NARCOTICS SHOULD BE DECRIMINALIZED

It is certainly refreshing that more and more people are taking up the issue of drug policy and the negative effect that the criminalization of narcotic use has had on society.

My personal view is that ‘traditional’ narcotics should be decriminalized and regulated the same way alcohols and tobaccos are. Marijuana is a good start, but I firmly believe that any substance harvested from the natural environment should be decriminalized and regulated. This would include, among others, cocaine, heroin, mescaline, ibogaine, DMT, and psilocybin.

The first and most important reason for this is science. Criminalizing narcotic use and possession provides researchers very little opportunity to study these substances. I don’t have time to get into the importance of these substances throughout human history, so let me just say. Narcotics, especially the ones mentioned above, have been very important throughout human history.

Furthermore, with so little modern research carried out, how can we take seriously the view that these substances hold no scientific significance? Again, throughout human history we have evidence that this notion is ultimately just some shabby rationale for its prohibition. To say that myriad great ideas have zero relationship with various narcotic substances is, quite frankly, wrong… perverse…specious!

But, you ask, what about the social consequences of legal narcotic use? To which I ask you, what are the social consequences of illegal narcotic use? I’m going to wager that the cost, in each and every context of the word, would have a much less detrimental effect on society than it does to keep them illegal. Replacing punishment with education and health care would benefit society. It’s harder, but in the long run, it would. Just look at what education and health awareness has done to cut back on the number of tobacco smokers? There are still smokers, but there are less of them.

Not one individual on this planet is ignorant of the fact that trafficking narcotics is brutal and lucrative. The illegality of this, fundamentally agricultural sector, makes it vastly more lucrative, which in turn fosters the brutality of its day-to-day operation. And since most narcotics wholesalers rely on distributors that are engaged in other criminal activities, an entire agricultural sector has turned millions of subsistence farmers into subsistence criminals and slaves; since many are forced to grow narcotics at the threat of extreme violence and no legal recourse.

By decriminalizing and regulating narcotics you immediately free farmers from a significant amount of exploitation.

II.

When illicit substances are harvested, they are then transported all over the world to be distributed and sold literally everywhere. With these activities currently illegal, criminal groups with zero regulatory oversight and accountability play a cat and mouse game with law enforcement and wage war with rivals. The cat and mouse game with law enforcement is a waste of resources. The constant conflict between rivals destroys communities and is the source of suffering far greater than the individual suffering associated with an addiction. This issue is huge, so I will do my best to be brief. The beds won’t make themselves.

Profit from one thing opens doors to invest in other things. The best example I can think of in this regard is Google. Google’s vast fortune, at least from my understanding, is ad revenue. That ad revenue allows Google to invest in products and services that may not necessarily make money right away. This is exactly what happens in the drug trade. A ‘shrewd businessperson’ involved in the drug trade can use profits to invest in other products and services; for example prostitution, gambling, etc. If you’re already a criminal, expansion into legitimate forms of business is a lot harder than expanding into additional criminality. Simply put, it is much easier to conduct entirely illegal operations than conduct both legal and illegal ones.

More importantly, groups involved in the drug trade are not static, rigid, groups. Successful groups must invest in additional manpower to expand and earn higher profits. Everything a criminal group does, apart from violence, is similar to the practices of legitimate businesses except that when a syndicate brings in new recruits they are taking citizens outside the law and turning them into criminals. Think of how many “criminals” are created this way. The vast majority of people employed by the drug trade have families to feed, get paid a salary the same way everyone one else actively employed does, and do not carry a weapon. Except, they relinquish considerable rights as citizens the instant they accept a job in the drug trade.

By decriminalizing and regulating narcotics you immediately free rank-and-file workers from a significant amount of exploitation.

III.

While raw materials are harvested, processed, and distributed far and wide, a vast infrastructure lurks to enforce the law by prosecuting employers, employees, and customers. Think about that for a second. Employers, employees, and customers…it’s absurd and it represents a gross misallocation of resources.

