Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Independent becomes the latest national UK newspaper to back legalisation

Does the media follow public opinion or lead it? Probably a bit of both, but it is clear that the climate around drugs policy is changing in the public political and media spheres, and the momentum for change is building.

As we described yesterday, quite aside from the unabating stream of supportive op-eds, The Observer, The Guardian and Sunday People, (and the Daily Record in Scotland) have now all recently taken editorial lines in their leaders critical of the drug war and supportive of  moves towards the legal regulation of drugs.

Today it is the turn of The Independent in a leading article "Mexico's stark reminder of the cost of prohibition" which details the now familiar horrors of the War on Drugs before saying:

"The President was obliged to send in the troops because the poorly paid Mexican police had been infiltrated by the cartels; even so, reports suggest that in some areas the latter's power is, if anything, growing. By this reading, the violence suggests merely that turf wars are becoming more vicious, for a larger slice of an ever more lucrative market. In short, Mexico and the US are losing the drug war...

Which brings us back to the root of the problem. If Americans lost their taste for drugs, the Mexican cartels would be out of business. That, however, will not happen; indeed the forbidden nature of drugs may make them more attractive. So why not legalise them? The argument has been powerfully made before and will be so again, but probably to no avail. Sadly the barbaric drug wars will continue."

This is backed up by a front page and double page spread, with an excellent opinion piece by Johan Hari; "Violence breeds violence.The only thing drug gangs fear is legalisation" which concludes:
"Yet Mexico is being pressured hard by countries like the US and Britain – both led by former drug users – to keep on fighting this war, while any mention of legalisation brings whispered threats of slashed aid and diplomatic shunning.

Look carefully at that mound of butchered corpses found yesterday. They are the inevitable and ineluctable product of drug prohibition. This will keep happening for as long as we pursue this policy. If you believe the way to deal with the human appetite for intoxication is to criminalise and militarise, then blood is on your hands.

How many people have to die before we finally make a sober assessment of reality, and take the drugs trade back from murderous criminal gangs?"

The Independent editorial's pessimistic appraisal that "the barbaric drug wars" will inevitably continue is misplaced. They will not; no policy as self evidently counterproductive as the drug war can stand the sort of scrutiny it is now receiving for ever. Like the targets of many of the large scale social justice movements of the last century, what once seemed immovable can unravel far more quickly than anyone expects once a tipping point is reached.

Four national UK newspapers have adopted unambiguous pro-reform editorial positions within three weeks. We could be nearer the tipping point than you imagine.


LA2UK said...

I cannot agree more with this report, and I must give my thanks to the Independent, and all the national newspapers that are now seeing how they can support this movement. Momentum is growing. The tipping point is on the horizon, but I'm not yet clear how quickly we're moving toward that horizon.


daniel carter said...

I had that feeling (of a tipping point) about a week ago, when the BBC made this live debate about legally regulating the possession and sale of drugs.
It seems like a lot of pressure has been released, and public opinion is obviously being changed by all the media -even the Daily Mail seems to take part on it. It feels like it is a kind of game but probably it is in great part due to the proportion of the public that has understood the anti-prohibitionists argument in spite of state manipulation.

Nevertheless, surely some people is doing anything possible to delay drug policy reform.

Derek Williams said...

Hmmm, I wonder if the Independent will distance itself from it's sister Sunday edition's cringe inducing "apology" over cannabis a few years ago?

Still, all good news. It probably has more to do with the impending "new" (ie worse) government drugs policy which seems designed to take us even further down the prohibition black hole. It's a pity the press isn't warning us about this development.

Blanca said...

In theory, through legalization the Mexican government would tax and regulate the drug trade and use the money generated from this to educate the public about the risks of drug-taking and to treat addicts.

In theory, legalization would push prices down as drugs would become easily available and because reputable pharmaceutical companies would get involved in the development and distribution of safe and cheap alternatives.

Ha ha ha. What I would like to see is the implementation process of this theory.

