need to focus your efforts.
1Tougher rules to combat 'P', New Zealand Herald http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10545066 November 2008
2 Drugs will keep coming – customs, New Zealand Heraldhttp://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10614118&ref=rssDecember 8 2009
3 David Nutt: Governments should get real on drugs. New Scientist http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18099-david-nutt-governments-should-get-real-on-drugs.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news November 4, 2009