WHAT are we going to do about drugs?
I mean, in the long run, as a society.
It’s such an agonisingly difficult question that I keep going in circles when I try to think about what ought to be done.
Often I feel sure the best thing would be to decriminalise everything and just let market forces, education and social and legal systems figure it all out.
All the sensible arguments seem to point that way.
Until you know somebody who is being destroyed by a particular drug, and then your perspective changes.
That’s when you start to think like the lady I spoke to the other day who told me she dreams about burning down the shop where her grandson buys his legal “synthetic cannabis”.
I know exactly how she feels.
She told me she fantasises about destroying this shop because she regards the shopkeeper as a low-down drug-pusher who sells a product in the full knowledge that it is utterly ruining the lives of many people.
Her grandson used to smoke a bit of pot, but got worried he’d get caught and charged and have a criminal record. He’d heard about the legal alternative and bought some.
“Within a fortnight he was hooked hard,” she told me.
“Now he is a totally changed person. He lies, he cheats, he steals. He has no conscience about anything. Nobody in his family can go near him. He is unapproachable, hostile, and on the way to being completely ruined as a human being.”
She calculated that his habit was costing him between $500 and $700 a week. Money he hasn’t got. Which means he lies and cheats and steals to get it. Presumably he will soon have the criminal record he originally feared so much.
“I see the addicts queuing outside the shop before it opens in the morning, scrabbling through their loose change to buy their mingy little deals. It makes me so sad and angry I could scream.
“And when the shopkeeper gave my grandson credit to keep smoking when he didn’t have any cash, well, that’s when I started fantasising about burning down the shop.”
So many correspondents to the Herald last week said the same thing, more or less.
Here’s a typical one:
“My brother smokes it like cigarettes through my parents’ house and there is nothing they can do to stop him. If he doesn’t have the money for this drug he screams and verbally abuses my parents into giving him the money as they are scared of him. The effects once you have smoked it for a while are horrible. I hate it. It ruins families. How this is legal is beyond me.’’
Many other correspondents argued that, since they used these synthetic drugs with few apparent problems, it would be wrong to ban them on account of those seeming few who developed problems.
Same argument as alcohol. Why try to limit grog sales when only a small minority of users become full-blown alcoholics?
Why try to limit poker machines when only a small percentage of gamblers go off the rails?
Why make private gun ownership difficult when only one in a million owners use their guns to kill other people?
Why make it hard to get medicines based on codeine and pseudoephedrine when only a relative handful of people abuse them?
And honestly, I see their point, too.
Letting people smoke or drink anything they want would have big social benefits, in theory. Organised crime would probably lose a major source of income. Drug prices would probably plummet. Corruption of police, politicians and officials would probably be reduced. The money spent on chasing and punishing drug offenders could be diverted to the health system to help the victims of drugs.
But what I’m seeing with the legal market for “synthetic cannabis” suggests the price of such a policy would be very high. And it’s hard to say that price could be worth it when it’s your own loved ones being destroyed.