Friday, May 22, 2009

Prohibition debate shifting ground

The prohibition debate in Sydney seems to be shifting ground, with The SMH today kindly publishing another of my letters, this one called Prohibition doesn't work. I was responding to an Elizabeth Farrelly piece lamenting the burglary of her house by junkies and pinning the syndrome on the true cause: prohibition and junkies.

Another letter from a Redfern resident concurs. It seems living in the epicentre of street drug fallout and having to deal with it daily clarifies the mind (conservatives excepted of course -- they just carry on with their fallacious dogma).

In the past I have had little success getting letters on this topic published. Let's hope it signals a new framework for sensible public debate.

PS Dr Andrew Byrne from the Redfern Clinic has written in more detail how Portugal's systems work.

PPS 25 May: One reply to the letters above from  prohibitionist Matt Kwan was published on Saturday. My letter is described as "illogical" but see if you can pick the multiple fallacies in the following:

"Money will still matter
Michael Gormly and Thea Gumbert (Letters, May 22) believe legalisation of drugs such as heroin will result in less crime, as addicts will no longer have to steal to support their habits. This is illogical. Many illicit drugs are highly addictive. Sooner or later, dependence will outstrip addicts' capacity to pay, regardless of where they buy drugs. Stealing will continue under prohibition or legalisation, as both require money to be exchanged for drugs.

Matt Kwan Sydney"

I replied (see below) and wasn't published. But Stuart Cranston from Coogee nailed it better than I did with this letter published today:

Cigarette ban is no answer
Matt Kwan (Letters, May 23-24), when have you ever heard of a cigarette smoker, someone who is hooked on the most addictive drug in the world, committing a crime to pay for a packet? I guarantee that your answer would be never and the reason is that tobacco is legal and as a result the prices are kept low and within reason.

If, however, tobacco was criminalised, the price would skyrocket and the supply and distribution would be controlled and managed by organised criminal gangs. That is why the argument for prohibition fails dismally in this context.

Stuart Cranston Coogee

An elegant reply, Stuart! Two letters preceding his also rebut prohibitionist dogma as preached by Miranda Devine.

My unpublished reply to Matt Kwan follows:

It is Matt Kwan who is illogical about drug addiction (Letters 23 May). He thinks addiction has no upper limit to its consumption and therefore addicts would return to crime even if drugs were legal and regulated.

It ain’t necessarily so. Supply by prescription would imply not only built-in health management but also the ability of doctors to prescribe to the needs of the addict. Meanwhile the wheels would fall off the illegal supply chain, both from plummeting demand and ‘unfair’ price pressure from the regulated product. Yes, some addicts would try to operate outside the system but, faced with a choice of a long and possibly fruitless search on the streets or the certainty of a quality product at a much lower price, the desperate addict would overwhelmingly favour the latter, leaving us with far safer homes and more pleasant public spaces. 

Michael Gormly Woolloomooloo

Seriously, would you buy dodgy illegal product at $50 a hit when you could get a quality legal product around ten times cheaper? If addiction did drive users to more and more product, wouldn't their $5 hit still be better value than the $50 option? And if they did steal to get their $5, wouldn't that still imply a ten-times reduction in crime by addicts?

International drug cartels reportedly factor in a 50% loss of their product in transit, and still make exorbitant profits because there is no legal alternative to their product. Legal supply of drugs would send such a highly leveraged business to the wall quick smart. Imagine a legitimate business like GMH losing half the vehicles they export and having to double their RRP to compensate. Not viable.

Another thing Matt Kwan doesn't get is that most addicts keep their tolerance at a fairly steady level, many holding down jobs. It seems Matt believes the myths peddled by prohibitionists, which is understandable if he has little first-hand knowledge of the street drug scene.

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