How to consider the drug trade?

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How to consider the drug trade?

Last night the violence of Toronto's drug trade crashed into my limited life when I saw a gun in the back pack of a very troubled and very young man. The immediate crisis was defused by truly amazing social workers. Personally I believe that the most effective national response would be to follow Portugal's lead and decriminalize everything. However there is no political will for it. The gangs emerge because of the money much like Al Capone did. Harm Reduction is an individuals approach but what can be done in the public and housing spaces we share? Intensifying the police state is not acceptable and makes ever place more dangerous . Does anyone have ideas?

kropotkin1951

You are right that the only effective cure seems to be Portugal's model.  Ford highlights the differences across the country. No municipal politician of any stripe in Metro Vancouver would survive a picture surfacing with them embracing members of the Hell's Angels or the UN Gang. There wouldn't even need to be a crack pipe involved. So what is it with the people of Toronto?

6079_Smith_W

While I wouldn't equate him with Rob Ford, Ralph Klein managed to get away with being associated with bikers and, for a time, denying his problem drinking.

And yes, when you have the Fraser Institute calling for marijuana legalization - and they did that a decade ago - it kind of begs the question.

On another aspect of this, I heard an interview with a member of a community militia in Mexico who said that the cartels there were moving into other businesses - legal and illegal, because of declining profits in the drug trade. So while legalization would certainly help, it won't end gang culture by itself. Sadly there are many more social problems that drive young people there.

 

 

 

MegB

Arguably, the "legal" drug trade does more damage, but I agree that focusing on harm-reduction with addicts, combined with decriminalization and accessibility, would get a better result than the current crime-and-punishment model.

cco

Decriminalizing is a half measure. Even the most liberal implementations are the government taking the inherently contradictory position that a substance is illegal to manufacture, import, or possess in large quantities, but is no longer quite as illegal when it's in the hands of end users. It does nothing to attack the prices of drugs, which are what drive not only the organized crime syndicates that traffic them but also much of the associated user-level crime from them.

Full legalization (yes, that means Merck-brand heroin on the shelf at Pharmaprix next to the NyQuil) is the only fair answer. Your average pharmacy already probably has the equivalent of about ten kilos of heroin behind the counter in the form of various opiate and opioid preparations. Even cocaine is used by hospitals during certain sinus surgeries.

I'd like Rob Ford, or anyone, to be able to go into a store and buy his crack the same way he buys his plastic-bottle vodka, and at the dramatically cheaper prices that would entail. Then we treat the consequences of that use the same way we do alcohol.

bagkitty bagkitty's picture

Thanks for articulating the problems with decriminalization so well CCO. I too am in favour of legalisation.

alan smithee alan smithee's picture

Uruguay has legalized cannabis and are selling at $1/gram...That is the policy we should mirror for all drugs after all,how many of us would be running out to buy heroin (even it is was $1/gram?)?

Not only would it cripple organized crime but it would eliminate almost all residual crime associated by current costs.

not all organized drug crime, crack and the opiates are widespread

lagatta

I'd certainly buy a bit of cannabis in Uruguay, as well as some good local red wine (and serve food!) I suppose I'd pick up some empanadas, eh?

Not crack, heroin ... or swigging whole bottles of hard liquor (yecch).

On the subject of legal drugs, I was at a local supermarket nearby, and there was a swarm of young workers outside having cigarette breaks (in the cold, but I'm riding my bicycle in the cold)... This makes me sad too, as tomorrow I'm going to the funeral of a relative (in-law) who died of lung cancer; very sad as she had not smoked in at least 20 years, and was a very health-conscious person.

Ford must have quite the constitution - many people would have died long ago on far less excess of various substances (including junk food). And no, that isn't a "fat jibe". I'm no fashion model myself - and I know some people who gorge on crap like that and remain slim - it is still very harmful if it is a daily habit.

