Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Manufacturing the Drug Threat

N.B. This blog comes with a policy nerd warning!

Those who have followed the drugs debate will be only too aware of the way that politicians play on the fears of their citizens in order to maintain the war on drugs, despite the fact that it is their citizens who bear the brunt of its counterproductive effect. The International Relations theory of securitisation describes, better than any framework I’ve seen, how the threat-based process works. Moving to a non-securitised approach is essential to ending the war on drugs.

Securitisation is described as “the move that takes politics beyond the established rules of the game and frames the issue either as a special kind of politics or as above politics” (Buzan et al. 1998: 23). By declaring something a security issue, the speaker entitles himself to enforce and legitimise unusual and extreme measures to fight this threat. Referenced from here.

Rita Taureck of the University of Birmingham describes securitisation:

“The main argument of securitisation theory is that security is a speech act, that alone by uttering ‘security’ something is being done. “It is by labelling something a security issue that it becomes one.”(Wæver 2004a,) A securitising actor, by stating that a particular referent object is threatened in its existence, claims a right to extraordinary measures to ensure the referent objects survival. The issue is then moved out of the sphere of normal politics into the realm of emergency politics, where it can be dealt with swiftly and without the normal (democratic) rules and regulations of policy making. For the content of security this means that it has no longer any given meaning but that it can be anything a securitising actor says it is. Security - understood in this way - is a social construction, with the meaning of security dependent on what is done with it.”

This table illustrates how the process of securitisation applies to drug policy:

In March 2009 Senator John McCain described President Calderon's struggle with the cartels as "an existential threat to the very fabric of the government of Mexico," a statement Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she agreed with.

In April that year Hillary Clinton told a House committee that the government in Islamabad is ceding territory and "basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists" in signing a deal that limits the government's involvement in the war-torn Swat Valley. Adding: "I think we cannot underscore [enough] the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances," said Clinton, adding that the nuclear-armed nation could also pose a "mortal threat" to the United States and other countries.

The following is from former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and appeared in the International Information Program electronic journal "U.S. National Security Strategy: A New Era", issued in December 2002.

“Perhaps most fundamentally, 9/11 crystallized our vulnerability. It also threw into sharp relief the nature of the threats we face today. Today's threats come less from massing armies than from small, shadowy bands of terrorists -- less from strong states than from weak or failed states. And after 9/11, there is no longer any doubt that today America faces an existential threat to our security -- a threat as great as any we faced during the Civil War, the so-called "Good War," or the Cold War.”

The use of the phrase ‘existential threat’ is highly revealing if you are aware that its source is the Copenhagen School, and appears in ‘Security: a new framework for analysis’ Buzan et al 1998. In a significant theoretical departure from classical security studies, Buzan, Waever and De Wilde came up with a new framework they called ‘securitisation’.

So, an existential threat is constructed as a threat to the very existence of the referent object. It is an academic version of “We’re all going to die!” It is generally understood that a speech act is made by a political leader and that the intended audience is the public. In the war on drugs the audiences who need to buy into the speech act are in fact other governments.

In this Transform briefing on securitisation, International Security and the Global War on Drugs: the Tragic Irony of Drug Securitisation, we suggest that there have in fact been two securitisations connected with global drug policy:

Securitisation 1 Fifty years ago the international community, through the UN, (and under considerable pressure from the US), agreed that addiction to and abuse of “narcotic drugs” constituted a threat to mankind. Describing it as a “serious evil for the individual” and “fraught with social and economic danger to mankind” and “Conscious of their duty to prevent and combat this evil” they agreed to put in place “effective measures against abuse of narcotic drugs” stating that this would “require co-ordinated and universal action”. These words from the 1961 UN Single Convention formed the basis of what has come to be known as the War on Drugs.

The “universal action” was to treat coca, cannabis and opium based drugs, destined for non-medical use, as a threat to the very existence of civilization as we know it. It is this threat-based approach, (in contrast to our predominantly trade and public health-based approach to alcohol and tobacco) that gave rise first to a global regime of prohibition and, somewhat predictably, to a globally profitable market exploited by organized criminals.

