The harm caused to a minority of users by illegal drugs is not a good reason to relax the lawby Alexander Linklater / November 1, 2010 / Leave a comment
Going to pot? Californian campaigners won the battle to allow medical use of marijuana; now they want to legalise it for everyone
The Prospect debate: Should we decriminalise marijuana?
Alexander Linklater debates the pros and cons of decriminalising marijuana with Amanda Feilding of the Beckley Foundation [audio: http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/Should_we _decriminalise _marijuana.mp3]
Consider the following scenario. A pharmaceutical giant spends millions developing and bringing to market a new antidepressant. It is popular among doctors and their patients. However, reports begin to emerge that for a few patients—particularly younger ones—the drug produces side-effects that include addiction, delusions and chronic mental illness.
Papers begin to appear in medical journals. The resulting headlines are dramatic. Moreover, it turns out the company covered up evidence of the side-effects. It claims this is of no great significance because the victims belong to a minority—an acceptable price to pay for the benefit of a majority. There is outrage, the families of victims sue and the company is forced to withdraw the drug. A victory for truth and justice in the fight against big pharma.
That’s a fiction, of course. For one thing, drug companies never talk publicly about acute illness among a minority being an acceptable cost. Yet when it comes to debate over the legalisation of recreational drugs, those who argue in favour of a “regulated market” expect governments to do precisely that.
Almost nobody disputes that the use of heroin, cocaine or cannabis can result, to varying degrees, in addiction, family breakdown or madness. Yet it’s the campaigners for decriminalisation who argue that these “side-effects” may be an acceptable price to pay for what they believe would be the benefit of a majority.
There are many variations of the legalisation argument expressed by, among others, scientists like ex-government adviser David Nutt, private research organisations, lobby groups, libertarian commentators, former Latin American presidents and newspapers such as the Observer. And this November, California goes to the polls to decide whether to make cannabis legal for retail sale in the state. Is some version of the legalisation argument about to become reality?
It depends which one. The California vote is not concerned with any of the pro-legalisation arguments being aired in Latin America and Europe. With marijuana already available for medical use in the state, advocates for Proposition 19 argue that taxing and regulating more widespread legal use might raise as much as $1.4bn for the cash-strapped state.…