Notwithstanding all our anti smoking talks, family with lung cancer etc (including my father who died of it) both my kids smoke cigarettes (never while at home) and my sister has relapsed into smoking

alan smithee alan smithee's picture

I just don't see a profitable black market if cocaine and heroin was available legally at $1 a gram....I'd guess the boss of bosses would still make a healthy profit but see little to no incentive for lower level dealers.

Of course white collar organized crime and corruption would remain..That isn't going anywhere.

Mórríghain

bagkitty wrote:

Thanks for articulating the problems with decriminalization so well CCO. I too am in favour of legalisation.

Agreed; if crime reduction is to be one of the motives behind changing Canada's current ineffective, outdated anti-drug laws decriminalization is only a half-baked half-measure—legalization is the only approach to take.

Unionist

cco wrote:

Full legalization (yes, that means Merck-brand heroin on the shelf at Pharmaprix next to the NyQuil) is the only fair answer. Your average pharmacy already probably has the equivalent of about ten kilos of heroin behind the counter in the form of various opiate and opioid preparations. Even cocaine is used by hospitals during certain sinus surgeries.

Your analogy is intriguing. "Full legalization" doesn't mean anyone can actually legally acquire all existing drugs. You need a doctor's prescription for many.

Would you require a prescription for heroin? Crack cocaine? Cannabis?

Just curiosity triggered by your Pharmaprix story.

 

cco

Sorry for the lack of clarity -- I'd make them over the counter. My point was just that the infrastructure is already there.

Red Winnipeg

People should be free to smoke, eat, pop, snort, drink, and shoot whatever they want. Alcohol, heroin, Chicken McNuggets, tobacco...our bodies are OUR bodies.

Unionist

Red Winnipeg wrote:
People should be free to smoke, eat, pop, snort, drink, and shoot whatever they want. Alcohol, heroin, Chicken McNuggets, tobacco...our bodies are OUR bodies.

So... no prescriptions required for any drugs at all?

How about Oxycontin? Methyl alcohol?

Would you distinguish between "freedom to consume" and uncontrolled availability of everything?

Any minimum age? Or do rights only begin at 18? And 21 in the U.S.?

I support legalization of cannabis. But to be very honest, I'm not all that sure about products like alcohol, tobacco, heroin, and rat poison.

Our bodies may be our bodies. But you can use all this stuff to kill other people too, you know.

Just some random thoughts here.

cco

You can use a lot of over-the-counter products to kill people, too. Our attempt to make society a better place by taking away things like heroin has in turn created a massive, ruthless, violent black market that tears cities apart, and driven up the price to levels that create grinding poverty among addicts and add yet another obstacle to their lives without reducing the availability or popularity of them one bit.

lombar

So... no prescriptions required for any drugs at all?

If we just confine the discussion to currently illegal recreational drugs, is it fair to ask doctors to be gatekeepers for those? If I get sick Im not going to just start taking any and all drugs until one works, I will seek professional advice. And they will proceed to give me drugs until they find one that works. So I need that just to 'get high'? They will advise me to abstain 10 times out of 10. Introducing unnecessary things to our complex biological systems is not wise.

How about Oxycontin? Methyl alcohol?

Having tried just about every currently illicit drug, percocet/oxycodone, legal, is one of the better ones, but who really wants to become physically addicted to anything? Just being truthful about the effects of opiate addiction should be enough to discourage most casual usage. Show someone being dope-sick from withdrawls. Not pretty. Methyl alcohol is toxic, given access to ethanol and/or heroine, cocaine, mdma, who is going to choose that?

Would you distinguish between "freedom to consume" and uncontrolled availability of everything?

Basically, everyone already has the 'freedom to consume' and under prohibition we have 'uncontrolled availability of everything'. Age controls like alcohol, addiction treatment and counsellors instead of police. Instead of a narco-police state that attempts to usurp peoples choices and uses violence against those that chose other than the drug-war-orthodoxy, we could have people choosing for themselves, which they already do. Right now, with the current illicit drug trade, we have addicts, gangsters, and police with dangerous toys they use on the 'miscreant drug people'. We can be rid of or reduce greatly 2 out of 3 of those with a policy change.

