Time to decriminalise all drugs

See this excellent article by Gwynne Dyer about the need to decriminalise all drugs. Dyer is a London-based independent journalist, whose articles are published in 45 countries.

He quotes Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize winner, and the most influential economist of the 20th century. Twenty years ago the right wing Friedman said: “If you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel (in NZ, read ‘gang’ instead of ‘cartel’). It is only because the government makes the drugs illegal that the criminal cartel (gang) has a highly profitable monopoly on meeting the demand.”

Dyer also quotes former Mexican president Vicente Fox who supported the US-led war on drugs when he was in office in 2000-2006, but more recently he has condemned it as an unmitigated disaster. “We should consider legalising the production, sale and distribution of drugs,” he wrote on his blog. “Radical prohibition strategies have never worked.”

Prohibition has never worked in New Zealand either. All psychoactive drugs except alcohol are banned here; recreational users and addicts are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  And yet over 400,000 Kiwis smoke cannabis every year, 100,000 nearly every day. The number of prosecutions for cannabis offences is rising and in 2008, there were 9,500 convictions. Enforcement and social costs have gone up accordingly. In 2001, the black market for cannabis in New Zealand was estimated at $190 million; in 2006 the social costs, which includes the cost of police, the courts and Corrections to enforce cannabis laws, were estimated at $430 million.

ACT leader Don Brash says this approach is part of the failed strategy of prohibition condemned by the UN and is a huge waste of money and resources. Mr Brash believes police time could be better spent investigation more serious crimes – ones with victims.

Indeed, if cannabis was deregulated and taxed (like alcohol and cigarettes), and police no longer had to enforce prohitibition laws against cannabis users, the net benefit to society is estimated to be between $400 and $860 million.

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