Securitisation 2 Over a period of decades these criminal cartels became a significant economic global force and, in combination with non-state actors, are perceived as a threat to nation states, and indeed entire regions of the globe. The 1988 UN Convention on drugs reads:“Recognizing the links between illicit traffic and other related organized criminal activities which undermine the legitimate economies and threaten the stability, security and sovereignty of States”. The recognition of this secondary threat from organized crime, the global community, again under pressure from the US (and in denial that it was the primary prohibition that had created the opportunity for organized criminals in the first place), embarked upon an increasingly militarized drug war to neutralize the ‘threat’ to nation states.

The collective amnesia, that it was the initial prohibition that created the opportunity for organised criminals, means that many politicians deliberately or unconsciously conflate the two securitisations and contend that ‘drugs’ or ‘addiction’ are the threats, when in fact the far greater threats arise from the ‘unintended consequences’ of the ‘extraordinary measure’ – prohibition.

It could be worse however. We might have had a thrid securitisation. In March 2010, during an expanded session of the Russia-NATO Council in Brussels, Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), presented Moscow’s seven-point plan on fighting drug production in Afghanistan and suggested creating a joint group with NATO to tackle Afghan poppy production.

Among other ideas, the plan included “an upgrade of the status of the Afghan drug production problem in the UN Security Council to the level of a threat to world peace and security."

The inherent nature of a securitisation is anti-democratic, in so far as it is “the move that takes politics beyond the established rules of the game and frames the issue either as a special kind of politics or as above politics”. That is why evidence is anathema and why the political rhetoric around drug policy is so irrational and populist in tone. Once an issue has been securitised, a system of propaganda must be maintained to hold it within that framework.

Which leads me to one last point. When a securitisation has been in place for as long as the one relating to the non-medical use of drugs, progressive reform in itself becomes a ‘threat’ – a ‘threat’ to a long standing mission and some very well resourced agencies, charged with fighting the drug war. Now we see that what is actually under threat is an inflexible world order. A world order, whose long standing international relations, and indeed, national domestic social policies are predicated on fighting a futile war on drugs, are fundamentally threatened by a reform process that undoes its foundations.

Since the recent economic meltdown, it has been suggested that the global financial institutions are “too big to fail”. In many ways this is the case with macro-securitisations, like those of terror and drugs. There is so much political and economic capital tied up in the securitisation of drugs, it is difficult for those in power to envisage its demise. Tragically, what is bringing criticism of the securitisation to the fore, are the events in Mexico, Colombia and West Africa (very few care about Afghanistan). The collateral damage of the 1961 convention is taking a very heavy toll and the threat based narrative is sounding tired and paranoid.

When the US objected to Bolivia’s recent attempt to end the ban on coca chewing, they cited their main reason as maintaining the “integrity” of the UN Conventions. It isn’t the integrity of the Conventions that they are interested in maintaining, it is the maintenance of a world order, so much of which is based upon two major securitisations.

It is time that those pursuing a threat-based approach engaged in genuine debate regarding the outcomes of the extraordinary measure of prohibition and explored whether legally regulating drugs could deliver the kind of security outcomes that meet the needs of ordinary citizens in Colombia, Afghanistan, Mexico and West Africa.


I am indebted to my colleague Emily Crick for introducing me to the concept of securitisation, its application to international drug policy, and for numerous conversations that were essential to the develpment of this analysis.

Further reading:

Robert Mackey says the only real existential threat to the US is the Russian nuclear arsenal.

Jan Freeman on whether US citizens will believe the threat propaganda.

Wikipedia entry on securitisation.

Barry Buzan video on security.

Manufacturing Consent – Herman and Chomsky


Gart Valenc said...

Latin American countries have been enduring USA cynical policies to "secure its backyard" for centuries. So the whole 'securitisation' issue smells of old wine in new bottles.