Any minimum age? Or do rights only begin at 18? And 21 in the U.S.?

Age of majority, underage users taken to their parents, not jails.

I support legalization of cannabis. But to be very honest, I'm not all that sure about products like alcohol, tobacco, heroin, and rat poison.

IF there is a demand, there will be a supply. Banning it changes nothing except making it more dangerous. Enforcement of drug laws has made society more dangerous.

Our bodies may be our bodies. But you can use all this stuff to kill other people too, you know.

 

This is true whether or not the substance is illegal. People die from cars all the time, do we suggest they be banned?

 

The argument for drug prohibition by the government would have some merit if it actually worked. It does not and conveys undeserved powers upon the state to interfere with peoples lives on a pretext. It creates profits for the corrupt, warps people into thinking government paternalism is somehow the solution to the problems society faces. Well they have only added more problems, solved nothing. I predict that if the PTB ever legalized drugs and created a legal supply, there may be a short term spike in usage but I think people would just get bored with it, the fruit no longer forbidden, the negative consequences would be much more visible because the usage could be brought to light without causing loss of employment, etc. 

Don't worry, the banksters make too much for drugs to ever be legalized and the whole corrupt banking structure requires rivers of corruption money to stay solvent. Self determination, freedom, pfft, those may interfere with profits.

http://www.theguardian.com/global/2009/dec/13/drug-money-banks-saved-un-cfief-claims

 

Unionist

I hear a mixture of arguments for decriminalization (not legalization) of opiates - correct me if I'm wrong - and speculation that if all drugs are legalized, people will have the good sense not to hurt themselves.

Just to be clear, I support legalization of cannabis, and I certainly support decriminalization of opiates, amphetamines, etc. - all drugs, basically. But my questions have really focused on legalization of these other drugs. I still haven't heard the clear arguments in favour of having no restrictions of any kind (except age, I guess), for any chemical substances.

 

I do not think there are good reasons to keep drugs illegal except for our fears of what would happen with legality. The point Ito remember is that what we are doing now is. Massive failure.. We have spent a large part of the last 100+ years trying to supress the trade and have failed. Internationally the illegal drug enterprises are vast and violent. I hate the trade and am no fan of use but legal and regulated is safer than illegal with the attendant violence.

That being said, I do not think that addiction education will end addiction. As a species humans like to be inebriated. The earliest finds have brewing bowls. Most importantly today for many people life is bleak and childhoods painful. Being blissed is reasonable. Unless people have a realistic vision of their lives getting better why would anyone want to be sober?

cco

I'm arguing for full legalization, OxyContin and meth on the shelf next to the Tylenol. My arguments:

Despite 100 years of massive financing and enforcement, prohibition has not, in any way, decreased either demand for or availability of drugs. It has merely driven up the price a hundred or a thousandfold (depending on the drug), and put production and distribution of them into the criminal black market. As a result:

Things are much worse for addicts, who often suffer malnutrition, homelessness, health problems brought on by needle use (the primary attraction of which is that it's far more cost-effective than other forms of ingestion), and find themselves pushed into prostitution and/or petty theft to supply their habits (and suffer the legal consequences of these as well). Their community becomes largely segregated from the rest of the world, and should they be lucky enough to find treatment (and afford it), it's still extremely difficult to reintegrate yourself into society with a criminal record. Despite the fact that all of these consequences are widely known, people still use and abuse illegal drugs, casually or in a dependent fashion.

Things are much worse for the families, friends, and neighbours of addicts, who on top of dealing with substance abuse problems have to worry about being stolen from, having to interact with a steady stream of hostile police, be in and out of courtrooms, and generally deal with all the problems of the legal system on top of the problems of addiction.

