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Legalisation of Drugs Has Far-Reaching Effects

If soft drugs are legalised, the consequences will be momentous

Published: Apr 11, 2013 06:58:28 AM IST
Updated: Apr 8, 2013 01:04:03 PM IST
Legalisation of Drugs Has Far-Reaching Effects

The British government’s bill to make gay marriage legal has already had serious consequences. It has split the Conservative Party wide open and threatens to make its defeat in the next election absolutely certain. Lawyers foresee years of intense argument, appeals and counter-appeals, accompanied by fat fees, stretching into the indefinable future.

Once something is legal, there’s nothing to prevent a lobby being formed by those who participate in that activity, especially if there’s money to be made. An important example of this is the movement to legalise recreational drugs. The war on drugs is difficult and expensive, and there are signs that it is faltering, with battle lines being drawn. Many people are already campaigning to legalise a variety of so-called soft (or recreational) drugs, such as marijuana. Indeed, pro-drug lobbies already exist in the UK and in the US.

If society gives way on this, the consequences will be momentous, precisely because the profits to be made from the marketing and selling of soft drugs will be enormous. There will be nothing to prevent a large-scale international corporation being formed solely to manufacture and circulate such drugs. Equally, existing pharmaceutical companies will be able to enter the trade. The competition will be fierce, which alone will drive down prices. The products will be ‘improved’ and become more alluring. In no time, supermarkets and corner shops will be selling marijuana, and the term ‘drugstore’ will acquire a new and deadlier meaning.

Vast sums will be spent on promotion, especially among the young. Equally large amounts of money will become available to expand the scope of decriminalisation, redefining the border between soft and hard drugs to eventually include heroin.

And what of the criminal elements already involved in the drug trade—the Taliban, which sells and ships the fruit of the poppy out of Afghanistan, and the cartels in South and Central America that run drugs into Mexico and the US? The violence surrounding the drug trade will only escalate.

Another possibility to consider is that a rogue state, such as North Korea, will enter the burgeoning drug market. North Korea’s evil regime survives by performing tasks no other government is able or willing to contemplate. For instance, it has supplied nuclear technology to other rogue states in contravention of all international law. Both Syria and Iran have paid North Korea in gold for its aid in their nuclear efforts. There is no way to stop these transactions as long as China refuses to take punitive steps against its former military and ideological ally.

Tipping the Balance
Recreational drugs are comparatively easy for a ruthless and determined government to grow and/or manu-facture. Supplying these drugs to Americans is precisely the kind of prospect that would appeal to the North Korean leadership. They’ve always claimed that capitalist democracies are essentially corrupt and decadent. This would enable them to ‘prove’ it, especially if the release of vast quantities of cheap soft drugs into Western cities were followed by an increase in the supply and use of hard drugs, as many believe, is inevitable.

China, which has a drug problem of its own, might be prepared to act against North Korea in this context. But it would extract a high price from the West, which might result in the balance of power in the Pacific tilting in China’s favour.

I’ve been discussing possibilities. But in the world of highly dangerous drugs, it’s safer to treat them as proba-bilities. If we allow this drug use to become legal, we’ll embark on a voyage into horror with our eyes open.

Paul Johnson is an eminent British historian and author

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(This story appears in the 19 April, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Nick

    What a load of propaganda..your assumptions are so biased even you must have sat there squirming while writing this !! vast ammounts of money will be spent promoting it to the young ,,,,what !! and by the way the cartels are said to have shifted there focus due to the fact that a lot of Weed is now being grown in small home opperations and so the demand for there weed has reduced ... stop plastering your ignorance for all to see and grow up and realise were all humans and we can make our own minds up about what works and what doesnt ... and its very apparent this current view does not work

    on Apr 12, 2013
  • Steve Rolles

    so staggeringly ill informed and riven with laughable straw man arguments that it barely warrants a response. But to say - try reading Transform\'s \'After the war on drugs: blueprint for regulation\' ( HERE download.htm ) so you have a sense of what the reform movement is actually advocating before you put pen to paper next time. It may help avoid this sort of embarassment next time.

