Back to basics

drugs-life-police-officer-267837

This meme has been doing the rounds of drug law reform social networks. Regular readers may have seen it once or twice already.

In this post I want to consider the message that this meme is sending to young people. And what this meme means for drug law reformers in general and for libertarians in particular.

Drugs can ruin your life

For sure. Drugs can, and do, harm people. Drug harms can be measured. See, for example, the Nutt scale. And drug harms can be prevented.

so if I catch you with them I’m sending you to jail and ruining your life.

One way to prevent drug harms is to prevent people from taking drugs. One way to prevent people from taking drugs is to send them to jail. But being sent to jail ruins your life.

The harms caused by criminalising drug use can also be measured and it turns out that the cure is worse than the disease. Prohibition doesn’t work. The War on Drugs™ is an expensive, epic failure. The harms caused by criminalising drugs outweigh and/or add to and exacerbate the harms caused by the drugs themselves.

So say the majority of drug law reformers. In the interests of harm minimisation, we must abandon the failed policy of prohibition and try a new approach to preventing drug harms. The three pillars of harm minimisation are demand reduction, supply control and problem limitation. So we must educate (to reduce demand), regulate (to control supply) and treat (to limit problems).

But wait! Who’s being forced to pay for all this harm minimisation? Asks the libertarian. Since when was harm minimisation a proper role of government? The proper role of government is to uphold our rights, not to save us from ourselves.

Drugs can ruin your life

The stock libertarian response is, if you’re worried that drugs can ruin your life, don’t take them. In other words, so what?

so if I catch you with them I’m sending you to jail and ruining your life.

It’s the bottom bit of the message that ought to make libertarians sit up and take notice. The proper role of government is to uphold our rights, not to save us from ourselves, and certainly not to violate our rights by sending us to jail! Governments can and do catch people with drugs, send them to jail and ruin their lives. Governments harm people by doing that. Governments shouldn’t harm people. So it turns out that harm minimisation is a proper role of government, after all.

I briefly looked at the types of harms governments should try to minimise in a previous post.

The overarching goal of the [New Zealand government’s National Drug] Policy, to prevent and reduce the harms that are linked to drug use, is a noble one. However, we must distinguish between three main kinds of drug-related harms

1. Harms which individuals inflict upon themselves, or inflict upon others with their consent
2. Harms which individuals inflict upon others without their consent
3. Harms which governments inflict upon their citizens

Libertarianz says that the government should not seek to save people from themselves, and most certainly should not harm its own citizens. The government should seek to bring to justice those who commit thefts, assaults, rapes and murders, whether such criminal acts are drug-fuelled or not.

It’s by focussing on this third category that I believe we can, as libertarians, make a contribution to National Drug Policy while maintaining our philosophical integrity.

Harm minimisation is a proper role of government, but only the minimisation of certain harms and not others. Minimising the harms we inflict upon ourselves is not the legitimate business of the state. Minimising the harms the state inflicts on its own citizens is very much the legitimate business of the state. Governments ought to be forced to take the Hippocratic Oath! Above all, do no harm.

do_no_harm

Last year, the New Zealand government did what seemed to be a very libertarian thing. It stood back and let us get on with the business of harming ourselves by smoking untested, unsafe, novel synthetic cannabinoids. This month, the New Zealand government apparently reverted to its authoritarian ways and banned the sale and use of all synthetic cannabinoids until further notice.

All is not as it seems. By allowing us to harm ourselves, the government was inflicting harm on us!

How so? What I just said is bound to sound paradoxical, or even duplicitous, unless you stand back and get the bigger picture. In my previous post, syndicated from Life Behind The IRon Drape, Mark Hubbard stands back and gets the bigger picture.

This is what the 119 that I declared a philosophical war upon, have done. They legalised a line of hardcore addictive drugs in the league of P or heroin, nothing similar to the non-toxic, non-addictive, medicinal cannabis that many other countries are sensibly legalising, and then by keeping cannabis criminalised they successfully addicted possibly thousands of mainly young Kiwis to the equivalent of heroin, because by taking the legal heroin they would not face the force of the law, or lose their jobs, unlike smoking cannabis for which they would be convicted in the government war on drugs. So government policy addicted them to heroin, and I’ll keep making this point …

Context is important. He who would trade safely implemented and lasting drug law reform for some temporary liberty, deserves neither. Sometimes, a little freedom is a dangerous thing.

Anthony_DiPonzios

I’m given to understand that this revised meme is what most of my fellow drug law reform activists are fighting for. Well, being sent to rehab is better than being sent to jail, isn’t it? I suppose so.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Libertopia any more.

Footnote.

The police officer in the picture is Anthony DiPonzio of the Rochester Police Department in New York. DiPonzios is both a perpetrator and a victim in the War on Drugs™. In 2009

DiPonzio, 23, was shot in the back of the head on a city street after questioning a few people about alleged drug activity on Saturday, Jan. 31. Tyquan Rivera, 14, of 65 Dayton St., Rochester, turned himself in to Rochester police Tuesday, Feb. 3. He will be tried as a juvenile and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

“We are pleased to share that officer DiPonzio continues to make significant progress in recovering from his serious wound. He is speaking this morning, and we are very pleased with his notably improving condition, which is far ahead of where we expected him to be at this point.”

“He has made such significant progress that – based on his current condition – we anticipate he will be able to transfer from Rochester General Hospital to Unity Health System’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit early next week.”

ENLARGE_01diponzioRGH

9 thoughts on “Back to basics”

  1. I’m not sure that “supply control” really is a pillar of harm minimalisation, esp. when it means people getting their supply from questionable sources.

  2. “Do no harm” is slightly incorrect – just punishments may be harmful to the offender.

    “Do no wrong” or “do no injustice” is more correct as a rule #1.

    The Coronation Oath which is at the foundation of our government includes a commitment to justice.

    Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?

    1. “Do no harm” is slightly incorrect – just punishments may be harmful to the offender.

      You’re right, of course.

      I realised there needs to be some sort of caveat after reading Tim’s “rebuttal”.

      Let’s consider unjust harms.

      Surely, a libertarian can, and should, be committed to the view that minimising the unjust harms the state inflicts on its own citizens is very much the legitimate business of the state. I.e., the state must make sure that it doesn’t unjustly harm people in the course of going about its legitimate business. And the state must not make committing harmful injustices its business. A libertarian can, and should, be committed to the view that the state should be committed to the practice of harm minimisation, with respect to the aforementioned harms.

  3. The problem is that cops don’t send people to jail, courts do. And they do so by enforcing laws that lawmakers made, lawmakers elected by the people. Most of these people support these laws and they have a right to decide what kind of community they want to live in. We can’t eradicate drugs from our community but we can force the users and dealers to stay under their rocks where they belong. Regardless, if you don’t like the laws then work to change them. But don’t blame the police for enforcing them.

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