Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fault lines in the debate between prohibitionist and reform positions

The second extract from Tranform's upcoming publication: After the war on drugs, Tools for the debate, examines the different in the mindsets in the debate...
(part one here)

Summary table of key fault lines in the debate between prohibitionist and reform positions*

Those who support the prohibition of drugs tend to share a set of underlying assumptions about why these drugs are prohibited, and why it is important that they should remain so. Those who advocate reform of drug policy tend to do so on the basis of a different set of assumptions. The table below sets out the assumptions that typically lie behind these two polarised positions.

Status Quo position**Reform position
Illegal drug use must be eradicated

People have always used drugs,and always will
Any use of illegal drugs is problematic

Most illegal drug use is non-problematic. Many of the health harms associated with illegal drug use are actually because they are illegal.

Problematic drug use is caused by using drugs

Problematic drug use is primarily a symptom of underlying personal or social problems. Drugs can exacerbate underlying problems.

Drugs make people lose control and behave dangerously

People often take drugs partly to lose control (but it can get out of control).

Legalisation and regulation is a step into the unknown

We have centuries of experience in legally regulating thousands of different drugs

Drug law reform is being forced through by the ‘liberal elite’

Drug law reform is supported by individuals from across the social and political spectrum

Prohibition protects the health of
Prohibition creates new public health problems and maximises harms associated with illegal drug use

Prohibition sends an important message about avoiding drugs and their dangers

The criminal justice system should not be used to send public health messages.

Prohibition reduces the prevalence of use, and limits experimentation

Prevalence of use has risen dramatically under prohibition. Enforcement activity is, at best, a marginal influence on levels of use which rise and fall largely independent of policy and law

Harm reduction encourages drug use

Harm reduction saves lives. Trying to discourage drug use by maximising harm is unethical and ineffective

Reduced prevalence is the most important indicator of policy success

Reduced harm is the most important indicator of policy success

Increased availability leads to increased drug use and hence to increased problematic use

Increased availability may increase use, but well regulated availability will certainly reduce harm

Prohibition creates a barrier against temptation and actual chaos

Prohibition leads many into temptation and is creating criminal chaos.

Calling for legalisation and regulation brings the law into disrepute

Counterproductive enforcement brings the law into disrepute

Prohibition is based on a strong moral position that drugs are unacceptable

The policy that is most effective at reducing harm and maximising well being is the moral position

A strong ideological stand is more important than effectiveness

Measurable effectiveness is more important than ideology

Human rights issues of users can be ignored

Human rights issues of users and the wider community are paramount

Drugs are dangerous and should be prohibited

Drugs are dangerous and should be appropriately controlled and regulated

Prohibition controls drug use and drug markets

Prohibition abdicates control of illegal drug production and supply to the criminal networks and unregulated dealers

Ending prohibition would automatically hand control of the trade to multinational corporations (who would aggressively market drugs)

Ending prohibition allows for various models of control and regulation and takes the market away from criminals (who already aggressively market drugs)

The health, social and financial costs of prohibition are a price worth paying

Prohibition is hugely costly and counterproductive on most indicators

Underlying causes of problematic use can be addressed within a prohibitionist framework

Prohibition causes and exacerbates many problems associated with illegal drug use, and is an obstacle to addressing underlying causes

We must not ’give up’ the fight against illegal drugs

Drug policies should be adapted in response to evidence of effectiveness

Prohibition is ‘tough on drugs’

Prohibition creates a ‘gangster’s charter’

Producer countries are willfully ignoring global prohibition

Producer countries are unintentionally pushed into illegal production by the economics of illegal drug markets under global prohibition

* based on an original concept by Danny Kushlick
* * Inevitably these are generalisations, and not necessarily the precise policy positions of any individual

online July 2007...


Pete Guither said...

Outstanding. Really helps to demonstrate differences in a clear and easy way.

skye said...

fantastic article. blatently lays down the opposing views and easily disearns why prohibition is a bad idea. clear cut and iformative. Prohibition didn't work the first time, for that matter.