Friday, 30 October 2009

Legalising drugs?

From the World Drug Report 2009, published by the UNODC:

The strongest case against the current system of drug control is not the financial costs of the system, or even its effectiveness in reducing the availability of drugs. The strongest case against drug control is the violence and corruption associated with the black market. The main problem is not that drug control efforts have failed to eliminate drug use, an aspirational goal akin to the elimination of war and poverty. It is that in attempting to do so, they have indirectly enriched dangerous criminals, who kill and bribe their way from the countries where drugs are produced to the countries where drugs are consumed.
Plans for drug “legalisation” are diverse, and often fuzzy on the details, but one of the most popular alternative models involves taxation and control in a manner similar to tobacco and alcohol. This approach has appeal of ideological consistency, since all these addictive substances
are treated in the same way. The practice of banning certain addictive substances while permitting and taxing others is indeed difficult to defend based on the relative harmfulness of the substances themselves. Legal addictive substances kill far more people every year than illegal ones – an estimated 500 million people alive today will die due to tobacco. But this greater death toll is not a result of the licit substances being pharmacologically more hazardous than the illicit ones. This greater death toll is a direct result of their being legal, and consequently more available. Use rates of illicit drugs are a fraction as high as for legal addictive drugs, including among those who access the legal drugs illegally (i.e. young people). If currently illegal substances were made legal, their popularity would surely increase, perhaps reaching the levels of licit addictive substances, increasing the related morbidity and mortality.

Is the choice simply one of drug-related deaths or drugmarket related deaths?

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