Prohibition – a most destructive habit

Guardian blog, December 5 2006

(Pubished after a serial killer attacked prostitutes in Ipswich.)


Everybody knows, of course, why those women sell themselves out on the streets of Ipswich – because they are heroin addicts. As the front page of the Guardian put it yesterday: “Pock-marked and painfully thin, they all bore the obvious signs of heroin and crack addiction … selling their bodies to feed their crippling habit.”

All of that happens to be untrue. Neither of those drugs makes you pock-marked or thin, nor is a drug habit crippling. Nor does it require you to sell your body. All of those things become true only if addicts have the misfortune to live in a society which insists on prohibiting those drugs.

In the case of heroin, all of the side effects which are associated with the drug – all of the disease and death and misery and depravity are the effects not of the drug itself but of the black market on which the government insists that it is sold. So, we have dirty heroin polluted with all kinds of dangerous crap; dirty needles which spread hepatitis and HIV; desperate users who can’t afford to eat or look after themselves; and a never-ending tidal wave of property crime and prostitution.

Pure heroin properly used is a benign drug. It’s worst physical side-effect is constipation. Other drugs, like cannabis and cocaine do have some bad side-effects, but always and everywhere it is true that no drug becomes safer when its production and distribution are handed over to criminals. Water would become dangerous if we banned it and were forced to drink ditchwater from blackmarket dealers. Alcohol did become far more dangerous, when it was prohibited in the United States and brewed with methylated spirits which attacks the optical nerve (which is why so many of the old blues singers were blind.)

In Holland and Switzerland, where they have been supplying their most prolific addicts with clean heroin, they have proved the virtues of legalisation. The average age of addicts in Holland has been rising for years, because they have taken away the blackmarket which sucks in new users as each user deals to his or friends to find funds for their own habit. The Swiss have published detailed results about the addicts on their scheme, which show them improving in health, employment, family relations, housing, crime – and abstention.

There are really only two kinds of people who support the prohibition of drugs: those who know the truth and, for some political reason, refuse to admit it; and those who genuinely have no idea what they are talking about. Both of them should look at the lives of those women on the pavements of Ipswich and of every other major town in this country; they should look at the lives of the estimated 300,000 chaotic drug users in this country; they should look at the crime boom around them and consider the misery for the drug users themselves and for the communities around them; and they should get on and support legalisation of all blackmarket drugs.