Why Are We Even Bothering To Enforce The Drugs Laws?

A man caught with 83 wraps of cannabis just days after appearing in court for possessing the same drug has been spared prison.

Even he wasn’t expecting that!

Peter Carter attended Bristol Crown Court with a suitcase fully expecting a spell behind bars.

Imagine his surprise…

Carter, of Hammersmith Road, St George, had been caught with 30 £10 deals of cannabis in his car.A search of his house revealed another 53 £10 bags of cannabis ready for sale.

Just 14 days earlier he had received a conditional discharge for possessing the drug by magistrates.

So, not even given the benefit of the ‘personal use’ doubt…

And it wasn’t the first timethe 29-year-old had been involved in drugs.Carter had previously spent 18 months in a young offender’s institution for dealing ecstasy in 2001.

His defence must have thought all her birthdays had come at once – a chance to dust off all the best excuses!

Jane Chamberlain, defending, said although Carter’s offending had clearly breached the custody threshold there were three reasons his case could be suspended.

Wait, wait….

*gets popcorn*

OK, continue!

“Firstly he pleaded guilty at the very first opportunity,” Miss Chamberlain said.

And…? Should he get a medal, or something?

“Secondly because the probation service considers him to be a low risk of harm and re-offending

‘Low-risk’? Who’s kidding who, here?!?

…. and thirdly because he is a young man who was only supplying to his friends and associates he knew.”

Oh. OK, that’s no problem, then…

“He came off his bike and suffered some serious injuries and has been unable to work. He made a claim for benefits in May but they didn’t start until October.”However he realises that it does not follow that if you are struggling to get benefits you must start dealing drugs.”

Well, there’s a relief…

Recorder Simon Foster told him: “This was a commercial operation apparently activated by strained financial circumstances.“Many people find themselves in grave financial difficulties without having to turn to the sale of drugs.

“You have been jailed once for dealing ecstasy – it is a great shame you did not learn your lesson.

“These are dangerous toxic drugs and you can consider yourself as being treated very leniently.

You left off the word ‘Again’, there….

26 comments for “Why Are We Even Bothering To Enforce The Drugs Laws?

  1. Lord T
    November 24, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Jails are nearly full remember. Still need to leave room for those who don’t pay their council tax.

  2. john in cheshire
    November 24, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    good job we have Kenneth Clark to front the judicial system for us, otherwise, things would be really bad. Conservatives, lax on crime, lax on the causes of crime.

  3. Sackerson
    November 24, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Didn’t think we were enforcing drug laws. Had enough of pony-tailed policemen peddling the soft line. Black people I know reckon the Establishment’s soft on drugs because it keeps the blacks down. Suppose I’ll get the usual libertarian blarney now.

    • November 25, 2011 at 4:03 am

      Yep, that’s right. Simple possession and use of drugs is essentially a victimless crime unless you count the state as a victim of someone isn’t doing what they’re told – one of many statist versions of original sin. As long as that remains true, and as long as drug laws don’t control drugs so much as hand control of them to criminals, the blarney’s 😉 going to keep coming.

      However, consistency would be an improvement so if anyone wants to crack down on recreational drugs for public health reasons there’s no reason not to make all drugs illegal, tobacco and alcohol and possibly even caffeine included. Yes, booze prohibition didn’t work out all that well last time – funnily enough it ended up being a lot like the drugs trade is now – and the increasing anti-tobacco measures are also playing into the hands of the illegal tobacco trade which I expect will end up going the same way. But hey, we wouldn’t want to be soft on drugs by letting a couple of the most widely used ones be legal. We know from past experience that it’ll be bloody, but at least nobody would ever again have the experience of dinner with someone pissed off their dial and demanding in a slur that people go away for a minimum of five years for having a bit of puff or – and this was said without a trace of irony – being caught stoned.

      Alternatively we can accept that what people put in their bodies is up to them and, as we already do with alcohol, trust them not to get wasted at times and in places where they’ll endanger others. Some will abuse that trust but some already do with alcohol, and we have a way to deal with it – drunken truck drivers get sacked, fined (and possibly jailed), drunken surgeons get sacked and sued (and possibly jailed) and so on. There’s no reason why ‘drunk’ couldn’t also read ‘high’. And if someone steals or robs for drug money they can still be jailed for it just as they would be jailed if they stole or robbed for booze, though without an illegal market driving prices up there’d be a lot less stealing for it unless the government was stupid enough to tax it to the extent that the price didn’t fall.

