Sunday, April 5, 2009

End the War

Here's me on drugs - over at today's Sunday Times.

And here are some of the things I have been reading on the subject:

Why it is still politically expedient to continue the criminalisation of drugs.

A new Cato Institute report on lessons from Portugal's de-criminalisation of drugs.

Will Wilkinson on the 5,000 violent deaths in Mexico in just the past year from the war on drugs.

The Opium Economy by Jeremy Berkoff on the global economic cost of the war.

Jennifer Michael Hecht's The Happiness Myth, especially its chapters on the history of drug usage and criminalisation in (mainly) English speaking countries over the past two centuries.

Some recent research by my own company on drug consumption in Ireland.


  1. Great article and it is a stance that I wold fully support.

    The Economist recently made a similar call following the hundred year birthday of the war on drugs, which has been an abject failure.

    However, there are political reasons too for drugs being illegal. Most informed commentators say that they are a handy social control tool, i.e, a convenient way to subjugate poor African Americans by locking them up.
    For evidence of this, you only have to look at the disparity in sentencing for crack(predominantly used by African Americans) and cocaine(mainly used by the white middle class)

    Also, the war on drugs gives the US an excuse to have military bases in South American and to shore up the right wing Colombian government with military support.

    If Brian Lenihan had the audacity to legalise *all* drugs, just watch what would happen from the US, for it is the US that is championing this fool's crusade.

    again, great piece though.........

  2. I would like to invite Gerard O'Neill to come to Carlow to meet some of the families of drug addicts who could help him arrive at a balanced understanding about what drugs really do.

    These can give a first hand appraisal of his thinking that "legalising narcotics would lead to wealth, health and less crime". I can also suggest a visit to a residential treatment centre to meet the addicts themselves and learn about why they want to escape their nightmare existence. Clearly Gerard has no idea of the devastation and misery that drugs leave behind and it would be beneficial for him to learn from those who know.

    In regard to the notion that cannabis is a “softer” drug, it is worth noting that the British government have recently reclassified it from a Category C drug back to a Category B because of the increasing rate of mental illness associated with it. Smoking cannabis virtually doubles the risk of developing mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
    For details please see: and

    His economic argument is very similar to the case for legalising prostitution, fine as long as it is not his own children who become enslaved or addicted.
    He is happy to recommend legalising narcotics to Brian Lenihan as long as some other family pay the price.

    Seriously, there are a lot of less morally bankrupt ideas available than the one he is proposing. These start with getting an understanding of the reasons why people take drugs in the first place.
    Strategies to eliminate these will reduce the demand for drugs and achieve the wealth, health, less wasted lives and less crime that he thinks he would like to see.

    It would also help the reader to see the correlations between increased use of drugs, mental illness and drug related crime – maybe the penny will drop when these are published.

    Yours sincerely
    Seamus O’Callaghan
    29 Bullock Park

  3. Thanks Will for the link to the counterpunch article, I hadn't seen it.

    I find Seamus' arguments confusing. I don't doubt the misery of drug addiction for both addicts and their families. Nor it's toll in terms of ill-health and premature death. The same goes for the vastly greater misery caused by alcohol abuse.

    The data I have seen for the United States shows that 1.3% of adults are addicted to illegal drugs, the same proportion as were addicted 100 years ago when they were legal.

    I agree that dealing with the problem of drug addiction demands the same mix of educational and preventative measures as are applied in the case of alcohol addiction. But I don't see how you can effectively apply such measures against a background in which the production, supply and distribution of drugs is entirely under the control of murderous, criminal gangs.

    Decriminalising drugs will wrest that control from crooks and ensure a far healthier, more supportive environment for that unfortunate minority of addicts and their families than is now possible.

  4. This just published, Transform guide to the drug debate, it's very good:

  5. Seamus - a couple of points.

    It is a question of choice for the free individual in a free society if they want to indulge in recreational narcotics or purchase sexual services between consenting adults.
    It is an historical inevitability that both drugs of any hue and sex of any variety will be available to those who wish to purchase them and rightly so.
    Consigning them to the black-market for spurious repressive moral and religious reasons has only fuelled violence, crime and degradation.

    Secondly, you are probably alluding to heroin addicts in Carlow, right?

    Well, if you read the history of prohibition, you would know that Heroin was created when Opium was made illegal:

    "Since opium was now illegal, it became important for distributors to increase the potency of what they were distributing--out went opium and in came heroin"

    Furthermore,Europe was only flooded with heroin in the 1980's when the CIA wanted to fund the Mujaheddin illegally to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan.
    This clearly wouldn't have happened if opium was illegal.

    If these addicts were given access to purer, cleaner opium instead of adulterated heroin and were given cleaner needles and not criminalised, then they might have a better shot at rehabilitation than they currently do.

    Cannabis *is* a softer drug and research in peer reviewed sources such as The Lancet as said that it is harmless.
    However, as it is still in the hands of criminals, the strands that are grown now are super potent and can be damaging. This is an important distinction to be mindful of.