I recently read that in the UK, one million hours of police time are wasted each year simply policing the ban on smoking cannabis. Just cannabis! Think about how much time is wasted policing the ban on all naturally occurring narcotics. And with the police arresting so many non-violent actors in this game of cat and mouse, how many million hours of courtroom and prison time are wasted because of criminalization? It is an absurdly gross misallocation of resources and contributes greatly to the cultivation of detrimental occupational hazards within the police and correctional services, not to mention ruining the lives of so many essentially innocent people employed in the industry or those who have freely chosen to pay for and/or consume the illicit merchandise.

I want to respect the police. I want to support them. We need the police. They provide an essential service and the community should trust that they will keep them safe and help them in times of need. Current drug policy prevents this in more ways than one. Again, this is a big issue and there just isn’t enough time to get into everything. There is an exploratory group of ants in the dining room I need to annihilate.

IV.

This special edition of ‘COPS’ is filmed on location with the men and women of law enforcement. The suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

If you want some great visuals on how policing illegal narcotics negatively impacts not just the community, but also the profession of policing, watch COPS. What a show! In one episode, a team (a team!) of officers spent an entire day (entire day!) selling (selling!) nickel bags (nickel bags!) of pot (pot!) to people and then arresting them. Remember, arresting someone for anything sets in motion an entire process encompassing the time and effort of countless individuals. The police were arresting these people simply because they had decided to take a break and crack open a five dollar bag of pot instead of an eight dollar craft beer or 89 cent 40oz.

I distinctly remember one of those arrested was a single mom and I seem to remember ‘child services’ being notified. This is sad! And it’s these misguided police tactics that turn officers of the peace into PIGS. I know there are other issues at play with regard to the public perception of police, but the criminalization of drugs and the persecution of partakers do not help. Current drug policy encourages the police to arrest and prosecute drug users, thus alienating a large number of people and turning them into adversaries; drastically limiting the amount of police/public cooperation. Indeed, the effectiveness of a police force, in my view, improves if the community is willing to cooperate with them.

Statistics on the negative social effects brought about by the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of individual drug users are really, really depressing. Families are broken up. Jobs are lost. Poverty is exacerbated. That the police are directly responsible for much of this is an injustice and must, without a doubt, weigh heavily on the psyches of individual officers.

By decriminalizing and regulating narcotics you immediately free police officers from a significant amount of (reluctant?) persecution.

V.

So you were arrested for buying a nickel bag of pot. A quick check of your ID in the squad car indicated that this wasn’t the first time you’d been caught so you’re looking at being handed a mandatory minimum sentence. I’m not going to get into minimum mandatory sentences. It’s and entirely different topic and involves a wide spectrum of criminality. However, due to minimum mandatory sentencing, countless drug users are spending more time in prison. I’m also not going to get into how horrible prison has become. Again, this is an entirely different topic and involves a wide spectrum of criminality. However, I will say that it doesn’t feel right placing non-violent drug users in close-quarter proximity with people convicted for violent crime. It. Just. Doesn’t. Make. Any. Sense.

VI.

You’ve successfully completed your prescribed punishment. You are a free person! Slow down. You now have a police record, and depending on where you live, you’ve lost your right to vote. Finding a job that doesn’t give two hoots about your police record is difficult. Prison made you hard. Prison was psychologically taxing. Your family doesn’t understand. Or maybe they do, and that makes it worse. The brochure you were handed on the way out of prison about transitioning back into civilian life was insufficient. “Fuck the police”.

VII.

Have you seen the movie HEAT (1995), with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro? Great movie. Remember when De Niro spots an old prison buddy (Dennis Haysbert) at the Diner and offers him a job driving the car for the bank heist? That character provides a decent portrayal of someone who has gone through the system only to be taken advantage of upon release. Pushed to where committing crimes they wouldn’t have committed before prison have a greater allure. In the movie, Haysbert is trying to make life work. We know this because there is a scene with him and his significant other discussing it.

Just two people, perhaps reunited, who are trying to get their lives back on track. Except one of them is an ex-con. His boss treats him like shit because he’s on probation so any back talk or refusals could mean going back to jail. A shitty boss can lord over ex-cons, especially those on probation, in ways they can’t with workers who have a clean record. Probation can be anywhere between six month upward of ten years. If you piss off that shitty boss, all he has to do to get you sent back to jail is lie to the probation officer. I’m not entirely against a shitty boss lording over someone who’d been convicted of child molestation. But not someone who got caught with a nickel bag of weed.

