The collateral damage from the war on drugs is too great
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The collateral damage from the war on drugs is too great

Elizabeth Krantz

One of the greatest threats to the quality of life and social stability in Western nations is the lawlessness and corruption caused by the prohibition of certain drugs. The prohibition, as in the US alcohol prohibition experience, has created a criminal class of armed, vicious thugs and their hordes of enforcers, traffickers, crooked lawyers, accountants, politicians and police, that threaten the very foundations of our democratic society.

Many people have an illogical attitude to the issue of drugs. They accept with equanimity the incessant TV advertising of alcohol and the enormous consequential damage related to the abuse of this legal drug, but react in horror at the thought of easing prohibition on other drugs, even though such action would drastically reduce crime in the community.

I am not about promoting the benefits of legal or illegal drugs or even minimising the harmful effects of such drugs. Rather I am concerned about the long-term effects on society of prohibiting some drugs, as well as openly promoting other dangerous drugs.

In 1987 Forbes magazine estimated Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar to be the seventh-richest man in the world with a personal wealth of close to US$ 25 billion, while his Medellin cartel controlled 80% of the global cocaine market. He was so powerful he became a threat to the Colombian government. Escobar was shot and killed by Colombian police in 1993.
 Pasquale Claudio Locatelli was arrested at Madrid airport after more than 20 years on the run. He was wanted by the authorities in France and Italy, and is thought to be one of the main middle men between Colombian and European drug trafficking crime syndicates.
 Joaquin Guzman Loera is Mexico's most wanted drug lord. He is on Forbes magazine's list  of the 67 "World's Most Powerful People". Guzman's rivalries and turf wars have contributed to a drug-war death toll that stands at 11,000 in two and a half years, an average of 366 murders per month.
 Huge haul of drug money seized in a raid. How many armed robbers and prostitutes contributed to this haul?

Soldiers escort the body of fellow soldier Melquisdet Angulo during his funeral in Pariaso, Mexico. Angulo was killed in a shoot-out that took down drug cartel boss Arturo Beltran Leyva. After the funeral, gunmen opened fire on Angulo's family, killing his mother, two siblings and an aunt.


Overview of common drugs


Smoking kills more than 18,000 Australians a year. One in two lifetime smokers will die from their habit.

  • Smoking is responsible for 30% of all cancers and 25% of heart disease and costs Australia $12.7 billion a year in health care and other related costs.*
  • Tobacco smoke contains over 4000 chemicals, at least 43 of which are known to cause cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, lung, pancreas, stomach, kidney, cervix, vulva, penis, bladder and anus.*


Alcohol is responsible for every sixth hospital bed and around 3,200 Australian deaths per year from car crashes, assaults, suicides and medical problems such as strokes and cirrhosis. It is also responsible for family breakdowns, bashings, violence and sexual assaults.

Notwithstanding the enormous carnage created by excessive alcohol consumption, weak and morally corrupt  governments, bowing to the lobbying muscle of the legal-drug corporations, allow blatant saturation advertising of alcohol in all media, while raking off billions in taxes to finance their re-election campaigns.

The marketing blitz has created a culture of binge drinking amongst Australian youth.


Heroin is a prohibited drug, responsible for around 1,000 deaths per year mainly because of quality control problems. However, its prohibition causes enormous secondary damage to the community.


Heroin is a prohibited drug, responsible for around 1,000 deaths per year mainly because of quality control problems. However, its prohibition causes enormous secondary damage to the community.

Consequences of drug prohibition.

There is as massive amount of crime associated with addicts desperate attempts to get funds to pay extraordinarily high prices for the product due to the supply and demand situation.

The drug crimes fill jails with ordinary people turned into petty criminals in their quest to finance their expensive habit.

Addicts sink to a life of despair and degradation, mainly associated with committing crime or resorting to prostitution.

Huge sums of money flows to organised criminal gangs, who use some of these funds to subvert or murder law enforcement officers. The international drug trade estimated at US$1 trillion per annum.

The war on drugs is lost. Criminals have won.

We must ask why is there a “war on drugs” when the Americans learned they could not prohibit alcohol?