    It is for POLITCAL reasons that the British government relcassified it back to Class B for the same reasons that the British government refuses to downgrade Ecstasy despite solid research suggesting that they should:

    Some good books to read on how costly, ineffective,hypocritical damaging and pointless the war on drugs is are:

    Global History of Narcotics


  6. In response to Seamus' comment, whilst the government reclassified cannabis to class B, you may want to take into account that they completely ignored their board of advisers who said there was no proof whatsoever for a need to reclassify. Try find actual evidence that it is cannabis the cause of these problems because I smoke regularly and it's similar with many of my friends - we're all university students too.

    At the end of the day criminals will be supplying harder drugs and I know where I can easily obtain these, however, I would never touch anything other than green. Like many can go to the pub after a long day, I like to go home, spark up a spliff and relax. I know at least one of the people I regularly purchase off likes cocaine, I hate giving him money because it is ridiculous paying for a plant and knowing it enables him to live a job free life whilst not having to worry about money. Yet it is because of the government's policies.

    I really urge people to watch a documentary called "The Union: The Business Behind Getting High", it can be found easily enough on Google video. I am so sick and tired of people's misconception of marijuana and getting treated like a criminal when you can go down to a public house or local shop and purchase drugs that much research would consider MORE harmful than cannabis (alcohol and tobacco).

    I am not for heroin, crack or cocaine but think decriminalisation is the only way forward for that, unless you want teenagers in poor areas moving to it for profit and ending up behind bars ruining any future career. Diseases spread by needles for a start can be prevented and if you look at other countries that have enforced a much more liberal policy - usage has actually decreased! Watch a US television series called The Wire, preferably the fourth season. As the success of drug policies have shown, people will always carry onto use it and until the government takes some real logical action the whole of the innocent British will have to suffer as a result.
    Just because these things would be legal/decriminalised, it doesn't mean more will do it whatsoever. I could get any drug I want and as I said I wouldn't because I know of the issues, again like many of my friends.

    In terms of the actual correlation of cannabis and schizophrenia also, I've read statistics showing no major increase since 1930s stats. And for one, how is it not alcohol causing it? Just because alcohol is legal means it's ok? Even though all of the discussion of possible need for a minimum price recently because of all the health problems from it?

    Statistics for deaths shows hundreds of thousands of deaths through tobacco, tens of thousands through alcohol, zero through cannabis. So how does the government's policies make sense?

    Plus, with the recession and MPs unlimited allowances - think of the tax value!! As well as the decrease in police expenditure through 'fighting' drugs and all these gangs that cause many of the issues - they'd have nothing to profit off, hence how would they survive? If kids want to make money then, get a job.

    This country's attitudes make me hate it and really consider moving to a country like Canada where the public seems to have a say, where they seem to think rather than use the same old failed policies again and again and again wasting taxpayer's money and police time.

    The key problem is the old fashioned thought that is stuck with many adults, look at history for a start to see how more liberal attitudes have adopted and increased over time - the ones that haven't lost out. As Bob Dylan said 'Times are a'changin".

    Thanks for writing this article Gerard, it's really refreshing to hear an adult using their position to actually say something truthful. It seems there is no way whatsoever into the media for us actual users. Not long ago I remember reading the Home Office announcing you can get a line of cocaine for as cheap as £1 - a story that outraged me so much I wrote a long e-mail to the BBC but surprise, surprise no response. My main point about that was - try and get that deal on the streets, you won't get anything near that.

    Just because it comes from the government doesn't mean it's true, people will say this when it suits them unfortunately and because cocaine is instantly classed as 'evil' (again I am not for it whatsoever remember) they just blindly accept it.

    Any questions you would have I would be very happy to answer Gerard because I feel much of the media is really misinformed about the drug situation on the streets and I thought we lived in a liberal, unbiased democracy.

  7. More evidence that I read in yesterday's Observer reinforcing Ger's argument that it is logicaland morally correct to end the futile war on drugs.

    Curb Aids and HIV by decriminalising drugs, say experts

  8. If you visit the accident and emergency units of hospitals in the early hours of the morning or if you visit the courts you can get a clear picture of what happens as a result of people being under the influence of drugs. The effects of Alcohol (a legal drug) alone in terms of violence, road deaths, suicide, poverty etc are clearly evident to anyone who wants to see them. Why add to the devastation with a further cocktail of legal drugs. Basically people use drugs as a crutch to escape the boredom and misery in their lives and as a means to feel good about themselves. Drugs are used by people with low self-esteem. Many become addicted as find that what initially seemed to be freedom of choice becomes a nightmare that they are unable to get free from. Lets treat the low self-esteem rather than introduce legislation to allow governments to become parasites, generating revenue by making people miserable. ... Seamus.

  9. Further to my last comment ..

    Guys, could you have a read of the Health Research Board publications and notr the thousands of people showing up for treatement for drugs related issues.

    If cannabis is a *soft* drug why is it by far the main drug that people are seeking treatment for. Why is it the main reason for the increase in psychiatric ilnesses among young people.



  11. Third attempt at the reference


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