I’m veering off track and I have a drawer of t-shirts to organize. Basically, Haysbert is miserable at his job and when De Niro offers him the getaway driver position for the bank heist, he takes it, and dies.

VIII.

Criminals should pay a price for their crimes. No doubt. But the farmers, processors, distributors, sellers, and especially users of illegal narcotics are not, in my view, criminals and should not be treated as such. The business of drugs should be legitimized, regulated, and taxed appropriately. The users of drugs should be provided with safe, clean, and consistent means of both procuring and using narcotics. Issues associated with addiction are important and dealing with them would become much easier if illegality wasn’t an issue and the prison system wasn’t expected to deal with it.

IX.

I want to respect taxation. I want to support it. We need taxes. They pay for essential services and the community should trust that they would be spent appropriately. Current drug policy prevents this in more ways than one. Again, this is a big issue and there just isn’t enough time to get into everything. A pan is wicked greasy. It’s going to require a lot of attention.

X.

Sin taxes and regulations restricting the production and sale of alcohol and tobacco have been around for quite some time and I firmly believe that this is the only way forward with regard to drug policy. As I have mentioned a number of times, this is a big issue, but I would like to share a simple model which I think would work. Also remember that for this model, all currently illegal naturally occurring narcotic substances are decriminalized, regulated, and taxed. I am not including synthetic substances like LSD, Meth, etc. I just can’t see capitalism dealing with the guaranteed profits of developing “new and improved” synthetic substances honestly or ethically. So, in order to at least start somewhere, let us simply consider drugs that are farmed.

To begin with, a blanket tax rate for all drugs won’t work, so each and every drug should have it’s own tax rate applied. It is important to treat each drug differently and apply different tax rates on each. It makes sense that the tax on cigarettes is greater than the tax on; for example, wine, since cigarette related illnesses are more expensive to treat than wine related illnesses (I’m guessing!). With that in mind, it is safe to say that the tax rate applied to cannabis should be lower than the tax rate applied to heroin.

Great effort should be made to use money raised through the adoption of sin taxes on education, research, and treatment.

Educating people on the negatives of cigarette smoking has done much to curb tobacco use. If as much effort went into educating people on the effects of drug use similar successes could be achieved.

Drug research can only benefit society. Nothing more needs to be said. It’s just that simple.

Treatment is costly, but its far more humane than throwing someone in prison. The heavy use of some drugs points to potential mental health problems and again, treatment trumps prison. We must, as a society, stop viewing drug abuse as some kind of deviant criminal activity. It is often a cry for help, and never a cry for punishment.

Regulating the drug trade is by far the most important aspect of all of this as it would take thousands out of a life of crime, normalize their lives, and give them the ability to take advantage of the same rights and privileges afforded to the rest of society. Regulations also mean that drugs are manufactured under strict guidelines, just like cigarettes, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals are. This would drastically reduce the number of hot shots, improve the quality of the drug, and ultimately make it safer to use.

When drugs are decriminalized, criminal networks would still be breaking the law since they would be selling a decriminalized product that does not meet standards. What I mean is this. I’m pretty sure car companies can’t just sell a car that does not have seat belts and that did not go through crash testing. The same would be true for criminal networks that sold drugs illegally. Now that drugs are decriminalized and regulated, they would then be required to fulfill requirements similar to the requirements placed on cigarette, alcohol, and pharmaceutical production. Again, requirements would differ between products. Enforcing regulations similar to the way the FDA enforces regulations is way more realistic than simply putting everyone involved in prison for lengthy periods of time and marking them for life with a criminal record. If individuals are guilty of selling a tainted product (any product!), they should serve time for doing so.