      As Athelstan says below, legalise drugs or have zero tolerance, which should logically include the ones that are currently legal and used by millions. But the people who would benefit most from zero tolerance are the criminal gangs and the people who would suffer is everyone, while if the end of alcohol prohibition is any guide legalisation would hurt the gangs very badly if not put them out of business altogether.

      • Sackerson
        November 26, 2011 at 9:36 am

        Please see below. And libertarians seem never to answer questions I’ve asked more than once before: is it freedom to fall victim to addictions? Or to allow powerful vested commercial interests to increase temptation and opportunity? Are we free if we merely act out compulsions, and other scripts written into our subconscious? Is freedom just freedom for me, me, me or should we have regard for Man Friday, too?

        • November 26, 2011 at 1:08 pm

          I’m astonished you’ve been unable to get that answer from a libertarian because it’s a pretty simple one (caveat: it’s a pretty broad church and not all may see things the same way, though one common thread is that you can’t project your morals on others, which I take to mean one libertarian doesn’t necessarily speak for any other – in other words this is just my 2¢). In short it’s yes, yes to all your questions. As I’ve mentioned in a comment elsewhere at the Orphanage, freedom does not mean utopia or paradise. The former was Thomas More’s joke that that kind of society is unattainable and the latter is a pipe dream of statists, paternalist righties and nannying socialists alike, that the world would be neat and everyone would be happy if only they’d all just do as they’re goddamned told. Even if it worked, which the experience of history tells us it doesn’t, it’s a gilded cage at best.

          Freedom is just freedom, no more and no less, and of necessity that means the freedom to royally screw one’s own life up by taking addictive substances, the freedom to give in to temptation or compulsion. However, don’t forget that it comes with the responsibility for those choices too. As to regard for others (not sure exactly what you mean by ‘regard for Man Friday’ and might be answering a slightly different question here – would appreciate clarification on your intent) yes to that too since that’s part and parcel of the NAP, but you’re not responsible for them. Lecture about the harms of drugs of all kinds to your heart’s content (though having known people who’ve tried just about every drug going plus having been on morphine myself for medical reasons I believe that a lot of the dogma about addiction is a crock of shit) but you can only lead a horse to water. In any case horses are not people who may decide for themselves if the laughs they have by taking this or that substance are a fair exchange for any years they give up in later life. We may not like the choice someone makes with their life but it’s their life and their choice, not ours. You can’t change that without owning them to a greater or lesser extent, and that doesn’t sit well with any concept of liberty I’d respect.

        • November 27, 2011 at 6:29 am

          “…And libertarians seem never to answer questions I’ve asked more than once before: is it freedom to fall victim to addictions?”

          If you’re not free to fail or f**k up, then you’re not free, full stop. You’re merely a captive beast, sheltered from the wilds by your kind-hearted zoo-keeper.

        • November 27, 2011 at 5:14 pm

          Like the others, I don’t know why you think libertarians are evasive. What you are asking is whether the state should prohibit vice, to protect you from yourself. The answer is; no it should not.

    • November 25, 2011 at 12:24 pm

      The reason it’s the ‘usual’ libertarian blarney, is because libertarians are consistent. We have a principle and stick to it. We’re against the nanny state and see a fundamental distinction between vice and crime.

      It’s not really for us to justify why drugs should not be prohibited, but rather for those who think they should be, to justify the prohibition and while they’re at it, explain how the same reasoning applies to alcohol or not as the case may be.

      • Sackerson
        November 26, 2011 at 9:20 am

        Prohibition worked, to the benefit of the people. It stopped when the US government needed money in the early 30s.

        • November 26, 2011 at 12:18 pm

          Money may well have played a part because, as now, the government’s own policies committed it to spending a fortune on enforcement while depriving itself of any possibility of a revenue stream, but I really can’t see any grounds for claiming it was a benefit to “the people” since it was costing “the people” so much more. It sure as hell was of no benefit to individuals, whether drinkers or not, who were incidental casualties of the gang violence that sprang up around the illicit alcohol trade. It was of no benefit to those poisoned by poor quality alcohol or who blew themselves up making their own. It was certainly of no benefit to those poisoned by their own government deliberately trying to make the damn stuff even more dangerous (and did the US ever spray fields of marijuana with paraquat in the 70s or was that urban myth?). True, cirrhosis rates did fall in the 20s, but when many people were succumbing to more rapidly fatal side effects instead that seems like a pyrrhic victory resulting from killing them off faster than their bad habits would have naturally.

