Friday, 13 April 2012

Branson on drugs

I just caught up with a a Telegraph article from January by Richard Branson:
Just as prohibition of alcohol failed in the United States in the 1920s, the war on drugs has failed globally. Over the past 50 years, more than $1 trillion has been spent fighting this battle, and all we have to show for it is increased drug use, overflowing jails, billions of pounds and dollars of taxpayers’ money wasted, and thriving crime syndicates. It is time for a new approach.

Branson goes on to say
Drugs are dangerous and ruin lives. They need to be regulated. But we should work to reduce the crime, health and social problems associated with drug markets in whatever way is most effective. Broad criminalisation should end; new policy options should be explored and evaluated; drug users in need should get treatment; young people should be dissuaded from drug use via education; and violent criminals should be the target of law enforcement. We should stop ineffective initiatives like arresting and punishing citizens who have addiction problems.
He's half right. Drugs can be dangerous, and can contribute to a downward spiral in the lives of some people. On the other hand, millions of people are capable of smoking pot, eating mushrooms, popping pills, and snorting coke for years on end without falling into a downward spiral. They hold down jobs, take care of their families, and contribute to society. They just prefer illegal methods of recreation and relaxation to alcohol and Prozac.

Do drugs need to be regulated? What does Mr Branson have in mind? What about rock climbing, horse riding, skiing and mountain biking? To be sure, those selling defective products should be held accountable, but do we need a regulator to achieve this?

Those who have a problem with drugs may well benefit from treatment, but who decides that they have a problem, and who pays for the treatment?

Should young people really be dissuaded from "drug use", as opposed to "drug abuse"? Should they be dissuaded from other pleasurable but risky activities? And who should be doing the dissuading?

Violent criminals should indeed be the target of law enforcement (along with burglars and vandals and anyone else who infringes the rights of others). But what's that got do with drugs? Being drunk or high shouldn't be seen as an excuse for criminal behaviour.

We should certainly stop "ineffective initiatives like arresting and punishing citizens" who harm only themselves, but we shouldn't presume to decide which of them have "addiction problems", or force treatment upon them.

Drugs shouldn't just be decriminalised, they should be relegalised. Mr Branson's proposals are a step in the right direction, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fundamental immorality of prohibition - the government has no business telling adults what to do with their own bodies.

Branson concludes
Many political leaders and public figures acknowledge privately that repressive strategies have only made the drug problem worse. It took 14 years for America’s leaders to repeal Prohibition. After 50 years of the failed drug war, it is time for today’s leaders to find the courage to speak out.

For all the successes I’ve had in business, I’ve also learnt to accept when things go wrong, work out why, and try to find a better way. The war on drugs is a failed enterprise. We need to have the courage to learn the lessons and move on.
Does anyone believe the Coalition will show such courage?

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