But praised be the "formalists" for their attempt to recycle old practices and insufflate them with new air.

What is crystal clear is that developing countries have paid too high a price to "secure" the backs of our countries, the drug consuming countries. In the meantime, we remain oblivious to the calamitous effects our War on Drugs has had and continues to have on those countries.

Gart Valenc

Frank said...

A wonderfully cutting and concise read there Danny. Keep it coming F

Peter Reynolds said...

A useful analysis and explanation of the intransigence of national drug policies but no insight as to how reformers can subvert this "securitisation" and get the issue out for open and constructive debate.

Peter Devoy said...

A very interesting and informative read, thank you!

Anonymous said...

A very interesting and educational post, thank you!

Danny K said...

Gart, if you read the full paper and soem of the references, I think you'll find that there is more to securitisation than old wine. Or not...

Peter, if you read the paper linked in the blog, you'll see a suggestion.
Part of ending the drug war is, in any case, about understanding the forces that lie behind and that is where I have found the securitisation theory full of insights.

Jake said...

We all know it, but there are many advantages for those in power to maintain the status quo - such as the continual militarisation of the southern America's to prop up pro-american interests (http://www.fpif.org/articles/two_three_many_colombias).

We know governments don't want an impact assessment of any kind, just as the cardinals didn't want to look through Galileo's telescope (to quote a commenter at DWR)... so would it be sensible to think that our first port of call has to attack why they don't want to even conduct an IA? Don't even make it about the drugs, expose the hypocrisy that in a time of fiscal prudence you should prove that expensive policies that have never been properly reviewed, be reviewed.

So the question is, how do we get across to the general public the fact that the government don't even want to see how well an expensive policy is working?

daksya said...

It's just a matter of time. In order for an act of securitisation to work, the intended audience has to buy in. In the case of remote, high-level threats such as other militaries, the public has no choice but to rely upon the pronouncements of governments to judge the status of the threat. Whereas drug-taking is a individual & social phenomenon. Fifty or more years ago, before large portions of the population had personal experience of use or observation, most people just passively relied upon the erstwhile authorities. In 2011, that's increasingly not the case. Marijuana legalization enjoys an unusually high degree of support in the US (~45%) despite pot nominally being part of the securitised threat. This is made possibly simply by the widespread experience of pot use and/or observation of pot use. Reform movements can only ride the wave, as far as publicly empirical phenomena go, not create them de novo. In a decade or two, the last of the congenital anti-drug generations will have ceded their disproportionate weight in the electoral rolls, and execution of reform should readily follow, led by legalization of cannabis.

Danny K said...

Jake, we think you are absolutely right.
We have already begun various initiatives to expose the fact that drug war expenditure is not scrutinised for effectiveness, and we are launching a new campaign in the spring to raise this call to a new level.

Daksya, I couldn't agree more. The securitisation of cannabis has been relatively unsuccessful in terms of getting buy in from governments around the world.
And I think you are right about the public support for a normalised regulated regime having an impact. When elected representatives feel the pinch at the ballot box, the rhetoric and then the policy will shift. It is just a question of time, especially during the economic squeeze.
Bringing US troops back from Vietnam might be a useful analogy. An attempt was made to securitise the 'threat' of communism, but over time the costs became to high to warrant keeping the securitisation in place. And it turned out Vietnam was not a threat to the Land of the Imprisoned anyhow...

yang said...

Organized crime is an exitential threat for states and their authority in a region, the most efficient way to combat the threat would be to take a control of the the industries that OC profits from and which legitimise them as providers in the eyes of people who live in poor areas of Mexico, Columbia, Afghanistan etc.

If we were truly interested in fighting this threat we'd attack the criminal economy instead of putting dope, guns and thugs on the table for media to take pictures of every now and then.

Martin Powell said...

See more comments over at DrugWarRant


Robin Smith said...

Agreed. The fear of something demands apparent and irrational securitisation.

But when are we going to ask what is compelling the demand for drugs in the first place. The root cause of that vice?

