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Belgrade drug policy clinic: which narcotics should be legalized?


Because we write and speak extensively about drug policy in the Balkans, we are often asked whether we think certain (or all) drugs should be legalized; or people seek to put words into our mouth about these issues.


What we think about legalisation is contained in all the essays linked to in our proposal for a Belgrade Drug Policy clinic, but people often find it difficult to read complex analysis or even straightforward argument. Hence we have decided to set out here, succinctly and in alphabetical order, our attitudes towards proposals for legalisation or otherwise of various recreational narcotics.


The starting point must be that it is libertarian nonsense to decriminalise, and hence inevitably to increase availability and hence consumption of, materials that (in particular young) people are inclined voluntary to consume and that cause demonstrable self+harm.


Nevertheless political pragmatism may need to override principle at both ends of the burning stick. On the one hand some self-harming lawful narcotics are already so commonly used that introducing or imposing criminal law restrictions upon them is likely to be very difficult to say the least. On the other hand some illegal narcotics are so ubiquitously available that legal bans upon them are obviously not working and novel approaches may need to be adopted to reduce consumption.


Alcohol. While criminalisation is politically impracticable, consumption of alcohol should be increasingly regulated and taxed so as to make its consumption ever more inconvenient for users and hence to reduce consumption of this one of the most harmful drugs. The same approach has worked with tobacco (see below).


Amphetamine . The most difficult judgment call for the following reasons. Amphetamine is very harmful - arguahly more harmful than cocaine (see below), with which it shares some side-effects (e.g. stimulant-driven psychosis). Moreover it is physically addictive whereas cocaine is not. Hence withdrawal is more difficult. However it is not mostly financial ruinous; amphetamine is about the cheapest recreational narcotic there is. Nor is it potentially lethal in overdose (unlike cocaine).


Therefore there is an argument that ctoss-substititon from cocaine into amphetamine should be encouraged; but only as part of a programme of complete detoxification which, involving removing psychological cravings, may take some months. Moreover amphetamine is a legitimately prescribed psychiatric drug. Amphetamine is easy to manufacture behind the backs of law enforcement authorities, if one is careful. On balance we think amphetamines should be legalized only pursuant to a doctor's prescription as part of a course in detoxification from all recreational narcotics in this list. Otherwise it should remain illegal and subject to suppression of supply (i.e. arrest of the dealers) by law enforcement authorities.


Cocaine. We are strongly against any form of legalisation or decriminalisation and we think that increased law enforcement Signals intelligence techniques should be used ever more firmly to suppress the European cocaine trade. The reason why is that cocaine is an extremely harmful drug and suppression of its supply by law enforcement authorities is the best way of keeping the price high enough that users' demand for it is likewise suppressed. We see little value however in prosecuting for possession those who are obviously mere users. Instead they should be sent on short (48-72) hour detoxification courses as part of the criminal-administrative bureaucracy. Unfortunately the infrastructure for that does not yet exist in the region.


Cannabis. Although cannabis is more harmful than tobacco in its propensity to cause cancer, the lid seems to have been lifted off the genie's bottle with several jurisdictions having effectively legalised it (or a version of it) already. Tlnased upon medical evidence this was probably a bad idea and it can probably not be reversed but its extension to new jurisdictions should be opposed. Heavy regulation of price and health information is probably the most appropriate mode of suppression in jurisdictions where the act of legalisation has already taken place or where it is inevitable that it will take place.


Heroin. The same as cocaine, save that the detoxification period needs to be one to three weeks.


Ketamine. The same as cocaine for all the same reasons.


MDMA (a/k/a Ecstasy). There are plenty of arguments for legalisation but before such a step were taken substantially more medical research would be necessary to ensure adequate understanding of the risks. Regrettably at the current time, due to often incoherent political stigma, that research is not being undertaken.


Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD). A potentially very harmful drug, the only real argument for its legalisation or decriminalisation is that it is so easy to produce and cheap to buy that criminalisation policies are manifestly having no effect upon suppression of supply of a very harmful substance. Ease of transport (a single page in a book can carry a few dozen invisible 'hits') compounds the problem. There might be an argument for legalisation with health warnings and regulation as the best way of minimising the narcotic's damage to society; but much more medical research is required about the drug's effects before we might consider such a course; and again unfortunately that research is not being done due to political stigma.


Thankfully LSD is being consumed it seems in much lower quantities than it used to be so there is surely an argument against 'pokinf the beast'. In other words we keep LSD illegal and we don't talk a out it, to avoid a spike in public awareness (and hence consumption) of the drug.


Psilocybin (magic mushrooms). There is absolutely no case we can divine for legalisation of the use of this powerful hallucinogen for medical purposes. The medical research suggesting it has positive psychoactive effects appears to us to be charlatanry propagated by a small group of drug addicts posing as academics.


However there is an argument for general legalisation for recreational purposes. The argument is that the Netherlands did this and it appeared not to cause any long-term health problems for the consumer nor broader problems for society as a whole. Magic mushrooms, like LSD, are easily manufactured in circumstances of evasion of law enforcement authorities and hence there seems little point in banning something that for de facto purposes cannot actually be banned, no matter how harmful it may be instead legalisation and regulation (e.g. health warnings) might be more effective in reducing consumption. This is much the same argument as that in favour of legalising MDMA.


Despite its legality, Dutch people are not all running round high on magic mushrooms, which should give us some level of reassurance. (The people doing that in central Amsterdam, rather embarrassingly for this author, appear mostly to be British.)


Nevertheless careful consideration of Dutch medical research on these issues would be essential before taking a decision to legalise. The same is true for MDMA, a less harmful recreational narcotic whose production has been de facto decriminalised ikm the Netherlands..(Most MDMA isamiifactured in the. Netherlands on factories the location of which is known to law enforcement authorities.)


Tobacco. The same as alcohol. Tobacco regulation and taxation has a successful history of reducing consumption of a lethal and health-damaging narcotic.


The PALADINS. We are, as a general rule but with some caveats, opposed to the legalisation of recreational narcotics. In all cases our conclusions are based upon reason, argument and scientific studies, that we have already set out.


We are no soft spot on drugs. The use of recreational narcotics, notwithstanding all the hypocrisy and stigma, is obviously a social harm and all effective government measures should be taken to suppress it. The more challenging empirical question is how to do that in each case, particularly given the inevitability of ctoss-substititon should one ban one substance outright. On many occasions the empirical question will be which is least bad: the banned drug or the cross-substituted replacements.


The most important change needed is one of perspective: away from seeing drugs as an inchoate evil, and towards seeing them as an (admittedly undesirable) feature of modern medical political economy, the goal of which is to construct government measures that keep people as healthy as possible for the least cost possible.



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