Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A hint at the disastrous toll of the war on drugs

Today's edition of the Independent, under the headline "we're winning the war against the cocaine industry, police declare," informs us of the Serious Organised Crime Agency's (SOCA) self-declared "victory" in the "war on drugs." SOCA's figures tell us that "the average purity levels of cocaine seized by the police has dropped from 33 per cent, in 2007-08 to 26 per cent in 2008-09." Moreover, "a third of seizures now consist of as little as 9 per cent cocaine." The reason being that "compared to previous near constant year-on-year drops" the price of the drug has increased "to about £45,000 today."

According to the article, the "lowering of the purity of cocaine is regarded by Soca as a victory," which can be credited to "the good work of the agencies involved in the war against drugs," because "it proves that dealers are struggling to import the drug." The Press Association's version of this story - printed verbatim in the Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail, and Daily Mirror - held the same focus upon SOCA's interpretation of the facts.

However, within the two reports, there was some hint towards the disastrous reality of the war on drugs. The Independent quoted Danny Kushlick, of the drugs policy foundation Transform, thus;
There is a health issue [with the impurity of the drug] because it means people do not know what they are taking. And while Soca claims the lowering of purity will put people off, we say the opposite. If you cut the strength of a drug, people will simply take more of it.
The paper quickly "countered" this with the assertion of a "Soca source" that "cocaine cut with these chemicals is not as harmful as cocaine that is of a high purity level," a patent absurdity which warranted no response. However, it does highlight a key point - the vast majority of drug "overdoses" are not overdoses at all but a reaction to the impurities of the drug. Moreover, such impurities are more likely within the context of prohibition and the war on drugs, as it hands the trade over to criminal gangs who do not have to worry about regulators and standards of practice. This is exactly as Kushlick explains in the AP article;
The war on drugs was lost a long time ago. We know that the long-term evidence shows that drug prices are falling, drugs are more available and more pure than they have ever been before over the long term.

These things need to be seen in terms of their ability to sustain. However, we can buck the trend temporarily. This bucks the trend. It would be disingenuous to claim that this is the beginning of the end of the cocaine trade or anything like it.

The fact is that the cocaine trade has been gifted to organised criminals by virtue of our fighting a war on drugs and our global prohibition. The government and Soca are grabbing at straws and cherry-picking statistics in order to dupe us into believing we are winning it. It can't be won.
The Mail and Mirror both cut this observation entirely from their publication, whilst the Telegraph cuts out the final paragraph to allow for skepticism at current policy whilst censoring a conclusion that travels beyond the acceptable bounds of discourse. The fact that the very illegality of drugs is the source of most of societies drug problems is unthinkable. Those at the liberal end of the mainstream spectrum who go anywhere near such a conclusion must make utterly unnecessary concessions about "limits" and "avoiding a free-for-all" for their views to approach palatable.

As long as such attitudes pertain, however, and the legalisation of all drugs remains off the agenda for governments, people will continue to die.