Blueprint for legalization and control

One of pillars of the prohibitionist propaganda is the claim that legalization of the currently illicit drugs would create an addiction epidemic of biblical proportion, but this stickiest of prohibitionist fallacies doesn’t withstand closer examination. On the contrary, as I demonstrate in great lengths in my recently released “World War-D”, the current prohibitionist regime increases the harmful consequences of drug use and generates a whole set of harms of its own, chief among them, the narco-violence that is spreading like cancer all over the world. In fact, a properly regulated marketplace would not only wipe out narco-violence, it could contain and reduce substance abuse and dramatically reduce its societal harm. Focus should be placed on the real issue, which is problem use: abuse and addiction. Moderate use should only be addressed insofar as it may lead to problem use.

(Excerpts and comments from “World War D – The Case against prohibitionism, roadmap to controlled re-legalization” – get

By Jeffrey Dhywood –

Pragmatic strategies for containment of abuse and control of psychoactive substances in a properly regulated marketplace

At the root of all the evils unleashed by drug prohibition and the War on Drugs are the illegal trade and the illegal marketplace it created and nurtured, out of which most other harms derive. Moreover, prohibition-induced harm far outweighs usage-induced harm. Consequently, the primary goal of any substance abuse reform should be black market reduction. With proper international coordination, the black market can be marginalized to the point of not being a significant threat.

Formulating clear and realistic objectives

In order to design effective strategies, it is critical to have clear and realistic objectives. Therefore, I propose the following hierarchy of goals:

  1. To greatly reduce, dismantle and, if possible, eliminate the illegal drug market. To reduce the presence and influence of organized crime. To reduce drug-related crime. The dismantling and elimination of the illegal drug market requires the dismantling of the prohibition system that created it in the first place. Elimination of the illegal drug marketplace will not eliminate organized crime, but it will weaken it substantially.
  2. To reduce harm to existing users through safe and controlled legal access. To reduce the number of abusers/addicts; to reduce drug related deaths; to improve the health of remaining users/addicts; to improve their social integration.
  3. To reduce or eliminate the financial burden placed on taxpayers by the consequences of drug use and drug prohibition. To achieve taxpayer neutrality.
  4. To control and greatly minimize access to minors; eliminating access to minors altogether might be a laudable goal, but it is about as realistic as absolute sexual abstinence to reduce teen pregnancy.
  5. To reduce initiation, especially among minors. Long-term improvements are predicated on substantially curbing initiation.
  6. To reduce harm caused by problematic users to their proximate environment and to society at large.
  7. To prevent as much as possible moderate, responsible users from becoming problem users. To place reasonable access restrictions to the most damaging substances for new users and casual users.
  8. To acknowledge the legitimacy of the non-medical use of psychoactive substances and the potential danger of their abuse.
  9. To respect the civil liberties and lifestyle choices of informed, consenting adults as long as these choices do not intentionally endanger others. To end discrimination against users of psychoactive substances.

I believe these are realistic and attainable goals provided that the right policies are put in place. Unlike the fairly rigid prohibitionist model, there should be a lot of flexibility in the application of drug reform to allow for experimentation and adaptation to local realities. It should be obvious by now that those who wish to use psychoactive substances will go to great lengths to satisfy their desire and it is far more advantageous for society to satisfy their need than to let the black market take care of it. The guiding concern shouldn’t be whether it is moral or immoral to provide psychoactive substances to those consenting adults who which to use them, but what is the least harmful way to do it.

Policies shouldn’t be set in stone, but should rather be a work in progress, especially in the initial stage. Containment of abuse and reduction of the spread of use of the most dangerous substances should be the top priorities in the initial phase. Last but not least, regulations and policies should be practically and efficiently enforceable. Unrealistic goals based on faulty premises typically have disastrous unintended consequences for which society bears a heavy cost. Drug policies should strive to minimize the potentially harmful consequences of drug use and not create a whole set of far worse harms of its own.

A properly designed controlled legalization should be based on some basic facts and observations:

  • People have used psychoactive substances for medicinal, ritual and recreational purpose since the dawn of humanity and are not likely to give it up anytime soon.
  • The vast majority of psychoactive substances are already legal and more or less efficiently controlled. Such is the case for caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and prescription drugs. The legal status of particular substances does not appear to be related to their harmful potential. The regulatory framework for legalization is already in place and would just require adjustments.
  • The younger the age of onset of use of any psychoactive substance, the higher the potential for abuse in later life. People who haven’t used any substance by the time they reach their early 20s are very unlikely to ever abuse. Postponing the age of substance initiation is therefore the most efficient way to contain and reduce abuse. Paradoxically, under the prohibitionist regime, minors often have easier access to illicit drugs than adults. They are primary targets of drug dealers and foot soldiers and cannon fodder of narco-trafficking, especially in developing countries.
  • The prohibitionist regime pushes users towards the most dangerous substances and the most dangerous modes of administration. A properly regulated marketplace would nudge users towards the least dangerous substances by placing barrier of access commensurate to the potential harm of each substance and each mode of administration.
  • The accelerated industrialization of emerging countries brought about rapid and largely chaotic urbanization, causing social dislocation and breakdown of traditional norms. This in turn lowers barriers to deviance, providing a fertile ground for criminal elements to flourish and for the spread of substance abuse. As a result, illicit drug use is on the rise in most of the world, fueled in part by the global youth culture, permeated by drug culture from its pop stars to its sports stars.
  • The problem is exacerbated in transiting countries, as many drug transactions are paid in kind, feeding the local drug market, creating one where it previously didn’t exist. Thus, narco-violence in transiting countries is increasingly related to control of local markets rather than control of transiting routes. Latin America has been hit particularly hard, with casualties exceeding 50,000 in Mexico alone over the past 6 years, while all of Central America, especially Guatemala, Honduras and Salvador, is engulfed in narco-violence.
  • Emerging countries cannot afford to spare their already stretched resources on implementing efficient prohibitionist policies when even developed countries, despite all theirs resources, have been unable to do so.
  • Bottom line: Organized societies should be capable to do a far better job than organized crime at managing and controlling the currently illicit substances.

