Monday, June 16, 2008

Column, October 16, 2007

ABSTINENCE does have its benefits – for one thing it is character-building.
They tried it in the USA for 13 years and it built a character called Al Capone.
When it came to creating a favourable trading environment for a gangster looking for an easy way to make a living, prohibiting alcohol must have been the answer to his most heartfelt prayers.
It’s simple supply and demand economics and so it’s surprising that the country that has grown so much as a result of the free market could fall for so simple a trick.
By cutting off the supply from legal outlets, the market was left to the likes of Capone who set up the supply routes for bootleg alcohol to satisfy the public thirst for booze. And as he had a stranglehold on supply, he could charge what he liked.
Naturally others wanted in on the action and thus Chicago became the gangland it was and the mob grew in strength as a result. Capone raked in millions.
As law enforcement measures go prohibition was an unmitigated disaster, and served only to strengthen the hand of criminals who corrupt US society to this day.
It also had the effect of killing the disparate independent brewing industries there, which has had the result of them inflicting upon the world the tasteless bilge they call beer because they lost so much expertise in actually making beer, as well as wine, when they prohibited its sale.
So prohibition doesn’t work. It’s been tried, on a massive scale, it was unworkable, unenforceable, had no measurable health benefits and was a gift to the mob.
So why are we trying it now with drugs.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no paean to the benefits of cannabis or any other controlled substance. Let me say at the outset I think they are all vile and those in their grip are at best tiresome and at worst unutterably sad individuals. Life must be pretty bad if oblivion is a better alternative.
But the fact is the war on drugs was lost long ago, in fact, the minute you declare a war on drugs you may as well surrender, for the very act of declaring war means that you hand control to drug barons who will turn a tidy profit as a result of your action.
Now and again you will read reports of victories by law enforcement in the war on drugs. Some shipment will be intercepted and millions of pounds worth of cocaine or heroin will have been kept off the streets.
But even if this has any significant effect on supply, do you think the dealers bat an eyelid?
No, if they’ve got less to sell, they just shove up the price so they make the same amount of money as they did last week, but by selling less product. And what does that mean for addicts, well they have to find more money, and that often means committing crime.
It’s usually petty stuff, theft, burglary, street robbery, car crime, but the sort of thing that makes life that bit more miserable for the rest of us.
If you want confirmation of this take a trip to magistrates court any day of the week and see how many defendants’ solicitors are pleading drug problems as mitigation for their clients’ crimes.
Richard Brunstrom recognises this and now wants drugs to be legalised and regulated and the old Class A, B and C system of classifying drugs to be scrapped.
It’s odd then that the opinion of a cop who is in charge of cops who have to haul in the same faces week-in, week-out for the same catalogue of miserable crime, is dismissed so easily by politicians.
Alyn and Deeside MP Mark Tami said: “As 280,000 Class A drug users are responsible for half of all crime, taking the risk of legalising such a dangerous drug is foolhardy and I would not wish to gamble so much on the health and well-being of our children.”
A laudable sentiment were it not for the fact that all that crime would not be committed were it not for the fact that the users needed to get cash to buy their Class A drugs from dealers who now they can milk an addict for every penny they’ve got as well as a few pennies they will steal.
Alyn and Deeside AM Carl Sergeant points to the link between drug use and poverty and that it is important to tackle the social deprivation that leads to such drug abuse. Another fine aim, but social deprivation is not going to be solved in this lifetime. In the meantime thousands of lives are being wasted in ineffective court cases and jail terms for people who need help more than they need punishment.
The only people benefiting from current drug policy are the dealers, the drug barons and everyone else in the supply chain all the way back down the line to the poppy-growers in Afghanistan who are defending their trade with rocket-propelled grenades launched at our troops over there.
Richard Brunstrom might not have the answer, but at least he is brave enough to confront us with the inconvenient truth that current drug policy has failed, in spite of the brave efforts of police officers who put their lives on the line trying to enforce it.
The least we can do is have a proper debate of where exactly we think our drug laws are going rather than blithely assuming we can carry on with the current plan which hands power to exactly the people it is trying to put behind bars.

A FRIEND in Cardiff calls.
He’s just received a text. It’s one of those annoying ones from a service provider telling him what new services he can enjoy at the press of a button.
It’s offering him a new ringtone.
Imagine his delight when he’s told he can now download ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ as his new ringtone.
I tell him that if he’s going to get it, better be prepared to run fast down Queen Street.

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