Is the war on the war on drugs a more important question?

If the war on the war on drugs was won perfectly using our ideas, and, the force that compels the taking and demand for drugs is revealed as underneath that, what will we do then?

Will we finally start the war on that powerful force, that is compelling the people into that vice and misery?

Will we then have the courage to ask that deeper question? We are done with the effects, the drug taking, the false war on that vice.

What is at the root of drug taking?

Peter Reynolds said...

Robin, an astonishingly naive question!

The desire to alter one's consciousness is a fundamental part of human nature. Even lesser species have been shown to self-medicate and seek relief, amusement and satisfaction from psychoactive plants.

Your idea that the demand for drugs is "compelling the people into that vice and misery" is a moral judgement that has no basis in science at all. In fact it denies the reality of human nature.

You do an excellent job of revealing the prohibitionist mindset. It's irrational, unscientific, self-defeating and based on some arrogant and completely unrealistic moral disapproval.

Robin Smith said...


You need to read what I have said again. This time with a little more care.

I am not saying that at all. In fact I'm not saying anything. I am asking You what You think?

I'm asking what is that force so powerful, that it compels people to harm themselves by taking drugs. In the first place. Even before the war on drugs has started. There is a reason for this. Just are we willing and able to explore it abduction accept our findings objectively. Get it?

Nonetheless, whenever I am attacked for asking a simple question, I know I have hit the spot.

So what is it about my asking a question has offended you so much.

Rory said...

I have a couple of points that I would like to make.

‘Securitisation’ would certainly fit with a pattern of thinking that suggests ‘politics ends at the waters edge’. In other words, the normal rules of domestic politics do not apply to foreign policy and therefore a consensus is achieved on security issues as a whole.

If we are to accept that this is what is happening, the question for drug policy reform is; what are we going to do about it?

Now we could debate how effective the ‘Securitisation’ agenda is toward convincing the general public to keep funding the ‘war on drugs,’ but let us assume for a moment it does. The answer for a drug policy reform point of view would be to argue against the ‘securitisation of drugs’ on its own terms.

Allow me to explain: diplomatic, economic and military resources are finite. Even during the economic good times, we know this to be true. These resources are also designed to achieve certain objectives. By giving them tasks to achieve, to which they were not originally designed, (mission creep, if you like), we not only divert those resources from their original objective, but blunt their overall effectiveness.

To whit, asking the military to interdict drug traffic not only does this not increase the efficacy of the interdiction, but worse, means military assets are less able to perform the role that they should be performing; namely to engage hostile state and non-state actors. In fact you could go further and suggest that Western militaries have more than enough on their plate without the additional burden of fighting a war on drugs as well. (As a master graduate in Strategic Studies I know a little about this, and am very well aware of Buzan, Weaver et al).

Indeed you can argue the same is true in the domestic arena, and here I will be shorter: asking the police to fight a war on drugs diverts and weakens them from their primary role: preventing and investigating real crime such as murder, robbery, domestic violence, and rape and child abuse. For every cannabis user arrested, police time is taken away from investigating crime with real victims.

If the ‘Securitisation’ agenda truly has had the impact we suspect it has on the debate about illegal drugs, I would suggest we need to combat it on the grounds I have outlined above. This and continuing to present the evidence we have on prohibitions utter failure to reduce death, disease and addiction.

Peter Reynolds said...


It's ridiculous question which betrays a fundamental lack of understanding and, no offence intended, a lack of education. You should do some reading.

Again you reveal your true motivation when you write "...it compels people to harm themselves by taking drugs".

Do you really believe that?

Nearly all human beings take drugs of one sort or another. The vast majority don't feel "compelled" and they don't "harm themselves".

What planet are you on?

Is it full of preppy faced, Home Office robots running round in demented circles speaking in Dalek voices: "Broken! Broken! You will be broken!"

Robin Smith said...


