Tuesday, September 23, 2008

If you want to win the war against illegal drugs - take a tip from the law of markets

At last, someone has seen sense on the fight against drug use. Over on The Times of all places, Ross Clark is critical of the way drug users are seen as victims rather than offenders.

With stolen goods, illegal weapons and child pornography, the law is clear: the user is as guilty as the supplier. The police didn't let Gary Glitter off with a little rap on the knuckles and the rest of us didn't shake our heads and say: “Poor Gary, how sad that he has fallen victim to these evil porn dealers.”

Quite right. Drug users are not victims - they are criminals - but for some reason their crimes are often ignored by the authorities or treated as trivial. What we forget, though, is that illegal drugs are a "product" - and just like any other product, they are subject to the laws of supply and demand.

"Supply and demand" is actually slightly misleading as it implies that supply creates demand, but it is the other way around. Demand creates a market and markets need supply. The supply of illegal drugs reacts to demand for illegal drugs - not vice versa - but the fight against illegal drugs focuses entirely on the supplier. Huge amounts of money are expended tackling cocaine manufacturers in Colombia or opium poppy growers in Afghanistan - but all of that is wasted money if the people who create the market for those products are repeatedly let off. The users.

It is time governments woke up to this simple fact. If you kill off the demand for drugs the supply will stop.

That's it. It is that simple.

As long as the fight against drugs remains targeted at the supply side it will never be won. As soon as the fight is switched to the demand side we will be on our way to a largely drug free society. That means a zero tolerance approach to ALL users.

They are not victims - they are criminals. They are not being criminalised - they criminalise themselves. Anyone caught in possession or found under the influence of illegal drugs should face a spell in prison. Fines don't work.

Personally, I'd go even further. The government should randomly test businesses and any business - whether it be a pub or a publishing house - which is found to have traces of drug use should be shut down for a minimum period of one month, the owners fined and the business named and shamed.

Of course, that would result in the virtual overnight closure of most of our media and the BBC would cease to exist. Whether that is a good thing or not I'll leave it for you to decide.

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