The fatalities caused by the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco are, by contrast, enormous. What is more, the British Medical Association reported in 1988 that unlike ecstasy and cannabis, there is a well documented link between alcohol and violence, with drink a factor in half of all domestic attacks, 75% of stabbings and 6 out of ten killings. And all this is before the figures for road traffic accidents are taken into account.
Safer drug use
Legalisation would make drug use safer for millions of people. At the moment you don’t know exactly what is in, for example, an Ecstasy tablet. If you buy a gramme of speed you don’t know what it has been cut with. This is not just a rip off – it can damage your health. Heroin dependents can be injured or even killed by the impurities that are present in the powder they inject, or by variations in the strength and purity.
The provision of proper, pure, manufactured heroin without impurities and with a fixed dosage can enable heroin dependents to avoid these risks and the threat of overdose. One British doctor was recently in the news for prescribing clean pure heroin for dependants. The casualty figures among the heroin users on his books dwindled to almost nothing. Then the authorities stopped him and insisted he provide the substitute Methadone. The heroin users went back to buying smack on the streets… and the casualties quickly mounted again.
In Holland kits for testing the purity of Ecstasy tablets have been available for some time – you can get your E tested in clubs. Deaths from ecstasy in Holland are only a tiny fraction of the figures for Britain. In Britain the kits are banned.
If drugs were legally available then the same regulation, quality control and choice would apply as exists for other goods.
Legalisation would allow proper, accurate, information to be available about drugs instead of the tissue of distortions and half truths we get today. We are told that all drugs are addictive, make you mad etc etc without any attempt being made to differentiate between the various drugs and their effects.
The net result of this is that the first time you actually try an illicit drug you suddenly realise what a load of rubbish you’ve been told about it. From then you don’t believe a word of the official propaganda. But some drugs are genuinely dangerous, others have certain risks that could be minimised – if trustworthy information were available.
The London dance music station Kiss FM, until recently, carried regular adverts for the National Drugs helpline, which gave serious information about the effects of popular drugs like speed and ecstasy, and also exposed many of the myths about these drugs’ effects.
This information was useful to users, and helped to minimise risks without spreading panic and falsehood. Suddenly it changed. Instead of the voices of young people explaining how to reduce dehydration on ecstasy, a crude advert is being run describing drug dealers as “animals” who “maim and kill” and asking young people to help “put down a rat.” This approach has already failed in the past. But while drugs are illegal, the main priority is catching the ”criminals”, not providing a service to millions of users.
Blow to organised crime
Legalisation would be a death blow to the gangsters and criminal syndicates that make millions out of drug sales. Why on earth would anyone want to hang around nervously on a street corner waiting to buy an underweight wrap of weed if they could get a weighed quantity legally in the shops?
All the anti-drugs campaigns run by the police have failed to reduce the scale and power of gangsters – legalisation would ruin them at a stroke. Importantly every effort would have to be made to ensure that the corporate gangsters of the multinational drug companies don’t replace the street gangsters.
A legalised drugs industry should be a nationalised industry under the control of drug users and the workers in the industry. Otherwise it won’t be long before the profit hungry multinationals find their own way to cut drugs and sell you an inferior product.
Stop racist harassment
Legalisation would remove one of the main excuses the police have for systematically harassing young people. Black youth get a particularly hard time. It is well known just how widespread racist attitudes are within the police. Young black people get constant hassle, are moved on, flagged down in their cars, beaten up and even killed at police stations. The illegality of the popular and almost harmless drug cannabis provides the police with all the excuse they need to stop and search at will.
Nor can the police be expected to respond to drug taking among different social groups even handedly. Take cocaine for instance. This is a drug with a glamorous image. Because cocaine is subtle, sexy and very expensive. It is widely used in the music business and by smart young rich kids. Members of bands and DJs live in a constant blizzard of the stuff. But there is no big “anticoke” campaign – it is a drug with status, and the police hardly bother about it.
Crack is another thing altogether as far as the police are concerned. Except that it’s not another thing at all. It’s the same thing in a different, smokeable, form. But it is not a glamorous drug – it has a “low-life” image. It is used mainly by young blacks, and by the poor and desperate. So there has been a scare campaign against crack cocaine and a big police clamp down. Of course there is more crime associated with crack cocaine than with the powder – it is a direct result of the poverty and desperation among crack users. Slick yuppies don’t have to steal to pay for their next line of coke. For them £60 a gram is just another manageable expense – like champagne.
These double standards show what’s really at stake. Legalisation would stop the police using the illegality of drugs as a pretext for their war against black youth.
Legalisation would enable people to choose what they want to do with their own bodies. By what democratic right does the state tell us what is and isn’t acceptable for individuals to do for their own pleasure? It is not health considerations, as we have seen.
Nor is there any other acceptable reason. The real cause of the panic is that the more drug use expands, the sharper the profits of the big breweries fall.
Ecstasy and the dance culture are the main culprits as far as the breweries are concerned. During the peak years for rave – 1987 to 1992 – pub attendance fell by over 10%. The breweries’ market researchers estimate that ravers spend £1.8 billion a year – but not on ale. The breweries don’t like it. So they have launched new trendy drinks, bring out adverts suggesting that beer is smarter than E… and use their links to the Tory party to press for a clampdown on “dangerous’ illegal drugs.
That’s why there have been no posters of dead alcoholics with the words “Sorted” printed on them in massive letters. It is why you have heard of Leah Betts (killed by drinking too much water; by ignorance not by E), but have never heard of a single household name of an alcohol casualty. Famous drug addicts are regarded as a disgrace; famous drunks are just to be laughed at. It’s why E is banned and alcohol is advertised on TV.
The Tories should have no right to tell us what we can and can’t take while they are funded to the tune of millions by the breweries – the biggest drug pushers of all.
Bring the law into step with reality
Legalisation would bring society’s laws into tune with society itself. The desire to consume plants or chemicals to get out of your head is as old as human civilisation itself. From early forms of wine and fermented spirits through to the use of cannabis, mescaline, psychoactive mushrooms and khat, every society has had some preferred stimulant which has been used to relax, to party or celebrate.
This is not a moral or legal question – it is a fact of human history and of the nature of our species. No attempt to suppress drug use by law has ever succeeded.
REVOI.UTION is neither pro- nor anti- drugs. Drug taking should be regarded as neither immoral nor glamorous. It is simply a fact of life.
Day to day living under capitalism is the pits for most – poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, grinding alienating work. You’ve got a 48 hour weekend to escape from reality. Get smashed, drop a pill, smoke a joint, shoot up or snort a line; who’s to blame?
But here a word of warning is needed. If you take an E at weekends or smoke a bit of draw that’s not going to hurt you or anyone else. But if you are out of it all the time you’re going to be no use to anyone. We need to fight the poverty, unemployment, bad housing, cuts and police repression that make life unbearable for so many youth today, and which push more and more to desperate responses like alcoholism, crack dependence and mainlining smack.
Fighting back against this system is hard work – it needs energy, dedication, discipline and organisation. We don’t have to tell each other to “Just Say No” – but we do need clear brains to break the chains.