31 Aug 2010
August 31, 2010

Why Politicians Lie about Drugs


Phil Chan (flikr)

Politicians lie about drugs because pretty much everyone else does.

Along with a few trades union colleagues, I recently had a chat with President Santos of Colombia and the subject of you-know-what came up, as it does there.  It turns out that Scotland is the highest per capita consumer of cocaine in the world.  Scotland also happens to be the fifth highest per capita consumer of heroin with pretty much all of it coming from Afghanistan (which is also, naturally, in the top five).  Around 99% of heroin destined for Scotland actually makes it to the streets.

But hang on.  Isn’t there a war against drugs on; from Colombia to the place where there’s a regular war going on too?  And aren’t the prices of cocaine and heroin, both pretty pure markets where price is a strong indicator of availability, both stable – some say declining even?  In other words, regardless of what governments the world over say they’d like to do about drugs, the simple fact is that they flow freely to wherever the demand exists and there seems little we can do about it.

Looking at the issue from another perspective; last year over 15000 people in Scotland died directly as the result of imbibing nicotine and over 1500 died directly of alcohol poisoning.  That’s leaving aside all the ill-health caused by smoking and the fact that cops I know report that 95% of the violence they encounter at the weekend is alcohol-fuelled.  On the other hand, while around 500 people died from heroin abuse, the figure for cocaine (actually, where  cocaine was at least present in post-mortems) was 3o.  For ecstasy, a class A drug up there with heroin, it was (maybe) two – again other drugs were apparently present when those post-mortems were conducted. So  how does our treatment of the various drugs available widely for public consumption, legally and illegally, in any way reflect the risk to individuals or society at large? Of course it doesn’t.

The banning of methodrone just before the general election, agreed by all parties, was a perfect illustration of how the drugs lie operates.  Two people were found dead having consumed a bunch of substances; methodrone, legal at that point, was one of them.  But the legal high provided by ‘drone’ was always an easy target – who, after all, is anyone to have a legal high?  A legal high, put in those terms, is really a pejorative designed to strike a moral distinction between certain types of (legal) consumption by certain  types of people (mainly young) and the consumption of other options (the choices on the whole of the less-young).  It turns out that neither of the post-mortems in this case revealed a even a trace of methodrone.  The legislation was of course simply designed to make everyone feel good about fighting the scourge of drugs while actually doing nothing of any real value about it.

Doing something of value would involve ending the lie.  In the meantime, we’ll continue to allow drugs barons and terrrorists the world over to profit from the drugs trade.  We’ll criminalise some of the most needy people in society and we’ll continue to pretend to chase cocaine amongst the middle-classes.  I don’t advocate drugs legalisation; but a bit more thought and honesty from politicians and, more to the point, the public, would yield worthwhile advances – I’m addicted to that idea.