    on Apr 12, 2013
  • Bigjohn

    \"Paul Johnson is an eminent British historian and author...\" I think there is a mistake here. I think that instead of \"eminent,\" they meant to say \"ignorant,\" or at least they should have done. North Korea will do what? Cannabis profits will be used to legalise heroin, even though only a tiny fraction of the population supports legalising drugs like that while the percentage for legalising cannabis is huge and growing? Cannabis legalisation is inevitable. Support will only continue to grow until it happens. Old people like Paul Johnson who came of age before cannabis use became popular and who are most opposed to legalisation efforts will die off and be replaced by younger voters who are much more cannabis friendly. More states in the US will legalise. More countries will legalise. Eventually governments will bend to the will of the people, and why not? They stop nothing with their anti-cannabis laws and enforcement of same. They make not a dent in the supply or the demand. They just enrich organised crime and waste billions and waste limited government resources and cause every problem caused by the USA\'s failed experiment with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and more. Like alcohol, cannabis is too popular to ban and while it is not harmless, it is not such a threat that it warrants a costly but entirely ineffective ban that does far more harm than good. Maybe their hearts are in the right place, but it is time for them to do something about their heads, pull them out of wherever they are and start using them.

    on Apr 12, 2013
  • Mike M.

    I could right a book on how wrong this publication is. One of the greatest minds of all times once said \"doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity\". For more than 75 years cannabis prohibition has been tried and proven a failure. Alcohol prohibition brought forth the black market and we all know how that turned out but just to remind anyone who has forgotten. Crime rates soared during prohibition and declined just as fast when it ended. Every day cannabis prohibition is alive more people die and suffer needlessly because of it. This begs the question of those who support cannabis prohibition, are they corrupt or just that ignorant to the truth?

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Tim


    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Nathan Nuckhir

    I do not know where to start. A truly ridiculous and sensationalist article. For an eminent historian to have managed to miss all the evidence to the contrary of his outdated and invalid points is unforgivable. This seems to be yet another case of trying to reduce drug usage using scare tactics, a tried and tested method which has proved useless for all these years, with the tenuous links made to North Korea, the Taliban, and shifting power to china a perfect example of this. No doubt these would be causes for concern had there been any basis or substance behind any of these predictions. The legalisation of drugs would allow strict regulations to be laid down to increase safety, raise awareness and moderate the flow far more successfully than if left unchecked. Furthermore with designated drugstores, dealers would be a thing of the past, meaning that cannabis would no longer act as a gateway to other harder drugs. All of this is also avoiding the incredible versatility and usefulness of hemp, as food, clothing, fuel, paper, rope and a ecofriendly alternative to plastics to name but a few avenues. Paul Johnson, you are a man out of your time. The war on drugs is continuing to fail and now it is time for a long overdue change. Until you can come up with any solid evidence backed reason for the continuation of the current method I urge you to stop conjuring up nonsensical articles filled with nonsensical ideas and no real point. If I read any more of your views I will be embarking on a voyage of horror with my eyes open..

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Chris

    What an infantile, backward and out of touch article. Cannabis is a highly effective medicine especially for those of us getting on in life. Unlike the hard drug called alcohol, obviously swilled in large quantities by this correspondent, which kills, maims and destroys lives of users and their families by the thousand every day of the week. As a responsible adult I have a right to put whatever I want into my body. Organised crime has no morals and demand no more id than a £10 or £20 note. Current laws deny us our basic human rights and proffer the vulnerable no protection whatsoever.

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Klaus Thymann

    What a socially backward article, especially strange that this appears in India where a majority of the country takes bhang at the holy festival of Holi. Bhang is cannabis, plain and simple. This particular sentence 'In no time, supermarkets and corner shops will be selling marijuana, and the term '€˜drugstore'€™ will acquire a new and deadlier meaning' is terrible. Don't you know that alcohol and tobacco kill far more people than cannabis? Have you ever even heard of a cannabis overdose or of violence caused by cannabis the way alcohol is so linked to violence. Non-prescription medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen kill many people.