Legitimizing the business of drugs will make moving into unrelated criminal activities less appealing, or at least sever their direct relationship, and as I said above, criminal activities are primarily funded by drug sales. Simply put, drugs are the easiest and most popular criminal activity if you want to make big money. Being a drug dealer is easier than being a pimp or setting up an underground gambling house. And if you are a successful drug dealer with aspirations of greatness, the only real avenue available is other criminal activities. Now I don’t honestly believe that, for example, the mafia, will all of a sudden forget about their brothels, gambling houses, racketeering, and the rest of it and dive right into legal drug production. What I do see, is the mafia losing a serious cash cow. And I see law enforcement having more resources at their disposal to go after them for serious crimes like human trafficking and racketeering.

Legitimizing the business of drugs would allow companies involved in the drug industry to do other things with their profits; even eccentric things along the lines of Elon Musk and Richard Branson. There is a lot of money to be made; which means there will be a lot of money that could then be directed at other endeavors; legitimate endeavors inside the law.

XI.

With all this said, I do not believe drugs should be allowed for sale just anywhere. I’m not a fan of the dispensaries approach, and with growing acceptance; I would hate to see the sale of drugs widened to gas stations and supermarkets. What I propose is the model currently in place in Ontario, Canada where beer and alcohol are sold at provincially owned shops (The Beer Store, and the LCBO). There are pros and cons to this model, but I can’t get into them right now. It’s Friday and that means the wife is home early from work and shit I’d put off doing all week need doing. Time is tight. However, a third provincially owned shop would need to be created for the sale of cocaine, opium, heroin, and niche products like mushrooms, DMT, and other psychoactive roots, berries, fungus, etc. Since Ontario also has universal health care, setting this third retail entity up is a much less costly endeavor since retail space could be set up at walk-in clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare related locations. From a public safety point of view this just makes sense.

In the same way that alcohol content information and tar and nicotine levels are required for cigarettes and alcohol products on the market, similar information should be required for all drugs. Cannabis, for example, comes in countless strengths because of breeding and cultivation. Methods for determining the strength of various cannabis compounds (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, tetrahydrocannabivarin, endocannabinoids, etc.) would need to be set up to ensure consistency so that consumers do not unintentionally purchase a product that is significantly stronger than they’re used to. This would be required, to the extent that it is possible, for all drugs and their packaging. Making drugs available to the public through health care related facilities would also put users close to health care professionals; increasing the chance that heavy and problematic users receive information they wouldn’t necessarily receive from private sector sellers.

XII.

It is certainly interesting, in my opinion, that when it comes to drug policy the public has been so accepting of calls for greater spending on things like policing and incarceration and so opposed to calls for greater spending on education and health. It is peculiar, and I lean toward the notion that racism is the root, but I am not going to get into that right now. The recycling situation has reached critical mass. Nevertheless, drug policy that favors policing and incarceration does nothing but bolster public resentment of ‘the system’, fill the coffers of organized crime, and hinder scientific research, among other things. Hard work is required to adjust public perceptions of drug use and promote solutions rooted in education, healthcare, and regulation.

XIII.

I have not covered everything, as I have said many times, but I would like to end with one other opinion. I’ve read if drugs are legalized, crime will skyrocket. To this I say BALDERDASH!

Diamonds, for example, are expensive because they are hoarded by cartels like De Beers, and released to market gradually. Keeping the supply of diamonds limited makes them more valuable. The same sort of thing happens with drugs. The illegality of drugs artificially raises their market value because of the risks associated with their cultivation, production, shipment, and sale/purchase. Following decriminalization, the price of drugs would most certainly follow the same sort of economics that effect the price of other commodities; but no matter what, decriminalizing drugs would most certainly reduce their price, even with heavy taxation. Pricing drugs is a ‘fine line’ sort of problem, but I am confident that solutions are available. And, with drug prices lowered there are fewer incentives to criminals. Even if we consider the petty sorts of crimes that heavy users might find themselves committing in order to get the money they need for their next hit, I firmly believe that with lower prices and safer more consistent products, criminality would decrease.

By treating drug crops the same way other crops are treated, market forces would replace the forces at play now; drastically reducing so much pain, suffering, harassment, death, and violence.

How often do you read about people smuggling tobacco leaves or coffee beans?

At this point I feel like I am preaching to the choir, and besides, I’ve got to clean the rice cooker.



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