Thursday, October 18, 2007

BBC's 'Moral Maze' tackles drug law reform

Following on from Chief Inspector Brunstrom's report last week the BBC's long running series the Moral Maze tackeled the moral issues around illicit drug use and specifically the laws that criminalise it.

You can listen to the broadcast (45 minutes) here (requires media player)

From the Moral Maze Webpage:

The Chief Constable of North Wales, Richard Brunstrom is notable for his enthusiastic prosecution of speeding motorists. This week he's turned his attention to the problem of drugs. You might expect a police officer with his credentials to be calling for tougher action; after all it's estimated in Britain that drugs and the crime related to their use, cost £16 billion pounds a year. But no. Mr Brunstrom wants drugs to be legalised. The war on drugs has been lost, he says and it's time to come up with a more radical solution.

When you look at the figures he might have a point. Despite all the money spent on prohibition, the worldwide narcotics business is worth $177 billion dollars a year. Only the oil industry beats it. But, illegal narcotics kill hundreds of people in Britain every year and inflict a life of misery on many thousands more.

In the face of all the human suffering that drug-taking causes, is it immoral to just admit defeat? Melanie Phillips, Ian Hargreaves, Claire Fox and Professor Jules Pretty cross-examine the experts.

Developing and implementing more effective policy responses to problematic drug use doesn't seem like defeat to me, more like progress. It only appears so when it is couched in the context of misplaced 'drug war' rhetoric, but there you go.

The program is a good one as far as media drug debates go because of the high caliber of the participants and the fact that enough time is given to explore some of the issues in more depth than much sound-bite media allows.

In response to Brunstrom's arguments Mel P does her familiar righteous indignation, bolstered with her own curious take on facts. She claims, wrongly, that countries with harsher enforcement have lower drug problems (there is no clear correlation) , and also somehing about how three quarters of children mudered in the US being 'because of cocaine'. Brunstrom can only respond to Phillips unique personal understanding of factual reality by noting she is wrong and moving on.

Phillips gets so worked up by Jamie Whyte (arguing a libertarian position) that Micheal Burke has to intervene. Whyte dares to suggest that some drug use may actually be beneficial (on a cost benefit analysis to the user) thereby challenging one of the central pillars of the moral objection to legalisation; that all drug use is intrinsically unacceptable. Whyte also suggests that there is a moral equivalence between consensual adult risk taking behaviours that involve illegal drugs and consensual risk taking adult behaviours that involve dangerous sports, like mountaineering, or indeed legal drugs, like alcohol. It's a controversial position to put forward, and whilst it riles Phillips and others, it's interesting that none of the panelists make a worthy counter-argument.

Old Transform sparring partner, and occasional blog poster David Raynes also makes an appearance but doesn't contribute a great deal as his position is essentially the same as that of Melanie Phillips. He clearly had one point he wanted to make about the writings John Stewart Mill and fails to engage usefully when challenged beyond that.

A bereaved mother also appears but whilst relating her own personal tragedy (her son died of an overdose) she is unable to grasp the point made to her by Claire Fox (who supports the Brunstrom view) that moral positions and cultural norms that are firmly opposed to drug use could be developed outside of a prohibitionist framework.

All interesting stuff and a welcome contribution to the debate. If you want to weigh in with your own views there is a BBC online discussion forum here. Currently the views expressed are almost all pro-reform. Come on prohibitionists - where are you? Its hard to have a debate without someone to argue against.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Whyte also suggests that there is a moral equivalence between consensual adult risk taking behaviours that involve illegal drugs and consensual risk taking adult behaviours that involve dangerous sports, like mountaineering

This point is an interesting analogy when one considers a possible model for the regulation of psychedelic drug usage.

Other "adventurous activities" such as scuba diving, horse riding and parachuting have been made much safer and more socialy acceptable by the establishment of "governing bodies" such as the British Parachute Association, the British Horse Society and the British sub-aqua club.

Perhaps one day we will see the day when people have the option to access advice and guidance in a controlled environment to achieve thier Novice Tripper Qualification.