Half a century ago, the Americans committed to a war on drugs and coerced the rest of the world to follow suit.

Over half a century the public has been conditioned to regard illegal drugs with abhorrence, while happily quaffing a beer or their favourite red.

I am of the view that what another person ingests, injects or snorts is his or her own business, provided only that their actions do not impinge on others or cause them to be a burden on the health system. What right do you or I have to moralise on another's actions?

A brief history of prohibition

Prohibition in Australia has its origins in the 1920’s when the temperance movement was gathering pace. Regulations restricting the use of heroin, morphine and cocaine were introduced during the 1920’s and 1930’s in accordance with international treaties, predominantly led by the US.

In 1953, despite opposition by the Australian medical profession, the Menzies government, under pressure from the US and its captive UN agencies, passed a law banning the importation and manufacture of heroin.

Then in 1961 came the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, so called because it combined a number of international provisions dating back to 1912. Read the full text of the Convention.

This convention conferred a trade monopoly upon the some of the most dangerous and evil people on the planet; the drug lords. The business empires of these evil tycoons have an estimated annual turnover of US$ 1 trillion, about 8 per cent of global trade.

Prohibition is essentially a franchise to make obscene profits bestowed upon individuals and groups ruthless enough to protect their franchised territories.

The franchise holder has a vested interest in creating an ever-increasing number of users and addicts. As a user becomes addicted, he will often become a dealer in order to feed his habit. He in turn has a vested interest in creating more users and addicts. And so the merry-go-round of use, addiction and crime goes on.

Before the 1953 law, a heroin addict could get a prescription from his or her local doctor and collect a dose of pharmaceutical-grade heroin, in the form of heroin linctus, from the nearest pharmacy. In 1953, users suffered few indirect side effects from heroin. Property crime linked to narcotics was non-existent and although trafficking in heroin was a criminal offence, there were no prisoners in any Australian jail in relation to drug dealing.

Now under prohibition, heroin will kill about 20 people in Australia this week, mainly because of the uncontrolled dosage. Australia’s 150,000 addicts and regular users, will need, at an estimated $1,000 per head, a massive $150 million this week to feed their habit. This will result in a huge amount of muggings, burglaries, armed hold-ups, home invasions, stolen cars and traumatised victims.

The bulk of the $150 million will go the drug lords and their army of enforcers, crooked cops and marketers. According to a 1997 report by Access Economics, farmers get 6 per cent of the end price, processors and wholesale traders share 4 per cent, and drug traffickers collect 90 per cent.

The US is the world’s chief enforcer of prohibition. It does so with a religious fervour. The US government spends more than $US18 billion each year fighting the so-called drug war. In its war on drugs, the US uses its economic power to coerce recalcitrant countries into submission. Its actions are backed up by the UN International Narcotics Control Board, which uses treaty agreements to ensure co-operation.

As most US foreign policy is directed towards protecting the interests of powerful US lobby groups, one wonders which US interests benefit from the huge efforts in maintaining drug prohibition. There have been numerous allegations that the CIA uses the drug trade to finance its covert operations around the world.

Where has prohibition led us?

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates there are 210 million users of illicit drugs world-wide. Analysis of UNODC and US reports  reveals that the international drug trade grew 43% from US$550 billion in 2000 to around $800 billion in 2007 and by now is estimated to be around $1trillion annually.

We are now at the point where drug-related crime is out of control. How many times have you or a family member or associate been robbed, mugged or defrauded? In nearly every case the crime was perpetrated by a desperate addict needing cash to pay the outrageously high price for a fix. That cash then finds it way through the traffickers to the “Mr Bigs” of crime.

Every country has seen its law enforcement system subverted to a greater or lesser degree by the drug lords. Murder of judges and law enforcement officers is routine in countries like Colombia, Mexico, Thailand and even Italy .

Rio de Janeiro is a pointer to the future for other large cities. Rio’s large sprawling favelas (slum areas) are no-go areas for the police. These areas are controlled by three drug lords who hire thousands of young men, and boys as young as twelve, and arm them with military-style weapons. These armies are recruited to hunt down and murder informers and rival gang members. Thousands are murdered each year. Law and order is breaking down in the rest of Rio.

