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Imagine that lawmakers introduced legislation to effectively deregulate and drive underground an industry worth 3 to 5% of PIB and patronized by up to 25% of the population, removing all controls, resulting in tax revenue losses racking in the 10s of billions per year; these lawmakers would be called insane. Imagine that such legislation gave control of the deregulated industry to organized crime, producing 100s of billions of dollars per year in revenue for criminal and terrorist organizations. Imagine that it was used as a ploy for mass-incarceration and crass discrimination, an alibi for establishing a police state; these lawmakers would be called criminals.
You don’t have to imagine, such a wild deregulation is already in place, and your lawmakers enacted it bit by bit over the past 100 years, under the guise of the “War on Drugs” or “Drug Prohibition”.
100 years into prohibition and 42 years into the War on Drugs:
- Costs add up to trillions of dollars of taxpayers money, and mounting
- Lost tax revenue adds up to few extra trillions
- Death-toll adds up in the millions
- Drug use is the major cause of the spread of AIDS in most of the world
- Tens of millions of otherwise harmless drug offenders have been thrown in jail, ruining their social prospects, tearing families apart.
- Drug trafficking is the major source of income of organized crime and terrorist organizations worldwide, to the tune of $350 billion per year. Narco-trafficking destabilizes entire regions of the world, from Latin America to Central Asia through West Africa, sowing violence, corruption and chaos. It is bringing some countries such as Mali, Guinea-Bissau or Afghanistan to the verge of collapse.
- 220 million people use drugs worldwide and this number is growing steadily
Prior to their prohibition, the prohibited substances were used by royalties, popes, heads of state, celebrities and a large percentage of the common people. 100 year after their prohibition, the prohibited substances are used or have been used by a large percentage of the common people, as well as all kind of celebrities, heads of state (including the current US president and his tow predecessors), and probably quite a few royalties.
So, it is quite obvious by now that drug prohibition is not practically and efficiently enforceable; the prohibitionist model for controlling the use of psychoactive substances is clearly flawed and a paradigm shift is urgently needed.
Isn’t it time to ask the simple but fundamental question: “Can organized societies do a better job than organized crime at managing and controlling psychoactive substances?” If we cannot respond with a resounding “Yes!” To this fundamental question, then we must despair of our societies and their governments. Besides, the vast majority of psychoactive substances, including the two deadliest, tobacco and alcohol, are already legal.
The use of psychoactive substances is an issue of personal choice, while substance abuse is a health issue, which has been turned into a criminal issue with catastrophic consequences. The real crime is to give control of the illegal drugs marketplace to organized crime.
It is possible to reduce the harm of substance abuse and eliminate the harm of drug-trafficking, but it will take lucidity, courage and vision. Prohibition and free-market are not the only options. We must look for more intelligent solutions. Drugs must be properly controlled because they are potential harmful, and prohibition is clearly the worst possible form of control.
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.
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Author of “World War D – The Case against prohibitionism, roadmap to controlled re-legalization”
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