Let’s say that Mexico decides to legalize drugs and by definition the drug trade. Then what? Mr. Drug Baron, who is already paying hefty bribes on both sides of the border to run his business and has a complicated network that goes all the way from producing to distributing and pushing, agrees with this ‘wonderful’ idea and goes legal?

So he registers “Fumate Un Churro S.A.” in Mexico and “Fly High Inc.” in the U.S.A. Enrolls his gangsters in the IMSS (social security), exchanges their guns for business cards, starts raising invoices, paying taxes and allowing the government to regulate the selling price of this produce? All these to see his revenues and profits plummet because the demand is not there anymore as Pfizer and Novartis are producing safer and cheaper alternatives to good’ol coke and marihuana?

Ha ha ha. Wake up and smell the coffee! Legalizing drugs without getting rid of the drug cartels first will only give users a cheaper ride to lah-lah-land and will increase the violence exponentially.

daksya said...

Blanca, the cartels are strong because users want drugs, are willing to pay a good price, and cartels are the only ones who can supply them. So, there's a symbiotic relationship between dealers and users. It's a 3rd party (govt) which tries to interfere.

Most of the drug violence is directed by the cartels at each other, all hoping for a larger piece of the pie. After legalization & availability of cheaper drugs from LegalDrugsInc, the users no longer need the (illegal) dealers. Now, the cartels are operating in a completely hostile environment, where even their target audience aren't allies anymore. So who will they perpetrate violence against?

I certainly expect a hostile reaction as legalization appears closer, but once it happens, the smart ones (with established fortunes), will attempt other crimes or retire to some island. The drugs trade isn't attractive for the sake of itself, but for the profit it promises.

strayan said...

Blanca - what happened to all the mobsters who controlled the liquor trade in the 1920's?

Think about it. The cartels are rich. Their earnings have been untaxed for the last 40 years.

When drugs are legalised, they can finally start investing their money in legitimate business. I've never come across an investor who regards a diverse portfolio as a bad idea.

Anonymous said...

You can't trust the mainstream media further than you could throw a bus. The Indi organ also came out solidly 'against' legalisation a few years ago as Derek Williams points out. Go figure?! This is another Government 'testing of the waters' leading to some announcement for a discussion paper and a commission to enquire whether a think tank should formed to appoint a committee to consider the need for a debate with focus groups and interested parties, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.

Don't get me wrong; one appreciates all the arguments for legalisation but when did common sense ever have anything to do with politics or the media. Immediately they do give us our rights back (rights they should never have taken away and lives ruined in the interim) the first question you should be asking is "why?" and the second, "why now?". Will they also remove from the criminal record all those previously convicted for a victimless crime? The damage is done and in a sane world you'd stop doing any more.

People will continue to vote with their feet irrespective.

Rob said...

I wouldn't really get your hopes up. Most people still think drug use didn't exist before the 60s. And pro-legalisation advocates never mention the history of drugs and the systems in place prior to the 1st world war.
If they did they could point to the wealth of evidence that drug use (particularly of opium) was rarely, if ever, seen as problematic as alcohol, despite it being sold here for over 300 years.

Rob said...

I really enjoyed Danny's report on the portugal issue on 5 live. Was kind of shocked how open the presenter was on the issue. However, when Danny says there's no evidence for legalisation, what does he mean? I'm probably quite naive on this subject as i've only recently started reading about it, but from what I've read there's a wealth of information out there that documents the systems in place prior to the 1st World War. I'm sure you guys are aware of this.
Virginia Berridge in her book "Opium and the people" gives a forensic analysis and shows that drug use was actually at its lowest level prior to prohibition. She even alludes to the curious phenomena of the drugs debate in Britain where the pre-prohibition controls are barely even mentioned. It's strange, (because from what i've read) there's a wealth of evidence to back your claims up. Moreover it gives the impression to people that drugs are a relatively new phenomenon that never occured in the golden age before the 60s - thus it's hardly surprising that many people would be reluctant to end prohibition because they probably just assume it has always been so.

Steve Rolles said...


