Our so-called war on drugs is based on misinformation and fear-mongering. Ignorant arguments consist of ideas that “well, if it’s illegal it must be dangerous”. There are so many people out there who will label a range of drugs as dangerous without actually basing their argument on fact, and those same people will go out every weekend, load up on dangerous levels of ethanol, then laugh about it the next day.
I know what some of you are thinking: “Alcohol isn’t really a drug, though. If it was, it’d be illegal.” I can’t blame you for thinking this, if it is your stance; there is so much confusion about psychoactive chemicals out there that it would not surprise me if government officials and policy-makers themselves didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.
The central issue around drug policy seems to revolve around the idea of the health effects of drugs. This results in the second issue of legality. If the drugs are dangerous, they’re illegal, right? This is almost a feedback loop: if they’re illegal, they’re dangerous, and if they’re dangerous, they’re illegal.
I won’t pretend that I know why certain drugs are illegal (I’d hazard a guess that, like a child with no common sense in a playground, Ireland is simply mimicking laws and regulations of the big boys). But I do know that whatever the reasons for our laws are, they’re certainly not based on science. I was once at a debate in Dublin City University (may have been in 2006) on on the motion that cannabis should be legalised. For the motion was Luke Flanagan (currently Mayor of Roscommon County Council), and against it was was a TD, whose name I unfortunately cannot remember.
Flanagan argued his side thoroughly and scientifically, and backed up his statements with research papers and documents from the World Health Organisation. The basis of the TD’s argument was, and I quote, “Look, we all know drugs are bad.”
I always say that anecdotal evidence is no evidence at all, but I divulged at one stage and asked a friend of mine who is a nurse at a general hospital how many admissions would they get as a result of alcohol and cannabis. She said they got countless alcohol-related cases (injuries, falls, overdosing), but that she had never seen anyone admitted from cannabis use.
How many drugs might a person take during the course of a day? Let’s see… Cup coffee in the morning, that’s one. Maybe a couple of cigarette breaks throughout the day, along with another coffee. That’s two so far. What about a quick after-work pint? Three. And if those pints keep going, you can bet a lot of people will be reaching for the painkillers the next morning. Four drugs.
Caffeine, nicotine, ethanol, and paracetamol are not illegal, but that does not mean they are not dangerous. Let’s take ethanol/alcohol. A recent article in The Lancet rated alcohol the most harmful drug overall, as its use is dangerous to both the user and people around him/her. Again, I must interject with an anecdote, but how many of us have been out in a busy town over a weekend to witness fights, vomiting, people collapsing, etc., as they spill out of pubs and clubs? Indeed, how many of us have been one of those people?
Let’s compare this to cannabis. A report by the UK government in 2006 stated that cannabis is much less dangerous than alcohol, nicotine, or prescription drugs. Indeed, a US Dept of Justice statement from 1988 states that a person cannot practically overdose (and, therefore, die) as a result of cannabis ingestion. There are no reports of anyone having ever died from cannabis use, and in recent times, it has been shown – and continues to be shown – that it can have positive health benefits in the fields of pain-relief and depression. Yet, it’s still illegal.
Triva: did you know that there have been two reported deaths from nutmeg combined with flunitrazepam? That wonderful spice many of us use in cooking can induce a ‘high’ lasting several days, and in some cases, can be lethal.
So what would happen if we were to legalise our currently illegal drugs? This is simple. Production can be regulated, removing the risk of dangerous additives being put into some substances (such as cutting cocaine with other powders). It can be taxed, generating much-needed revenue for the state. It will remove the burden on our judicial and policing systems they face during the “war” on drugs. It means people partaking in harmless use will not be criminalised. It will mean that the underground drug trade will be abolished, almost literally overnight.
I think I have made my attitudes on drug policy fairly clear here. Certainly, I have only focused on a small sample of psychoactives, and even then, only touched on the mass of issues and topics they entail. But hopefully you will be able to do your own research if you wish to delve further.
But whatever you think, whether drugs should be legal or not, I hope we can all at least agree that our current policies to drugs are ignorant and based in misinformation. A fresh, new, and scientifically-based approach must be undertaken to Ireland’s current drug policies. And it must be done soon.