Things are much worse for entire communities. In addition to the aforementioned theft and homelessness issues, drugs being illegal means they're going to be sold by criminals, which means they're not going to resolve disputes in trademark court. In places like New Orleans as many as 80% of murders are drug-related (or really, prohibition-related), and that's not even to begin to speak of the carnage inflicted on Mexico, Honduras, and so forth over the past few years. On top of that, many communities suffer the less tangible but equally devastating effects of having a significant chunk of their young men incarcerated, and a deep and well-earned mistrust of law enforcement. Which brings me to:

Things are much worse for the police. Not only are an inordinate amount of resources tied up in a task of Sisyphean futility when it comes to interdicting the drugs themselves, the associated jump in crime rate means they have more to do. While police abuse in minority communities is nothing new, the drug war truly stands apart as a policy that has poisoned any relationship between certain communities and the police, which in turn makes it more difficult for them to solve non-drug crimes. The easy availability of drugs and drug money to steal breeds corruption (to the extent that some departments have policies of quickly rotating narcotics officers out before they can become too good at what they do). They're also more likely to be killed or wounded while serving a warrant, more likely to kill or wound others, and at the end of the day, when they have that big pile of dope on the table, they get the job satisfaction of knowing they haven't delayed the fix of a single addict in the city by so much as five minutes.

My great-grandfather was chief of police during (alcohol) Prohibition in a city notorious for its gangs. Half of his department was on the take, too, naturally. He once said that Prohibition had "unleashed the monsters upon America". If only he could've seen its heirs.

Writing of my former home town of Baltimore, David Simon said "What drugs have not destroyed, the war on them has." There are really only a few groups of people I can think of who unambiguously benefit from it:

The alcohol industry. "Sure, it may give you a hangover and it'll kill your liver faster than heroin, but it's legal, cheap, and available from the dépanneur!"

Manufacturers of militarized police equipment like that tank the SPVM picked up recently.

Where it exists, the private prison industry.

Organized crime, from street gangs to cartels. And most importantly:

Grandstanding, chest-thumping, fearmongering politicians.

Decriminalization affects only the possibility of the user going to jail. It does nothing to attack the high prices, the supply chain, the possibility of adulterants, or the general misery associated with the drug trade under prohibition. It is, much like the legalization of only marijuana in Washington and Colorado, a bit of PR makeup on the most visible wounds of the issue ("Why are you locking up that junkie? Why are you taking my little Bobby to jail for his weed plant in the closet?") which allows us to keep our self-righteousness firmly in place and not threaten any of the established prohibitionist infrastructure or actually do something about the problem. In that sense, it may actually be worse than the current system.

And shartal is of course correct that the desire to get high is universal, not only among humans, but animals as well. As I pointed out in one of the old Rob Ford threads, Sweden has alcoholic moose (from fermented apples), Thailand has opium-addicted elephants, and Russia famously recently had a group of bears addicted to huffing jet fuel. In fly-in northern communities where alcohol is hard to come by, people huff gasoline. Make gasoline hard to come by, and kids hang themselves in the closet to try to get high for a few minutes, or play "the choking game". As long as life sucks, and usually even when it doesn't, people are going to want to tune it out. Prohibition only succeeds in adding to the misery.

Unionist

Great arguments, cco and others. Thanks for answering my concerns.

 

cco

lagatta wrote:

This makes me sad too, as tomorrow I'm going to the funeral of a relative (in-law) who died of lung cancer; very sad as she had not smoked in at least 20 years, and was a very health-conscious person.

I was going back over this thread, and this bit made me pause to think. Why is it that we consider it sadder for a non-smoker to die of lung cancer than for a smoker to do the same? Not many people line up to pass the same lifestyle judgements when someone gets pancreatic cancer.

I have a cousin who's worked with addicts of various stripes for 30 years. A few years ago at a family event she related the story of a friend with lung cancer, and the first question to come out of another relative's mouth was "Did he smoke?"