        • November 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm

          From the outset there was illegal importation, production and consumption. So it worked in that it provided a form of revenue for the racketeers.

          Otherwise see AE’s comments with which I concur wholeheartedly.

          What we eat, drink, inject or snort is no one else’s business but our own. It is not the role of the state to make decisions for us about how we live our lives and to stop us making bad decisions.

          In short, it is none of their business.

        • November 27, 2011 at 6:29 am

          “Prohibition worked, to the benefit of the people. “

          Can you give an example?

            • bnzss
              November 27, 2011 at 2:18 pm

              It’s odd that you’d quote yourself, but your figures are suspect. To the best of my knowledge homicides rose somewhere in the region of 12% during prohibition, and assaults by the same number. Not to mention spiralling costs associated with trying to contain such a lucrative black market created by prohibition.

              It would seem that US prohibition was driven by conservative puritans for the good of their own consciences, and was eventually met head-on with reality. In your case, you found an obscure 1989 opinion piece from the NYT and decided to quote it as gospel…

            • November 27, 2011 at 3:03 pm

              Do you have a source for the claims other than the NYT op ed you link to? I ask because I seem to recall the US DoJ estimating a ≈50% increase at its peak (10.something per 100,000 and 6ish before rings a bell), although as the guy says a marked decrease in crimes such as public drunkenness. Still, you don’t see many people arrested now for being sky high in public because the stuff’s illegal and it doesn’t take too many remaining braincells for even the daftest junkie to know to go get high in private. Similarly you’d expect public drunkenness to go down if the law encouraged all the drinking to go on behind closed doors, but sweeping it under the carpet doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Trees falling in forests do make a noise when nobody’s there. :mrgreen: But back to homicide. If I’m right (if – I’m going from memory after midnight and an old link I had now 404s, so I’m not staking anything to it yet) it doesn’t seem to fit the claim of no significant increase and makes me worry about the other claims. On careful re-reading I see it says no significant increase during Prohibition, and I’m not sure that merely failing to get worse is a victory. Wasn’t it supposed to be an improvement? Does no worse than it had been at the start qualify as being, to use your words, to the benefit of the people? And why compare the 1900-10 homicide rate rise with the claimed static rate in the 20s without saying what it actually was, and what about the decade immediately prior to Prohibition (at least until the US entered WW1)? What was going on then and how does that change the picture? We don’t know, it doesn’t say.

              Two thirds reduction in cirrhosis is frankly astonishing and just seems too good to be true even if everyone really had stopped drinking altogether. Plenty of things cause cirrhosis, but that figure would suggest that alcohol use is double all of them combined. Hep B & C, which I’d expect were less well understood and more prevalent in the 20s, are a significant cause of cirrhosis and even today there are cases of cirrhosis with no discernible cause. Could the background rate of cirrhosis really be as low as that 1911-1929 comparison suggests? And why compare the year 1911 with 1929 when Prohibition didn’t begin until nearly a decade later. Why that year and not 1919? And why not more years either side? How are we to infer any kind of trends when each has only one data point? Assuming the 1911 figure is representative of a trend that holds throughout the first, say, 15 years of the C20th and that the 1929 is similarly representative of that decade, could anything else explain the effect? For example, how many people of drinking age did the US lose before 1920 between WW1 and the Spanish ‘Flu Pandemic, the first of which killed almost exclusively adult males of drinking age and the second of which was unusual in killing healthy adults – again, the drinking demographic – and tending to spare the young and elderly? A few million boozers dropping dead of unrelated causes seems highly likely to cause a reduction in cirrhosis down the tracks even if you did absolutely nothing else. Without knowing that other factors were accounted for I can’t help but wonder if it’s something similar to the various post smoking ban Heart Attack Miracles.

              In any event, there’s a very important consideration to make about cirrhosis and that is that a drinker’s liver is nobody else’s problem. It doesn’t matter if cirrhosis fell 99% or went up like a rocket – self inflicted illnesses are the problem of the sufferer alone. Does it upset others round them? Sure, yes, and I know this because I’ve been there (watching someone I cared about drink themselves into an early grave is one of the reasons I no longer drink – it stopped being fun even before the end). Did my being upset give me the right to take the bottles away and act like it was my body instead of their own? No, it did not. Little short of pin-down would have worked anyway, and I was told in no uncertain terms that it was their choice and they accepted the risks as fair payment for all the fun they were having (a sentiment which was still being repeated at death’s door). Should I have said to hell with their choice and to hell with it being their body, what about my feelings, what about me? Christ knows I wanted to often enough but those thoughts felt selfish and still do.