Are you OK? I am asking a simple question. I am not claiming anything yet. My motivation is to seek the truth. I am asking YOU. I am ignorant. You are an expert. What is it about this simple question that troubles you so much? Its an interesting psychology that I have to ask a 3rd time.

So I am going to do an analysis of what you have said shortly and report back here but I want to understand where you are coming from first.

Ahem... I am asking:

We all understand the futility of the war on drugs.

"Are we willing to look deeper and understand what compels people to harmful drug addiction in the first place? And does that thing spring from natural causes. Or unjust social institutions. Or both. And how and why exactly?"

Peter.. are you willing and able to respond to this simple question?

Treat me as stupid that is fine. I am merely looking for your expert response to the question.

Peter Reynolds said...

I have answered your question twice already Robin but I see that you are re-phrasing it now.

"What compels people to harmful drug addiction in the first place?"

This makes no sense. Nothing compels people to "harmful drug addiction" except the addiction itself.

What "compels" people to drug use (for the third time now) is the natural human desire to alter one's consciousness.

Now there may be other factors involved as well. The original motivation may be pleasure, experimentation, despair or self-destruction.

You seem to be trying to divine some truth that really isn't there. The motivation for drug use is inherent in the human psyche. Whether it becomes problematic is a complex issue but the worst possible way to respond to it is with prohibition and criminal sanctions. Problematic drug use is essentially a health and social issue and that is where the solution will be found.

I don't treat you as stupid. What concerns me is the moralising and judgemental attitude that you display.

Any policy that fundamentally conflicts with human nature will fail and that is exactly what prohibition amounts to.

Danny K said...

Peter, calm down.
Robin said he's opposed to the war on drugs. And I don't think you've attempted to answer his question regarding problematic use.

Robin, Can I suggest you take a look at the work of Bruce Alexander - specifically Rat Park and his book 'Globalisation of Addiction'.

It seems to me that the roots of problematic use lie in our sick world. There is strong evidence to show that the lower a nation's wellbeing, the higher the proportion of problematic users they have.
See also the UNICEF league tables of child wellbeing and the work of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in 'The Spirit Level'.


Robin Smith said...


I will take a look at that thank you.

And I will apologise to Peter and all. My question was provocative. I am asking why, now that we know the futility of the war, we need any more evidence. Its done. Why do we need infinite evidence? Why not now put all our skill and industry into finding root cause if we think its harming us. Some are saying harm is not bad for us though so that might be tricky. Nonetheless I have found deep spiritual awareness without them. Maybe I'm lucky

You and Peter have a dilemma here though still.

Peter is saying harmful drug use springs from natural causes. Fair enough. But that needs observed facts and self evidence. That is, why has it grown so enormously out of proportion alongside the power of society to produce wealth?

And you seem to be saying that it springs from injustice. Well I agree with you and have plenty to support it that no sane person would struggle with.

Would anyone like to resolve the above dilemma?

Or hear my idea of root cause? Would anyone like to join me in forming a new innovative campaign?

I'm happy to meet groups to talk to it. 07786078836 robinsmith3@gmail.com

Jake said...


Regarding the futility of the war of drugs, there is no more real evidence required to show its harms. The harms it causes are far beyond what the actual drugs cause. Transform is calling for an Impact Assessment, to show government, in a non-biased and non-partisan (as much as it can be) just how ineffective prohibition has been compared to say, legal regulation.

Regarding drug use, it does indeed spring from "natural causes", in that Humans (and other animals) like altering their consciousness via chemcials, whether they be plant based or synthesised in a lab. You say you have found deep spiritual awareness without drugs, but have you ever had a coffee to wake yourself up? That is a form of drug use. Drugs are not just used for spiritual awareness, they can be and are used in nearly every context of human life, to enhance, enlighten, escape or self medicate your life.