- thanks, maybe its something we dont give enough attention. In various documents we have looked at the evidence from various forms of legal drug regulation around the world, albeit mostly from the post war era - alot of it is explored in Blueprint for exmaple. You might also be intersted in this essay by Mike Jay on the tdpf main site:

Legalisation: The First Hundred Years. What happened when drugs were legal and why they were prohibited

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be so sure. I remember the public mood was like this before in the last 1990's and early 2000's. But what happened? The right-wing media and the lying bastards in the government increased the penalties.

Here's what I think is going on -

The senior politicians and those running the media are actually all just a part of the same rotten club. They know the harm prohibition causes and they don't care. Remember David Cameron was supposed to be this great drugs law reformer? He went and goaded Gordon Brown into making cannabis class B and Gordon stupidly did it.

Anyway, these people will legalise cannabis when their masters in America tell them to.

But right now they don't know what way it's going to go. They're not sure what they will be told to do. It's possible that California vote to legalise and if they do it's also possible Obama tells the federal government to let them get on with it. If that happens Canada might also legalise, last time they wanted to the Bush administration told them they couldn't. Other states like Nevada and Colardo might also legalise by vote too if it's a success in California. If this were to happen we'd be doing it too, simply because we'd be getting told to by the Americans.

They don't know which way the wind is going to go so they go from being rabid prohibitionists to sitting on the fence and asking for a 'debate'. They don't actually give a shit which way the wind blows mind you and who actually wins the debate, they just want to be seen as sitting on the right side of the fence when it's over. They can only do this by moving to the centre.

Politicans are just scum.

Anonymous said...

Yep, this happens every time events on the world stage look like there is a possible change in the status quo coming. The media and the politicos move from the rabid extremes to the centre. And when they know who's going to end up on top (so far it's always been the prohibitionist forces) they move back to supporting that position.

Are you actually dumb enough to think that 'call me Dave' Cameron actually cares if drugs are legal or not? He voted the way he did on the committee because he thought that was the way the wind was blowing then. He pushed Labour to make it class B because he thought that was where the political wind was blowing last year.

They're all the same.
They believe in nothing.
They will stand for anything.
Because at the end of the day, politics, journalism and the rest of it is all about them and their careers. They are not interested in anything else.

Steve Rolles said...

whilst I share you cynicism up to a point its hard to deny that despite the repeated setbacks the reform arguments have never garnered such mainstream support. Its a war of attrition I suppose, but the environment is becomeing ever more hostile to failed expensive punitive enforcement responses, and more conducive to a sensible debate arou nd alternatives - that are increasingly well understood. Even the language of the debate is changing, with decrim and regulation no longer seen as fringe or extereme ideas.

It may be two steps forward one step back - but there is also a ratchet effect as each editorial or public figure says something sensible and challenges the straw man arguments of the naysayers.

As I said - we are apporaching the tipping point, even if its hard to predcit exactly when it will be. There is space for some optomism that change is now a real prospect.

DavidW said...

Some great comments here, I don't think comments 11 and 12 are cynical though, rather just a blunt statement of the reality of the situation.

What do you think David Cameron knew when he was telling Gordon Brown to stop dithering and increase the penalties for cannabis possession that he didn't know when he voted to recommend downgrading it?

Remember all the 'reefer madness' in the press a couple of years ago? Do you think the press is run by a different cabal today? Do you think these people know something now that they didn't know a couple of years ago? Don't be daft. They just want to sell newspapers, they don't give a shit about what poison they have to put out to do it.

The press are clearly just positioning themselves so they can jump in either direction now. If the American states start legalising so will the European countries and eventually politicians and the press will have to support it here too. If the American voters reject it there will be no change.

Politicians are even more immoral than the journalists. Don't make the mistake of thinking that politicians are just ordinary people who, like most of us, just say what we think. They don't, they are mostly just scum bags out to milk the tax payer and to hang on to their seat at any cost.

They claim they aren't paid enough but that doesn't mean they won't do anything to stay on the gravy train they bitch about.