by Tony Allwright
on 9th October 2008

Mr President, Members of the Council, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you for inviting me here tonight.

I listened to and read, with great interest, the erudite essay just presented by Jonathan Wyse and commend him for his insight and argumentation. In particular, let me say I admire anyone with the courage to disagree with Saint Mahatma Gandhi!

The essence of his paper is, as I understand it, that
1. Drugs are inherently dangerous; they are quickly addictive and often cause short and long-term brain damage.
This appears to be a matter of scientific fact, so I would not dispute it.
2. People do not have sufficient knowledge of the dangers of drug use
Again, this is probably true
3. Therefore the Government must protect them from it
4. This need for protection trumps freedom of choice for adults,
5. Freedom anyway is not an end in and of itself.

It is on these last three points that I would diverge. First and foremost I believe that freedom is indeed an end in and of itself. After food and sex, it is probably humankinds most basic impulse.

Indeed, the wonder and beauty of Western civilisation is in essence that it has enshrined personal freedoms, which are constrained only if and to the extent that they interfere with others freedoms. It is this very freedom to act that has fostered western culture, technology and democracy, which in turn have led to the comfortable lifestyles we in the West generally enjoy and take for granted.

So there need to be very strong arguments indeed before Governments should be allowed to remove individual freedoms, such as the freedom to take mind-altering substances.

The issue is firstly whether the adverse effects of drug-taking constitute such an argument, and secondly whether criminalising them improves the situation.

Besides drug-taking, there are many other behaviours by which humans may potentially damage themselves.
Cigarettes and alcohol, motor-biking, mountaineering, free-diving, horse-riding, over-eating, under-exercising.
Drivers alone kill nearly 400 people a year and injure another 4,000 in this tiny country of just four million people.

But none of these things are criminalised, so you have to wonder what makes drugs so special.

And does criminalisation improves the situation? NO.

The Garda regularly catch drug dealers and seize kilos of illicit drugs worth millions of uro, and are congratulated in the newspapers next morning, often with photos of their haul (and of themselves).

But such efforts are a total waste of taxpayers’ money.
Not a single user will go without his fix.
Locked up dealers are immediately replaced by others.

This is the utter fallacy of the much-touted war on drugs, vigorously pursued by well-meaning jurisdictions and police forces all over the world, and with equal lack of beneficial impact whatsoever. That includes the US, spending $50 billion a year.

The reason for failure is a simple one: they are aiming at the wrong targets: drug-peddlers and drug-growers those wondrously industrious and inventive developing-world farmers of such places as Afghanistan, Columbia, Laos. You have to marvel at how stone-age Afghanis meet over 90% of the world’s demand for opiates. What other country meets 90% of the world’s demand for anything?

The right targets are of course the customers, who alone create the demand and provide the money that fuels the drugs industry. While users remain untouched, no amount of destruction of crops or putting traffickers under lock and key can halt the production and trade.

Firstly, therefore, users themselves need to be hunted down in their thousands and punished, because this would instantly cut demand and thus the drugs business.

But it would of course put any politician who suggests it instantly out of commission as his voters see their friends and relations carted off into the Paddy wagon.

Its just not going to happen.

The second approach should aim to cut people’s desire for drugs in the first place. Certainly, widespread TV advertising about the dangers would help, just as ads about the horrific effects of alcohol-fuelled car-accidents help to reduce drink-driving.

But a wholesale change in the drug-taking culture requires that people be targeted when they are so young they are only beginning to form their own world views. That means starting anti-drugs education at primary school, if not earlier, and keeping it going, relentlessly, so that by the time theyre adults, drug-taking seems as ridiculous to them as driving without a seat-belt or leaving all the lights on.

Such social brainwashing of the very young and upwards has a long history of success whether for good or ill stretching over millennia.

Indoctrinating generations of Ireland’s kids in the Catholic Catechism maintained this country as almost a theocratic state until only a couple of decades ago.
Instilling a pride in one’s own nation and – yes, race – helped create and fuel countless empires.
Tribal loyalties and prejudices, inculcated from the cradle, have led to conflicts such as the Rwandan genocide, Northern Ireland’s 30-year war, Kikuyo vs Luo violence in Kenya just a few months ago.
To this day, madrassas across the world propagate Muslim victimhood and hatreds which will keep the jihad going long into the future.
As the Jesuits used to say Give me a child of seven, and I will show you the man.

Brainwashing kids with anti-drug ideas can thus certainly succeed. But though not especially expensive, it is unglamorous, difficult to implement, pretty boring and will take twenty years to yield results. It requires every teacher in every school to drive home the message of drug-danger at every opportunity and every lesson, with parents doing much the same at home.

One of my hats is as an industrial safety consultant. If a firm is serious about wanting to improve its safety performance, it has to lead from the top and convince every manager and supervisor to fight for and talk about safety every day to everyone on almost every occasion and forever. That is the only way a true safety culture gets imbued into an organization, making safe behaviour and attitudes second nature to every employee.

It wont be different with drugs education, any more than it was any different when schools used to indoctrinate children with the Catholic faith morning, noon and night.

However, compared to the fun of routing out drug dealers and poisoning poppy fields, drugs education provides few kudos or newspaper headlines for anyone.

Nevertheless, the real challenge is to bend that most powerful of mankind’s attributes the attitude of the human mind.

It is all very well to criminalise drugs. But when unenforced and ineffectual as current drugs laws are throughout the Western world, the law is an ass.

There is of course the other, radical alternative, by comparison cheap and easy. Drugs could simply be legalised, decriminalised, regulated and taxed. They could be treated no differently than those two other dangerous drugs tobacco and alcohol whose massive tax revenues more than cover the financial cost of the damage they cause.

Jonathan Wyse has eloquently explained why he rejects this course. He believes adults have insufficient knowledge about the dangers of drugs and thus should be denied the freedom to make their own decisions.

But he also apparently believ
es that educating people is a lost cause.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I do not.
And I do not believe the law should be an ass.

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A speech presented to the Trinity Philosophical Society