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Gary Young

    This guy hasn\'t got a clue!pharmacies are all ready pumping out methadone in large scale distribution with no real long term rehab program even offered and the pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies are making a fortune from this so call legal alternative and there ware more deaths with methadone last year than heron if you ask me that makes the goverment and pharmacies just the same as drug deallers ??????

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Freddie Fielder

    What a naive and biased view. "The products will be 'improved' and become more alluring." actually the products would become safer, with unauthorised production clearly the main problem with keeping THC and CBD in a harmless and even beneficial equilibrium. And as for it becoming more alluring, you should take a look at the statistics in Holland and Portugal before parading your high-horse guess work. Decriminalisation of cannabis would not bring heroin into the soft drug definition. What a ridiculous thing to say. Cannabis as it is as a soft drug is known as a gateway drug because its dealers often push harder drugs on people who are yet to try them. Legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco are not gateway drugs and the same would be the case with cannabis, given the chance of course. Proper regulation in supermarkets and corner shops would in fact keep marijuana out of the hands of children. I have often heard of it being easier for a minor to buy illegal drugs than it is for them to buy cigarettes, you simply haven't spoken to any real people. As for the violence surrounding the drug market, I agree with you, decriminalisation is not a sensible solution to the problem. But full legalisation is. Tell me how are gangs to make money when you can buy cheaper and safer drugs in a corner shop? Your summary really made me laugh more than the rest. Because throughout the article you made it very clear that your own eyes are in fact firmly closed. So, in summary, other than the frequent flaws and gaping gaps, a very intelligent piece of propaganda, sir. Regards Freddie Fielder

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Charlie

    Look around you and you can see the effects of an uncontrolled drug trade. prohibition hasn\'t worked all its done is empower criminal gangs with untold riches with all the misery of violence and corruption . prohibition doesnt protect our Children or society, legal supply to adults is a better solution

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Adamg333

    The opening paragraph is terrible, starting an article on drugs by discussing the repercussions of a recognition that we are all equal, regardless of sexual preference. The Conservatives are divided but they are in a minority compared to the other parties and public opinion. Showing how out of touch with society they really are. There\'s your comparison, it\'s not that sexual preference will lose them the election, but more to do with the support of the rich and the removal of assistance for the poorest in society. \"Lawyers foresee years of intense argument, appeals and counter-appeals, accompanied by fat fees, stretching into the indefinable future\" They wish, and you are wrong. It isn\'t the way our legal system works. Who exactly is going to pay the lawyers? The lobbies for alcohol and tobacco are vast in comparison to lobbies for the end of prohibition and yet these substances cause hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, so the point made about influence is mute. Governments are already seriously impacted from corruption through the illegal trade and no repercussions apparently if the banks get caught laundering drug money. Another mute point. How much money is thrown at governments each year by Alcohol and tobacco? A legal trade in opiates is already established in many countries with direct marketing to pharmaceutical companies, and they are handing them out like sweets. The DEA recognises prescription drug abuse is the greatest health threat currently in the US and soon the UK too, GSK was recently fined over $2Billion for mis selling and falsifying safety profiles. Big business is no more or less honest than little businesses run by cartels and probably has a higher body count. China is already the largest producer of \"legal highs\" which have caused deaths. Never happened with Cannabis ever, no deaths ever! Unless you count destroying lives in prison and destroying families in both developed and undeveloped countries, where it is the person at the bottom of the chain who is treated like a criminal. Drug prohibition is lethal, racist, bigoted and a waste of money, and the only people who want to see it continue are the uninformed and the criminals who are enjoying the greatest profits and powers ever gifted to them. If you support prohibition you support organised crime. Legal markets work, look at alcohol, and also look at the tax revenue!

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Richard Carey

    What about Brazil? South America? why would we ship a weighty product that has a self life from NK? why with all the sanctions would we trade with NK? why are you talking about NK? your arguement makes no sense whatsoever, great sensationalist propaganda though.

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Juergen

    Cannabis Prohibition is the greatest fraud of all time: the pernicious effects of this crime are myriad, extreme and ubiquitous. Readers assimilate that Prohibition is the direct cause of: WAR; CRIME; disease; astronomical world energy, resource and food prices, with disastrous and homicidal corollary effects; world poverty; world famine; industrial and automotive emissions poisoning air; photochemical smog and acid rain; desertifications; the Greenhaouse effect, global warming and fatally catastrophic weather; and that RESTORATION is the immediate scientific solution.