Well, my cousin took considerable umbrage to that. Her response was "If I'd said he died of AIDS, would your first question be whether or not he was gay?"

Now, there are obvious correlation/causation responses to this, and I'm certainly not here to claim smoking doesn't contribute to lung cancer. But I think it's interesting that so many people (particularly on the left) fall victim to the just-world fallacy and want to blame smokers, more than most other groups, for their own grisly fates.

Even progressives want very much to believe in the fable that someone who makes all the right decisions can, more often than not, avoid a terrible outcome. We'll happily talk about things like lead paint in poor neighbourhoods, but shy away from the prevalance of tobacco (and often drug and alcohol) use in those same communities. Especially when it comes to tobacco, many progressives will take either the libertarian view ("they made their bed, let them lie in it") or, worse, an anthropological view ("Look! The nicotine aficionado in its natural habitat! Let's break out the Skinner box! If we make everyone in Canada smoke in an enclosed bus shelter just south of Moose Jaw, surely they'll realize the folly of their ways!").

Looking at the Ford saga right now, many Canadians appear to be more sympathetic to His Fordship for driving drunk, smoking crack, and pissing on an elementary school than they would be had he been caught lighting up a cigarette at his Don Bosco games. And if he overdosed tomorrow, we'd see coverage all over the place about the trauma of addiction and how Rob measured up to various Hollywood idols. If he died of tobacco-related illnesses tomorrow, people from left to right would be scrambling to talk about how he dug his own grave.

A while back, a friend helped me mock up some examples of what various other products would be like if Canada applied its tobacco-shaming policy across the board. I apologize for excess width.

[img]http://i.imgur.com/3Vmpw.jpg[/img]

[img]http://i.imgur.com/GdT8o.jpg[/img]

Just a thought.

CanadaOrangeCat

It is understood that the risk of lung cancer is still there, even though I have not smoked a cigarette in years. The way I feel ok with that is that my life is better today because I do not smoke. My clothes do not stink. My teeth do not fall out any more. I can maintain a higher level of fitness at a higher weight without smoking, with a lower heart rate to boot. My health is considerably better than my parents' were at my age. (they both smoked). Food tastes better. So even if I die tomorrow, it will have been worth it.

Going back to the thread, CCO and others are completely correct. Unfortunately I do not see the political will in any party or in most community groups , to even begin to have a sensible conversation.

Thus if we are forced to live under the current terrible drug regime we are also forced to live with the fall out of the drug trade. As CCO pointed out the illegal nature of the trade brings with is violent enforcement and gang rivalry.

I work in drop in centres and supported housing buildings. A few years agoon an evening when I was working in a housing organization a dealer rushed through with a baseball bat tdemanding money and beating people. He left before the police arrived. I had no idea what to do Like the evening when I met the very unwell young man with gun that started these thought it was the outreach workers who stepped in to resolve the crisis.

The political question is what is a progressive response to the trade. How should we think about anyone who is more engaged in the trade than front end runners? When the dealer threatened my clients with a baseball bat I chose not to tell the police that I knew who he was. He was a low end dealer boyfriend of a very troubled client. My first reasoning was reporting was a breach of solicitor client privilege but I also oppose the illegality of the trade itself. However he was also a danger to other clients. What do babble participants think I/we should do?

cco

Assuming you suffered no consequences (professionally or otherwise -- what if the Crown wanted to put you on the witness stand?) from turning him in, what would happen? Best case, the guy would go to jail for a few years, your troubled client would continue to be troubled (maybe more so, if s/he's reliant upon his income), and someone else would take his place as the bat-swinger.

To me, the only progressive response to the trade is to push hard for legalization, and to work with the communities marginalized by prohibition -- pretty much what you're already doing. I don't know if there's a certain "progressive" way to deal with the police. It just comes down to an evaluation of the risks you'd be taking versus the amount of actual difference you'd make (effectively none).

Depressing, sure, but that's where the system has brought us.