Mexico is almost a failed state. Over 30,000 people have been murdered in a five year period. Vicious Mexican drug gangs will not hesitate to murder anyone who poses a threat to their lucrative trade, including mayors, police chiefs, prosecutors and politicians.

What can be done?

Looking logically rather than emotionally at the issues, the inevitable conclusion is that prohibition is doing massively more harm than good. Can prohibition be removed without the world falling into a moral morass?

I believe it can.

To achieve a beneficial outcome, we need to take the distribution of currently illicit drugs out of the hands of the drug lords and put it under government control (at least we get to vote for these crooks). Governments have no qualms about raking in billions of dollars as their take from taxing the distribution of the killer drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

There should be no penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis. It should be taxed at a level similar to tobacco.

Hard drugs such as heroin, cocaine and the milder amphetamines could be made available from pharmacies where each buyer has to produce ID and have the purchase recorded in a central database such as presently occurs for the purchase of certain non-prescription drugs. The markup together with the tax should be at a price that does not force addicts and users into crime.

The taxes raised from all drug distribution should be applied to drug rehabilitation and anti-drug advertising. The advertising should focus on young people in an attempt to reduce their binge drinking and to reduce the glamour of drinking. We are in need of a cultural change regarding alcohol.

Alcohol advertising should be subjected to the same strict rules as applies to tobacco advertising.

There should be severe penalties for offences such as trafficking in drugs (selling outside the controlled system), providing drugs to minors and operating vehicles or machinery under the influence of drugs.

What would the result be?

For starters, most addicts, freed from the degradation of mugging, prostitution and stealing to feed their habit, could lead a more or less normal life. Addicts could be more clearly identified and coerced into rehabilitation programs. Overdose deaths would decline as the quantity and quality of drugs would be controlled.

The criminal franchises would collapse as the massive flow of funds to their empires would dry up.

Strong, continuing anti-drug campaigns aimed at all drugs including alcohol and tobacco, financed by the taxes on drugs, should reduce overall drug-taking in society.

Jail populations would decrease by up to 70 per cent and the police could concentrate on other law enforcement areas. Many young people would not be tarnished with a drug-related criminal conviction. The level of muggings, home invasions, bank hold-ups and violence would dramatically decrease. The savings to law enforcement, health, legal and correctional institutions would amount to billions of dollars annually.

Is there any proof this system would work?

In a five-year trial in Switzerland, prescription-grade heroin was supplied to hard-core addicts from a series of clinics. Each addict was injected under supervision. The results were:

  • There were no overdose deaths for the five years of the trial.
  • The crime rate amongst addicts was down 75 per cent.
  • Homeless participants fell from 12 per cent to one per cent.
  • Participants with jobs rose from 14 per cent to 32 per cent.

Portugal passed a law in 2001 decriminalising all drugs for personal use. Five years later, the number of deaths from street drug overdoses dropped from around 400 to 290 annually, and the number of new HIV cases caused by using dirty needles to inject heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances plummeted from nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 in 2006,  according to a report by the Cato Institute, a US think tank.

Naturally there will be howls of protest at such an idea. Some of the howls will come from people conditioned to howl. But many protests will have more sinister origins. The billionaire drug lords and the drug kings of each city will not give up their lucrative businesses and lavish lifestyle without a fight. However, they will fight to maintain their franchises through their paid politicians and crooked officials. The various middlemen will lobby governments, health, civic and church groups to demand that prohibition remain in place to "safeguard society from the evils of drugs".

Many government and law enforcement agencies thrive on the ongoing drug problem created by prohibition. A sudden decrease in crime would reduce the career and income prospects of many police officers, prosecutors, lawyers, social workers and health professionals.

A degree of international cooperation is needed to ensure a number of countries moved down the road of removing prohibition together. A single country promising prohibition repeal would incur the wrath of the powerful United Nations bureaucrats.

There will be many vested interests to overcome.

But if we can remove the emotion from the subject and look at the issues logically, why shouldn't we support the repeal of prohibition?

In the long run, when we consider the havoc wreaked on society by the actions of the drug lords and their evil empires, do we have any other choice?




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