The reason it has grown so out of proportion is that only certain drugs were declared 'evil' and after 40-100 years (drug dependant) of propaganda, lies and conflating drug harms with prohibition harms (i.e. confusing the violence of the illicit Cannabis market with Cannabis itself) people are scared of what they dont know, and those in power use this to capitalise on their own vested interests, whether it be appearing 'tough on crime' to get elected, continuing militarisation in foreign countries to enhance vested interests (I strongly recommend you read the other article I posted above) or to erode civil liberties that little bit further with each parliment.

Yes, drugs can be harmful, but most people don't have problems with them (long or short term). But those that do more often than not have extenuating circumstances - pain relief, escapism from the reality of poverty, domestic abuse or mental illness etc. The minority of drug users- the most vulnerable, those most likely to misuse drugs, are treated as criminals rather than patients and all of us suffer - addicts not getting medical help, only a jail cell and the rest of us a criminal record.

You seem to realise that the status-quo does not work, but I think you should realise that taking drugs is often an enjoyable and social experience with limited physical consequences of harm for the majority of the population. That is why there is always a demand for drugs and why there will always be a supply...

Peter Reynolds said...

Beautifully put Jake. I am in awe of your patience.

Robin Smith said...

Thank you. I'm talking about harmful drug addiction. Exclusively.

Do you understand this? If yes please read on. If not we cannot proceed with certainty until you do.

To clarify:

Are you really saying that harmful drug addiction is not harmful?

Are you then saying that harmful drug addiction springs from natural causes?

Are you then saying that harmful drug addiction from natural causes is human induced?

This is how your response reads. It was quite a surprise! I may misunderstand you though? My apologies for this.

If I can humbly ask you to clarify we can get past this and I'd like to return to my central question :

If we agree the WoD is futile, harmful drug addiction is harmful, is caused by unjust social institutions, is it not our first duty to the people to devote our enormous skill and industry to finding actual root cause of harmful drug addiction?

Please clarify. I realise this requires patience. Yet we are seeking the truth are we not?

Jake said...


Of course harmful drug addiction is harmful and I never inclined otherwise. What I was saying is that recreational use is largely not harmful and that the whole issue should be treated as a medical issue not a criminal one as it is currently.

I think you misunderstood me, or maybe it was me who wasn't clear in my response, but we are a bit caught up in this 'natural causes' term. I was stating that the desire to take/try/experiment with drugs in the first place arises out of inbuilt natural causes. For drug use to progress to an addiction there is nearly always extenuating factor such as those I mentioned above i.e. lots of people can go to a casino and not become addicted to gambling. So yes it is 'human induced' in that be it social, economic or genetic factors that cause a minority of individuals to go from recreational users to habitual ones. The same 'natural causes' that cause some people to become addicted to gambling or overeating etc.

So to your point - while we can spend forever dissecting the exact and specific causes of harmful drug addictions that is detracting from the issue slightly. We know enough to know that what we have not only makes harmful drug addiction worse but actively prevents said research. For example a Heroin addict, if given pharmaceutical quality diamorphine can sustain a happy and fulfilled (read relatively normal) life on it - does this still count as harmful? Yes, but no where in the same league as street Heroin..under the current prohibition policy heroin maintenance is limited to say the least, or outright refused in countries such as Russia. This is why ending the WoD is the primary importance, so in regard to harmful drug addictions we can start treating those effected as humans and patients. Once we do that we will see harmful addictions go down across the populace, and of those harmful ones, they will be less harmful. With all the money saved by not fighting the war on drugs (approx £17bn currently per year here alone) we can invest in all those things you crave.

So there is absolutely no point in just researching the root causes of addiction whilst simultaneously perpetuating a huge factor that makes it far far worse.

With respect, I think that to be able to move on you must accept that some people are and always will be susceptible to addictions, be it drugs, food, gambling etc. and we know this NOW. The best thing we can do whilst we discover the social, economic or genetic differences that lead to it, is approach it from a pragmatic viewpoint to reduce the harm. So our first duty should be to end the WoD to reduce harm, which in turn will allow the root causes to be found as just one of the benefits...

Garvaluk said...

