Thursday, July 05, 2007

Finding common ground in the drugs debate

Extract 5 from Transform's upcoming publication: After the War on Drugs - Tools for the Debate...

Finding Common Ground - bringing the two sides in the drugs debate together

The fault lines in the drug debate (outlined here and here) have, in Transform’s experience, held back the drug policy debate for many years. Too often, particularly in the media, complex issues are reduced to a knockabout between the hard-line prohibitionist ‘drug warriors’ on one side and the ‘liberal’ reformers or ‘legalisers’ on the other.

Participants on both sides of the fault line have often been guilty of misunderstanding and misrepresenting each others’ positions, rarely showing any willingness to listen or give ground. The result is a repetitive debate that invariably creates more heat than light and never progresses beyond conflict or stalemate. This polarization (often driven by the media’s desire to present a clash between strongly contrasting views) is a barrier to reform, and must be overcome before real change can take place. Progress requires the two apparently irreconcilable sides of this debate to find some common ground and adopt a new language that will enable meaningful dialogue. This chapter aims to show how to find common ground in the debate about the aims and principles of an effective drugs policy (coming to the blog later this week...).

In reality the policy debate is nowhere near as black and white as the media debate portrays it to be. It is not a battle between ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ drug campaigners, left and right, liberals and conservatives, or any other stark binary choice. It needs to become a rational, intelligent and sophisticated debate over the range of policy alternatives for addressing the issues of drugs in society.

It is important, therefore, should you be engaging in this debate in the media or any public forum, not to let yourself be pushed in the direction of a polarised emotive debate merely for sake of audience entertainment. Whilst there does exist a broad spectrum of views (from extreme authoritarian prohibition to extreme freemarket legalisation) almost everybody, including Transform, lies somewhere between the two, usually nearer the middle - and each other – than at either extreme.

Transform advocates the regulated central point on this graphic model – on the basis that this is the one that causes the least harm. This guide is about making the case for that position It is important to note that the different sides of this debate do not equate easily to broader political or ideological fault lines. The status quo / reform fault line is not simply the authoritarian / libertarian divide, nor the right-wing / left-wing divide, nor the socially conservative / socially liberal divide. This is a simplistic analysis, shaped largely by the media’s need for dialectical drama. Drug policy reform is supported by prominent thinkers and intellectuals from across the political spectrum, from Noam Chomsky to Milton Friedman, from members of all major parties in the UK and in the US, and from countries with a wide range of social, economic, political and cultural landscapes (again, see the Transform archive of supporters of reform). Some advocates of reform envisage replacing prohibition with a libertarian regime, others with 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 drug markets is actually the rational and moderate position between the ideological poles of absolute prohibition and free market libertarianism.

The suggestion that the drug law reform movement intends to ‘liberalise’ or ‘relax’ the drug laws is a common misconception that must be challenged. Advocates of law reform want more control and regulation of drug markets, not less. We are specifically calling for more and better regulation, and are specifically critical of the deregulation and lack of control that prohibition creates.

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4

online July 2007...


Anonymous said...

Debate raging here

Steve Rolles said...

yeah i saw that - some good points which i would like to respond to - unfortunately you have to pay for a subscription...anyone have a sign in i can use?