WE MUST LIVE IN REAL WORLD TO FIGHT DRUGS
Back in 2005 Australian police cracked the one tonne barrier for ecstasy seizures, prompting a federal minister to declare that a message had been sent to drug traffickers. Whatever it was, they didn't take much notice. This month the Aussies raised the bar, announcing a 4.4 tonne haul. The politicians took a different tack this time, claiming the world record seizure would save Australia $1.6 billion in health and social costs.
A more rigorous audit might offset this saving against the cost of the investigation which involved 400 police, 185,000 telephone intercepts and 10,000 hours of surveillance.
Agencies in five other countries also took part.
Rather than beat his chest, the Federal Police Commissioner found it sobering that the drug syndicate could shrug off a financial hit of that magnitude and continue with business as usual.
Health professionals were also underwhelmed. An associate professor at Melbourne University's School of Population Health said recent experience suggested the seizure would have little impact on supply because traffickers stockpile for rainy days such as this. An emergency doctor specialising in illegal drugs pointed out that the traffickers wouldn't have brought in that much product unless there was a market for it: "What you're looking at is a truly phenomenal demand for these sorts of drugs. As long as that demand exists, it doesn't matter what interdiction does." Nail; head.
If there's one place on earth where interdiction should work, it's here. Everyone knows what's going on. Enforcement, in the form of local and regional cops, undercover men, customs agents, border patrol, the monolithic US Drug Enforcement Agency and a 3000-strong troop deployment in Juarez, is well-resourced and omnipresent.
But no matter how many mules they nab and how much dope they intercept, the stuff keeps coming. How do you stop a blizzard?
Last week, the former head of the Britain's Anti-Drug Co-ordination Unit revealed he quit because he got sick of having to implement policies that he and his colleagues knew were a waste of time but which their political masters insisted publicly were the only way to tackle the drug menace. Julian Critchley believes the world would be a better place without drugs. However, he also believes - and one would've thought this would be the starting point for anyone who's serious about tackling a major social problem - that "we must live in the world as it is, not as we want it to be".
Critchley started out against decriminalisation but soon concluded that "enforcement and supply-side interventions were largely pointless. They have no significant, lasting impact on the availability, affordability or use of drugs". The facts bear him out. After decades of prohibition, illegal drugs are in plentiful supply in Britain and cheaper, in real terms, than ever.
The number of drug users and the volume of drug-related crime have risen sharply and the lavish, untaxed profits from illegal trading have fuelled massive growth in organised crime. The same is true of most western countries, including this one.
We have an approach - prohibition - that not only fails utterly in its basic objective of keeping these substances out of the hands of young people, but also does untold global damage by bolstering the most amoral and predatory elements in society and corrupting state institutions in countries such as Mexico and Colombia to the point where they're rotten to the core.
In reality it means that there's no alternative to having the worst of both worlds: drugs and crime.