Saturday, 13 July 2013

When prohibitionists lie, we have to call bullshit

My latest letter to The Herald, this time taking a former chief constable over my knee:

I'd like to praise The Herald for shedding further light on the deadly effects of fake ecstasy pills (headline of 13th July 2013), but I'd also like to raise concerns about some of the counter arguments to the 'regulation of a legal market' proposals I outlined in my letter of July 8th, both in Christopher Gilfedder's letter of July 10th, and in Dr Ian Oliver's appearance on BBC's Newsnight Scotland programme on July 11th
Both offenders peddle the ridiculous notion that the illegal drug industry would in some way be successful in fighting back against a legal, regulated market. They forget that the risk premium on drug supply is absolutely enormous, escalating exponentially the cost of drugs as they progress from grower or manufacturer, through distributors and local gangsters to the drug user. Without that risk premium, the government-regulated market could sell cannabis or MDMA at similar prices to herbs or aspirin if they wished to. Instead the government would tax the products, filling as much of the gap between the small manufacturing costs and current illegal market prices as they thought suitable. They would have to pile on an awful lot of tax to cause customers to disregard the guarantees of quality, dose predictability, personal safety and ethical considerations and give their money to criminals.
That tax would be wisely invested in the education and treatment services that would help both prevent and treat the problematic drug use that blights Scotland more than any other western European nation.
To see what such policies can bring about we need look no further than Portugal. Though they have not legalised and regulated the drug market, decriminalisation has allowed them to divert resources from policing to health and education interventions. Rather than the massive increases in drug use and significant increases in drug deaths that Ian Oliver asserts, the latest statistics indicate that past month use of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and heroin in Portugal have at least halved between 2001 - when their reforms were introduced - and 2012. (I can send the full document to you or recommend you speak to Alex Stevens of the Uni of Kent to verify this). Portugal's Special Registry of the National Institute of Forensic Medicine estimate that there were 19 drug-related death cases in 2011. In 2008 that estimated number was 94. There were 584 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2011 for a population half the size of Portugal's. From where I'm sitting it looks like we have a lot of catching up to do, and it greatly saddens me that a former chief constable would commit heinous crimes against statistics in an attempt to hinder that progress.