Getting back to the original subject. I'm still not convinced "securitisation" is a radical departure. If one cares to look at the motivations behind U.S. (or the UK and other major countries for that matter)foreign policies, it is difficult not to feel some sort of déja vu and conclude that it is just an update, and granted, a more sophisticated take, on an equally devasting, self-centered and highly ideologically charged old concept: the 'national security' doctrine.

To see how this has played in the context of 'real politiks',
this article may prove quite educational.

Gart Valenc

Frederik Polak, Amsterdam said...

It is very instructive to analyse how Robin almost succeeded in derailing this discussion. I have often experienced a similar course in drug policy debates, and it seems to me that we need to be better aware of this. Robin's naive sounding question suggests that we should be able to answer it to his satisfaction, before being allowed to continue to think about better ways of regulating drugs.
I think we need to clearly say, in the early phase of a debate, that the question of how risky and/or how harmful drugs are and how big the risk is of becoming dependent, are important, but they are a different issue than how drugs can best be regulated. We need to think about how the harm to society and to individuals will be minimal. And here, I think we need to add: and also, that the pleasure and functionality of drug use will be optimal.

Robin Smith said...

Jake, thank you, things are much clearer for me now. I think I understand you.

We seem to agree that 'harmful drug addiction' springs from 2 general Causes:

1 Natural
2 Social

We also seem to agree that there are 2 general areas where action must be taken:

1 Dealing with the effects
2 Seeking root cause

Yes I also agree, we should all now move on to more fertile ground.

Yet my question is asking: when we are seeking remedy for a great social problem, which factors must we all understand more clearly, agree upon and put at the centre of our thoughts? :

* The natural or the social. One we will struggle to change, the other we can actually change in the morning?

* The causes or their effects? Things at the heart of injustice or their symptoms?

I'm not proposing a council of perfection here. If we look across the panorama of history, we can see that 'Transformation' is made when we go to the root. Always. Yet we regress when we avoid it. Always.

Please don't get me wrong. Dealing with the symptoms is mandatory and your struggle is as noble as any. I'm asking that, in harmony with that, we re-establish our understanding of root cause and keep that right at the front of our minds in all we do. And mean it.

You have been very patient and helpful. Thank you. I will cease for now while I read the work kindly referenced here more deeply. I have got to page ix of the Blueprint and have already observed something very revealing. The nature of the funders. And specifically the primary goal of the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation:

to promote a greater understanding of economic and financial issues through education

We also take initiatives ourselves where new thinking is required or where we believe there are important unexplored opportunities

May I ask you to spend some time thinking with great care about my idea too? I'm not asking for you to agree with me. I only ask that you think about it. I'm proposing it is directly related to root cause.

Real Reform: Why do your earnings never rise?

I will be back.

Jake said...


You are right in that we need to go to the root of a problem to fix it, and I think that you finally agree that the root of this whole problem is Humans' desire to alter their consciousness. You also agree that we would "struggle to change" this desire - history has only proved it is impossible to stop this without devastating consequences of the brutal suppression required.

However, I think with such a social change, when seeking the "remedy" the solution is not to spend forever debating and trying to find which root to understand more clearly when we know enough to improve now, but to enact a pragmatic policy (such as Transform's blueprint) that we know will be better and refine it over time, as this seems to be how all the best laws are implemented - through experience. Enact it under the precautionary principle with lots of scope for tweaking the policy as Transform suggest. As long as drugs never become a free-for-all (as they are pretty much now) and regulated sensibly the situation will always be better, with less social problems, than under prohibition. I think you also agree that the current system does not work but if not looking for "perfection" you are looking for something close to it. With politicians and people as they are, as you say, there will never be "perfection". So I urge you to maybe take a bit of a leap and accept that instead of trying to find the golden key we act fast and act now to improve the situation, accept that some people will still become addicted, then use evidence, fact and science to continuously improve and learn from our mistakes. I know you may find this scary, but even half measures such as decriminalisation have proved to be hugely beneficial (http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10080) and are by no means perfect.

