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Good news in the 'war on drugs'

By John Humphreys - posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012


There has been some good news in the "war on drugs" in Queensland recently. The government has been working hard to achieve their goals, and they are proud of their success. In the Australian Crime Commission Illicit Drug Data Report 2010-11 we are told that the Queensland police managed over 17,000 seizures of marijuana. Well done to the boys (and girls) in blue.

Now, some of you may be thinking that this is all a horrible waste of time & money. People have argued that the "war on drugs" is too expensive and draconian, and does more harm than good. But those people would be missing the point.

It's true that prohibition does cost hundreds of millions, harass many peaceful people for their lifestyle choices, help organised crime and leads to more violent crime, leads to worse health outcomes and more deaths, and it doesn't prevent drug use to any noticeable degree. But there is another effect that is often ignored - it helps switch drug-users from marijuana to other "harder" drugs.

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And this is the good news.

Marijuana is a pretty harmless drug. It is not chemically addictive, has never killed anybody, makes people peaceful and friendly, and it has only limited negative health consequences. If young people are only going to experiment with marijuana, then they are actually playing it pretty safe. And that's a bad thing.

People learn judgement and critical thinking skills when they face danger. We learn risk management skills by actually facing risk, and we learn responsibility when we have to face tough situations. Marijuana doesn't offer any of that. But harder drugs can be dangerous and require people to make important judgements. Fighting addiction teaches people self-discipline, going through recovery teaches people about consequences, going temporarily insane teaches perspective and humility, and having to distinguish between deadly and safe pills teaches decision making and risk management. All valuable stuff.

Not to mention the useful small business experience acquired by budding young drug entrepreneurs.

So for the sake of the next generation, we should be helping to shift young people away from overly-safe drugs like marijuana and towards cocaine, opioids, amphetamines and hallucinogens. And the "war on drugs" helps to achieve this, because marijuana is a much more bulky drug and therefore is much easier for the police to intercept. In 2010/11 the Queensland police made over 17,000 marijuana busts… but less than 4000 busts for all other fun drugs combined. The logical response from drug-users is to shift towards smaller (and more concentrated) drugs.

Indeed, this explains why users switched from relatively safe levels of cocaine use to much stronger (more dangerous) levels after prohibition. This is why junkies upgraded from taking "soft" opioids to taking small amounts of more deadly heroin after prohibition. And this is why growers have started creating stronger (but potentially more harmful) versions of marijuana. A more concentrated and smaller drug makes sense for people trying to avoid capture.

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If you doubt me… try smuggling $1000 worth of weed on to a plane, and then try the same thing with tabs of acid. No contest.

To celebrate this success, the ever-thoughtful Courier Mail led off their front page article with the heart-warming news that "gun-totting teens in luxury cars have become the new foot soldiers of Queensland's drug trade, moving tens of thousands of dollars of ice and heroin in a day". Think of that for a second - young people with business experience, learning responsibility with hard drugs and guns, helping shift future users towards hard drugs, and with the added bonus of nice cars. If they survive, they should be well placed to be the leaders of tomorrow.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the government and their police for their fine efforts. By shifting users to more dangerous drugs, they are improving our risk management and decisions making skills, and killing off those unfortunate people who aren't up to the task. Given that in every other area of life we are having the risk regulated out of existence, drug use is becoming one of the few places where young people can learn good judgement.

So the next time somebody tells you that the "war on drugs" is a pointless waste of money that leads to death and crime and destroys lives, point out that there is at least one benefit from prohibition - switching young users onto harder drugs.

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This article was first published on John Humphreys: My adventures in Chapter Six



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About the Author

John is the Director of the Human Capital Project and a PhD student at the University of Queensland. He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Centre for Independent Studies, Editor-in-Chief of Menzies House and the founder of the Australian Libertarian Society. His personal blog can be found at http://johnhumphreys.com.au.

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