Understanding the illegal drugs market place

For all practical purposes, the illegal drug market place operates like a network marketing system. It is all based on contacts with each link usually knowing only those immediately before and after him; protection and secrecy increase as you move up the supply-chain. The substances reach the end-consumer through convoluted circuits with myriads of interconnected intermediaries where the last link in the supply chain are typically heavy users and addicts, who often resell to casual users in order to subsidize their habit. Just like with alcohol or tobacco, heavy users and addicts represent 80 to 90% of the market, depending on the substance. In the case of illegal drugs, heavy users and addicts supply 80 to 90% of the casual users, and do most of the recruiting and initiation. They are also, by far, the weakest link in the supply-chain. Removing heavy users and addicts from the supply-chain can shrink the market by over 90%. In order to fill the void, mid to low-level wholesalers, the typical suppliers to heavy users and addicts, and used to operating in relative shadow, would need to reach out to casual users or try to recruit initiates, an unreliable marketplace, and one filled with the most perils.

Trying to put all heavy users and addicts behind bars is not the solution though. It would be (and has been) an extremely costly exercise in futility. One key part of my proposed strategy consists in effectively and inexpensively removing heavy users and addicts from the supply-chain.

In order to remove abusers and addicts from the supply-chain and in order to reduce recruiting and initiation, abusers and addicts should have subsidized access, preferably conditioned to administration on premises in specialized establishments. This is, by far, the most efficient way to drastically reduce initiation, especially if high barrier of access are placed on casual use of the most damaging substances.

Such a strategy has the added benefit of reaching out to a frequently marginalized population. Once contact is established, it becomes possible to nudge the problem user towards treatment and bring him back to less harmful behavior and patterns of use or even abstinence altogether.

Strategic choices

Based on the acceptance that people will use mind-altering modalities, policies should nudge users towards the least harmful substances and the least harmful modes of administration, according to local conditions and cultures. Chewing coca leaves or drinking coca teas is vastly preferable to snorting or injecting cocaine. Ingesting or smoking opium is vastly preferable to injecting heroin. Marijuana is a relatively harmless substance that should have never been bundled with heroin, cocaine or metamphetamines. Regulation should reflect the differences between substances and modes of administration.

Therefore, regulations should differentiate between hard drugs (heroin, cocaine, metamphetamines) and soft drugs (cannabis/marijuana, coca leaves and preparations, opium in Asia).

Soft drugs should be regulated similarly to alcohol and tobacco, with added restrictions on advertising and packaging and adequate taxation to cover societal cost of abuse, but not to the point of reigniting the illegal marketplace. Taxation should follow international norms to avoid inter-countries smuggling.

Within hard drugs, differentiation should be made between injection, inhalation and other modes of administration. Hard-drugs should generally be dispenses through a prescription model.

Legalization and regulation is only the first step towards reducing the harms linked to substance abuse and addiction. It must be accompanied by efficient prevention and treatment policies.

Global legalization under a multi-tier “legalize, tax, control, prevent, treat and educate” regime is not only possible, it is the only long-term solution to this seemingly intractable problem. Far from giving up, and far from an endorsement, controlled legalization would be finally growing up, being realistic instead of being in denial, being in control instead of leaving control to the underworld. It would abolish the current regime of socialization of costs and privatization of profits to criminal enterprises, depriving them of their main source of income and making our world a safer place.

Weakening the global narco-traffic through global legalization will not solve all crime and violence problems, but it will relieve some pressure and remove a major source of corruption and lawlessness, allowing reallocation of resources to the most harmful criminal activities.

For a more detailed expose of the proposed roadmap to legalization and control, I refer my readers to the closing chapter of “World War-D”.

Author: Jeffrey Dhywood

Jeffrey Dhywood is a European-born investigative writer, lecturer and public speaker, drug policy analyst, author of "World War D – The Case against prohibitionism, roadmap to controlled re-legalization" Jeffrey Dhywood holds a degree in Mathematical logics (Model Theory). He lived 20 years in the US and is currently living in Latin America. He is also very familiar with Asia, which gives him a good grasp of the global dimension of the War on Drugs, and its global failure. His academic background and his direct experience allows him to bring common sense and sanity to an issue often mired in confusion, misconceptions and preconceptions.

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