With respect, I have heard your argument before regarding root causes and have given it considerable thought in the past, so with that I urge you to consider Transform's Blueprint with great care (as you seem to be doing) and think about the damage being done NOW in the name of prohibition to MILLIONS of people around the world and accept that we may have to make changes that although not perfect, will be far better and with scope to be changed over time to get far closer to "perfection" than the prohibition dogma ever has or ever will.

Robin Smith said...

Jake, you will need to define what you mean by "desire to change consciousness" please before I can agree or disagree. Simple terms is poss'

I also said that natural forces are not in our power to change. Yet social maladjustments are immediately remedied by free choice, if we still have it.

Correct, there is no need to debate forever what observed fact and intuition tell us immediately. What I am asking for dialogue on is why the majority deny the above and toil with science and statistics for years to no avail? The root cause we tend to obscure deliberately.

Beware here. I am a seasoned reform campaigner. Whenever I hear a reformer say we need "pragmatic policy" and then go on to sideline principles I am deeply concerned. It sounds like a signal of root cause avoidance? The slippery slope.

I'm posting my research on the blueprint here. You may be interested in my layman view. Remembering the majority you are appealing to do not understand you yet so must be treated with grace and respect. Feel free to comment there too.

Real Reform: The war, on the war on drugs

And generally here


Steve Rolles said...

Transform have discussed the root causes of problematic use at various points in 2009's 'Blueprint for Regulation' as well as in the discussion section of 2009's Cost benefit analysis paper (and elsewhere). I have also explored the issue of drug uasing motivations in more detail in a chapter for the recent Rioutledge 'politics of narcotic drugs' which we hope to publich as a stand alone briefing on the Transform site shortly.

Garvaluk said...

The question is: which drug control regime can be proved to be more rational, efficient and effective: prohibition or legalisation.

Factually (economically, socially and historically speaking), prohibition has shown to be a failed regime.

By all meaningful standards, prohibition has not only failed to deal with the so-called drug problem, its failure has been compounded and magnified by the catastrophic effects of the so-called "unintended consequences" (an expression as cynical as "collateral damages") on producing and consuming countries, and on both users and society as a whole.

The challenge for those of us who believe that legalisation is the answer, is to demonstrate that legalisation is a rational, efficient and effective regime.

Gart Valenc

Steve Rolles said...

Id agree with that Gart - but I think its important to say that 'legalisation' is a process, not a policy end point. Its more useful to talk about 'legalisation and regulation' - this makes it clear that regulation is the desired policy end point and distances the call from some of the free market libertarian positions on legalisation.

Robin Smith said...

Thank you Steve, I have been looking fir such references but can only find the marginal case, not the general. Proximate causes, things that look big but are actually small. Every big counts. :-) When you have time could you please point me to a page number and say why it is the general case?

@Danny, thanks for the Rat Park link. I like the analogy but I'm confused as to your view on it related to your campaign. Can you clarify on the link below when you get a chance please. Thanks

Real Reform: Rat Park

Carel Edwards said...

I read this some time ago.
Interesting stuff. I have seen the process of "elevating" things to security issues at close quarters when I was still working for the EU Commission. Assistance programmes for regions outside Europe deserve a closer look, they're full of "security" concerns, including areas like food and energy supply. Once you accept the methodology there is in fact no limit to what you can securitise as a policy:health, education?

One security issue that is completely ignored is the failure of Western governments to recognise the corrosive effect of muddling along with drug policies which have failed to reduce demand for 50 years but have given organised crime a real role in government. How else would the world's drug users be supplied, and Europe alone is thought to have nearly 100 million of them (EMCDDA figures). Take out organised crime - and the drugs they supply - and the West End will look like Benghazi before you know it. So that is what Cameron - and his 26 EU colleagues - have in common with Putin: their dependence on organised crime to keep the system going. Quite a price to pay for keeping the UN conventions on the respirator.
I will be posting something more detailed on this soon. Carel Edwards http://opiumwars.skynetblogs.be/