Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Support for reform: The Unusual Suspects

Drug law reform is often pigeonholed as the preserve of Guardian reading liberal-lefty types. The reality, as a recent blog post on the Canadian shotgun blog (part of the Western Standard) highlights, is that there are many more unusual suspects - of conservative political leaning - who also have strongly held and often vocal views in support of drug policy and law reform. The shotgun blog provides a interesting list of some of these, including individuals such prominent conservative commentator William F Buckley, conservative newspaper the Ottawa Citizen, and conservative think tank the Cato institute.

The list also includes a quote from the late Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman.

‘There is, in my opinion, no government policy that is as immoral as drug prohibition...’
(Friedman and Freedom, March 15, 2002). Whilst he arguably came more from a libertarian than conservative perspective his stance, about which he wrote many times still surprises many. (Friedman’s views on drug prohibition are considered in this piece by Johann Hari in the Independent from 2006 posted on the blog)

America’s Cato Institute, a public policy think tank, is yet another supporter of reform.

‘In spite of the greatest anti-drug enforcement effort in U.S. history, the drug problem is worse than ever. What should be done now? ... The status quo is intolerable--everyone agrees on that. But there are only two alternatives: further escalate the war on drugs, or legalize them. Once the public grasps the consequences of escalation, legalization may win out by default.’ (Thinking about drug legalization, May 25, 1989)

Back in the UK we also have number of supporters from possibly surprising corners of the political and intellectual map.

The Economist, a UK publication with a circulation of 1.2 million (over half being in the US) is respected and widely read by those with a serious interest in economics around the world from all political persuasions, despite its generally right leaning economic perspective. It has been and outspoken advocate of legally regulated drug markets for decades.

“The role of government should be to prevent the most chaotic drug users from harming others – by robbing or by driving while drugged, for instance – and to regulate drug markets to ensure minimum quality and safe distribution. The first task is hard if law enforcers are preoccupied with stopping all drug use; the second, impossible as long as drugs are illegal."
The Economist, editorial. From Issue entitled: ‘Time to legalise all drugs’ – 28/06/01

In stark contrast to the populist drug war rhetoric regularly deployed by current shadow Home Secretary David Davis, the now Conservative party leader David Cameron was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2002 during its detailed inquiry into UK drug policy and supported the recommendation that:
“the Government initiates a discussion within the [UN] Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways—including the possibility of legalisation and regulation—to tackle the global drugs dilemma” (paragraph 267).
He also, notably given the current political shenanigans, supported the calls for reclassification of cannabis from B to C, and ecstasy from A to B.

Conservative front bencher and former cabinet member Alan Duncan MP, is also a proponent of reform:
"The only completely effective way to ameliorate the drug problem, and especially the crime which results from it, is to bring the industry into the open by legalising the distribution and consumption of all dangerous drugs, or at the very least by decriminalising their consumption."
‘The Legalisation of Drugs' in ‘Saturn's Children'. Read the complete chapter here.

Of course support for a more rational approach to drug strategy can be seen across the political spectrum. There are in fact supporters of pragmatic reform from all parties.

Clearly the reform argument does not fit easily into either the right/left political divide nor an libertarian/authoritarian one. Some of the false assumptions about the political fault lines in this debate are explored in Transform’s recent publication ‘After the War on Drugs Tools for Debate’:

‘Some advocates of reform envisage replacing prohibition with a libertarian regime, others with more draconian forms of social control. The reform argument itself is non-partisan – it is simply a pragmatic position led by evidence of effectiveness and public health/harm reduction principles. Calling for legally regulated drugs markets is actually the rational and moderate position between the ideological poles of absolute prohibition and free market libertarianism.’


Anonymous said...

Just another point on the language used in the drugs debate.

Is it just me, or does the economist's headline;
"Bring drugs within the law",
seem a lot more promising than the old fashioned "legalise drugs" line?

Steve R said...

agree. ive written about problems with the term legalise in our latest book - tools for the debate