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • A Jones

    It seems like this guy, Paul Johnson, is a set on looking only at the political and social consequences of this argument instead of what is actually right for the nation\'s public. A split in the Conservative Party can recover, where Gay marriage is regarded as of extreme high importance to some gay couples. It\'s what\'s just morally right that needs to be done, not the politically smart. Decriminalization of cannabis has been proven to have a length of benefits in a country that has a majority support for cannabis e.g. Uruguay. However, not only will there be benefits for EVERYONE, but the criminal underworld for this soft drug can go way out of proportion just because of the reason that it is illegal. You will get insane amounts of dealers per county, many who will also push other harder drugs. That is then where this myth of cannabis being a gateway drug comes from - people being offered more by their dealer. The legalization of cannabis would pull back the black market concerning the drug, as people would instead go to local dispensaries. My personal prediction is that after a few years in effect, the average usage of harder drugs will go down due to people just not going to dealers anymore. If all you\'re offered is cannabis, all you will get is cannabis.

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • R Mcnulty

    The problem here is the authors uncritical acceptance that the trade in soft drugs would be open to the free market, maybe this is a consequence of publishing in forbes! The Uruguayan policy under discussion at the moment advocates the governmental control of production and supply which eliminates the involvement of free market enterprise. Although this might be antithetical to the entrepreneur\'s ethos it is the only way to control the possibly legal purchase of soft drugs and avoid the situation that prevails with alcohol and tobacco. Recreational drugs are anything but controlled by prohibition, it\'s time to actually control them. Drug use is an inherent human drive, prohibition is trying to change human nature by destroying those most vulnerable in the developing world.

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Roland Gyallay-pap

    These views are old fashioned, sensationalist and just plain wrong. One would think that this \"eminent historian\" would know that when things are in high demand but illegal, the black market steps in, bringing with it all the problems he associates with drugs... violence, the propping up of terrorist regimes, etc. Making them legal, regulating and taxing is the only way to ensure that social harms are minimised whilst saving governments billions currently wasted on the War on Drugs. Roland CLEAR Media Team Cannabis Law Reform

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Brian_k

    For goodness sake. Just legalise the plant. Alcohol and tobacco are way more damaging to human health and mental stability yet anyone can purchase and overindulge in these legal substances. Cannabis has been proven to have huge medicinal potential and yet the government makes it impossible for these potentially ground breaking discoveries to be made. Let someone grow a reasonable amount for personal consumption and allow the government to control the flow of commercial cannabis, imagine the cash flow the U.K. could benefit from if the government taxes cannabis. Money to reduce the deficit and ultimately money that wont end up in the pocket of drug dealers helping to fund organised crime. Silly outdated backwards prohibition laws!

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • Peter Reynolds

    What a momumentally idiotic article! Let\'s stick to the hardest drug of all alcohol, shall we? Let\'s continue with \"vast sums\" being spent on promotion, especially to the young, shall we? Or we could do what is proven to reduce all harms and regulate in accordance with potential for harm which means legally available cannabis for adults and a far tougher regime on alcohol. And as for the ludicrous paranoia about North Korea! Paul Johnson may be British, which makes me ashamed, but he is not eminent, he is a complete fool.

    on Apr 11, 2013
  • S Sharma

    Decriminilization of drug trade will be of immense benefit - prices will go down ; those involved in the trade and there are many will no longer work with the sword of jail hanging over them. The drugs available will be legal and safe and not adulterated. Fears that the entire population of the world/India will be in one long trance are misplaced. The entire population does not drink and all those that drink are not all drunkards. Today drugs are available for a price and not very much at that. This does not entice everyone to take drugs. Visitors to Varanasi imbibe bhang which is legal and return to their cities. They dont settle in Varanasi where it is legal and low cost. The fears of the author are unfounded and have no basis. Drugs should be made legal but its advertising curtailed.

    on Apr 11, 2013