              ‘Nuff personal history. Figures about increase or decrease of consumption of alcohol when black marketeers were doing all the supply, submitting no data for excise to the federal government and keeping minimal if any records themselves, seem speculative and I feel should be taken with a pinch of salt. Pre and post consumption is probably reasonably accurate because a legal market was there and by and large behaving itself and filing returns. But in between it would have been a guess based on how much was stolen and made potable, how much was being confiscate, how much was being made in Canada and not consumed there, and what the Yanks like to call a scientific wild-ass guess about how much was being boiled up in bathtubs. As far as the money part goes I’ll repeat what I said above. I don’t know how much of a motivation it was but that legalisation would bring in money while Prohibition was costing them money is a priori stuff, and of course they had the Depression to deal with. I feel the motive for repealing the Eighteenth Amendment is less relevant than the effect, and the effect I’m getting at is the supply of alcohol, which never went away, was taken out of the hands of semi-competent DIY distillers and the millionaire gangsters, and put back into those of an industry that could be regulated, supplied QC products and could be dragged into court and sued if they sold a bottle heavily cut with meths and made a dozen people mad and blind. I’ve no idea if anyone ever even asked Capone for a refund but I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one to try.

              I’m not saying the author is wrong but drawing any conclusions from the sparse data there seems risky, especially as it’s not clear that other effects were ruled out. Possibly very risky depending on where the data came from, which is also not mentioned. I doubt spin was a recent invention so much as a term given to a practice that’s been around as long as government and we can bet there were people spinning info in the 20s, especially given how much the government invested in it, literally and figuratively. When have you ever heard of any government anywhere stand up and say, “You know, this really isn’t panning out like we’d hoped”? It’s just like they love to talk record seizures and other claimed successes in the drugs war now. Funny how for all these battles being won the war doesn’t actually go away, eh? Almost certainly true of the 20s as well.

  4. Athelstan
    November 25, 2011 at 12:30 am

    Legalise it, or zero tolerance but not what we have in Britain.

    Illegal but…usually/sometimes not/maybe and it’s OK for George Michael Kate Moss et al to do what they effin well like, crack/meth/H – easy innit – piece of p*** to buy it up in Camden.

    Tobacco, meanwhile [a legal drug?? – not now maybe] people who do this legal drug are state pariahs, with booze next:

    Britain is arse about face too and off its face and our politicians won’t face it.

  5. Maaarrghk!
    November 25, 2011 at 6:24 am

    Just imagine the tax that could be raised from legalizing all those drugs.

    I remember reading a pro-legalize the lot article in a Motorbike magazine many years ago. It still makes sense.

    Drug dealing is an easy way to make a lot of dosh – who is going to shop you? The people you sell heroin to? Get it on the shelves behind the counter at Boots and pull the carpet from under the criminals feet.

    Make a “drug” habit no more expensive than a tobacco habit and the junkies won’t do so much thieving and the criminals will have to go and do something more risky to get rich.

    • November 25, 2011 at 8:09 am

      Make a “drug” habit no more expensive than a tobacco habit and the junkies won’t do so much thieving and the criminals will have to go and do something more risky to get rich.

      Succinctly put. I’d bet that when alcohol prohibition was repealed in the US in 1933 a lot of the gangs moved into drugs instead when legalisation took the black market alcohol business from them. If the same was done with drugs now I can’t see anywhere obvious for them to go. Not with anything like the profits they’re able to get now.

      • Athelstan
        November 25, 2011 at 8:52 am

        Yes, exactly.

      • Maaarrghk!
        November 25, 2011 at 10:15 am

        Indeed AE. Prohibition turned bastards like Capone into “Heroes” for the general public.

      • nisakiman
        November 25, 2011 at 9:28 pm

        “I’d bet that when alcohol prohibition was repealed in the US in 1933 a lot of the gangs moved into drugs instead when legalisation took the black market alcohol business from them”

        That is exactly what they did. Just as the prohibition enforcers morphed into the Narcotics Bureau.

