Colm On Prohibition and Illegal Drugs


As a writer and a fan of satire, I am infinitely interested in the various idiosyncrasies inherent in human society. One issue that I find particularly engrossing is the question of illegal drugs. To the extent of my knowledge, there is no single definition of what a drug is or what precisely constitutes a drug. Loosely speaking, we could define a drug as a substance that when absorbed into the body of an organism, changes the normal function of that organism. Examples of legal drugs, in most polities, include caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, although the latter two are available only to those of the age of consent in most jurisdictions. Examples of illegal drugs or illicit substances include THC, MDMA, various opiates such as heroin, and cocaine. The debate about the legality versus illegality of substances such as these has been long, arduous and thus far, fruitless. The four main sides in the argument are; the conservatives who wish to retain the status quo, those who wish to make, illegal more drugs, those who wish to legalise or decriminalise soft drugs such as cannabis sativa, and those who wish to make legal, all drugs and narcotics.

In the last couple of years, I have been firmly persuaded that cannabis or marijuana should be made legal, as it was in the Netherlands, although I am not of the opinion that the Dutch government installed satisfactory legislation. I will briefly run through the main reasons why. Primarily, marijuana is a relatively harmless drug. There is no doubt that it can induce mental illnesses such as schizophrenia in a small minority of people who are naturally pre-disposed to it, although, the harmful effects of the drug are negligible in comparison to alcohol, tobacco, high-stress careers or even a lack of exercise. At this point, many will point out that that is really an argument to make smoking and drinking illegal. My riposte to such claims is that prohibition has been shown to be completely ineffective, which is an essay in itself. It is also worth pointing out that beer has many advantages, which I outlined in an earlier column.

Marijuana, too, has many advantages: it’s active ingredients have been shown to be highly effective in the treatment of cancer and MS as well as chronic pain. It also contains no chemically addictive substance, which is not to say that it cannot be addictive, the human brain can become addicted to anything, even board games. As a drug, it also serves to mellow the user, unlike other drugs which cause the user to become over-confident, over-zealous and often violent. One adverse effect of marijuana is its effect on memory, although this effect is purely short term and miniscule when compared to the similar effects of other drugs, including many prescription medicines. In reality, the greatest threat posed by marijuana is from the countless chemicals that are often mixed in with it. In a society where marijuana was legal, this problem could be easily overcome, linking back in with the prohibition argument. As Will Rogers joked, “Prohibition is better than no liquor at all.” Furthermore, the ban on the substance leads to the rise of violent criminal gangs across the world, completely outside the normal rule of law, and forces many otherwise law-abiding citizens to come into contact with gangsters and smugglers on a daily basis.

The question of legalising or decriminalising all or most illegal drugs is a broader one, but one I have similar thoughts pertaining too. Many of the same arguments can be applied, in a society where drug use is legal to those of the age of consent and administered by government, dangerous drug gangs could be wiped out, the drugs that people consume would become much cleaner and some of the more dangerous types could be pushed out completely. Further to that point, huge amounts could be brought into the state, through taxes, although this is really a social matter and not an economic one. I also believe in the civil liberties of the individual and resent the emerging ‘nanny state’ model that most countries are increasingly adhering too. Consenting adults, in my humble opinion, should be allowed to consume whatever products they want in the privacy of their own homes or in designated facilities.

There are obviously hundreds of arguments I could here-in run through about the health effects of various drugs, the nature of civil rights, the reasons why various drugs have been criminalised and why it is such a taboo discussion piece, but it would take me an entire book to go through them all. In short, what I am calling for is not necessarily an immediate move towards decriminalising marijuana or any other substance, but that channels of public discourse, free of propaganda, should be opened up. I do feel that it is ridiculous that any government would pass laws it cannot enforce resulting in the rise of crime, but most of all, I feel that people should question their own gut-feelings and face up to their opinions.



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