        You might find this account of the skulduggery that presaged the opening salvos of the “war on drugs” interesting. (Scroll down the page a bit.) It’s Wikipedia, so must be treated with a degree of scepticism, but it is for the most part the same story that I’ve heard from several other sources.

        “He made a claim for benefits in May but they didn’t start until October.”

        So how come he had a total of 83 x £10 bags? That, for the mathematicians among you, is 830 quid, call it 500 at wholesale.

        And he got busted a fortnight before, doubtless getting a substantial amount confiscated then.

        When I was dealing drugs, my wholesaler didn’t do credit – it was cash up front or nothing. I would expect the same holds true today.

        Sounds like a tidy little business he’s got there. Perhaps they should give him one of those enterprise awards.

    • November 27, 2011 at 6:37 am

      I do have a problem with the ‘legalize drugs and crime will vanish!’ approach.

      After all, booze is legal and available everywhere, yet people still commit crimes connected with its supply, even dangerous ones.

      And unless we’re planning (god forbid!) to supply drugs free, hopeless junkies would still commit petty theft to pay for their fix, because they are incapable of otherwise holding down a job…

      • November 27, 2011 at 8:55 am

        That crime will vanish is not quite what’s being suggested. However, legalisation will most hurt those who currently profit hugely from it being a black market, and since the top of that pile is occupied by violent criminal gangs it will, as Maaarrghk! says, yank the rug out from under them. It won’t force them to become fine upstanding citizens because nothing will, but it will take away the trade that makes them rich because who the hell would buy expensive and impure drugs from an illegal source when a legal market would become available to supply unadulterated (and therefore much safer) drugs at a lower price. Caveat: this is assuming government resists the temptation to rip the arse out of the taxes and duties. If they fail to make the legal alternative a more attractive, i.e. cheaper option the black market will remain.

        After all, booze is legal and available everywhere, yet people still commit crimes connected with its supply, even dangerous ones.

        Those two stories and others like them seem to me to be a result not of alcohol being legal but of policies which push its price up high enough to make illegal production economically viable.

        And unless we’re planning (god forbid!) to supply drugs free, hopeless junkies would still commit petty theft to pay for their fix, because they are incapable of otherwise holding down a job…

        Only if legal drugs stay as expensive as the black market ones, and that needn’t be so if the government is sane (it isn’t, granted, but then if it was we wouldn’t be carrying on with failed policies). Nor are drug users incapable of holding down jobs. Yes, those who can’t hold down a job often take a lot of drugs, but the reverse is not necessarily true. I’ve known more than one person who’s taken a lot of drugs and held down respectable white collar jobs. In fact come to think of it most of the bastards earn more than me… maybe I need to go and get stoned? 😆

  6. bnzss
    November 27, 2011 at 1:25 am

    Feel compelled to comment even though I’ll probably largely be repeating what’s already been said…

    In my view, there are basically two ways to look at this. Firstly, we can ask, ‘is this right?’, and secondly, ‘is this good?’

    As far as ‘is this right?’ goes, essentially what it means in this context is ‘is it right that people ought to be punished for these actions, regardless of consequence?’ Obviously, being a purveyor of ‘libertarian blarney’, I very much consider the concept of self-ownership to be self evident, being both metaphysically sound and empirically observed. As such, given that the default position is that of atomised persons, i.e. individuals as having real separation from one another, I can’t ultimately accept as being legitimate any argument which suggests that other individuals have the moral authority to punish people who do as they wish to themselves. This is where we get such illuminating concepts such as the Non-Aggression Axiom and the Harm Principle.

    As far as ‘this is good?’ goes, we just appeal to utility. Can we say that having anti-drug laws, arbitrary or no, has better outcomes than having fewer anti-drug laws, or no anti-drug laws, or more anti-drug laws? It is my view that empirically speaking, anti-drug laws do not achieve their desired aim, assuming the desired aim is to reduce the (perceived) harm created by drugs, and not simply a conservative hankering to punish those who are deviant just because they are deviant (see paragraph above). Stricter laws seem to result in worse consequences in any case, and using the theories derived from free-market economics, that would also seem to be the logical conclusion.

    Why are we even bothering to enforce the drugs laws? Who knows! It seems vaguely tyrannical *and* counter-productive to me.

  7. james Higham
    November 27, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Oh yeah – enjoyed this post and comments thread. Glad I came late to it because it was entertaining seeing it unfold.

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