Monday, August 16, 2010

Why do so many experts talk nonsense?

The former president of Mexico has declared that 'legalisation' of drugs is the best way to stop that country's ongoing Drug War massacre which has seen 28,000 people killed in recent years.

Mexico is seen by reformers as the clearest case showing that the harms of prohibition are worse than the harms of the drugs it fails to control.

It was covered on Saturday night by SBS News in a story that distinguished itself by even talking about 'legalisation' -- although it still never mentioned the flip side, prohibition.

Current President Calderon opposed the idea, falling back on an assertion that 'legalisation' would cause an explosion in use of the drug. Perhaps this unsupported claim is understandable as he receives swags of money from the US government so the damage ultimately caused by US demand for drugs is kept across the border for the Mexicans to deal with. He's a politician.

But what is the excuse for  Associate Professor Stephen Jurd, an Australian addiction specialist who seems to have become one of the media's 'go-to' guys on drugs.

He mirrored President Caldéron, opposing 'legalisation' on the grounds that cannabis use would dramatically increase because it would be more easily available and that would lead to an increase in psychoses.

But he tellingly offered no evidence for these assertions, which are straight from the prohibitionist hymn-book.

For a start he seems to assume that legalisation equals an unregulated free-for-all. But all drug law reformers I know of support a highly regulated regime designed to moderate drug use, particularly among young people.

Secondly his assertion that 'legalisation' would lead to a significant increase in use is problematic. As more enlightened commentators have pointed out ad nauseam, Portugal's 2001 decriminalisation of all drugs was followed by an overall decrease in use and a huge reduction in the transmission of the HIV virus. Dr Jurd also ignores that the highest drug usage rates globally tend to be in the countries with the strictest prohibition.

Thirdly his belief in the solid link between cannabis use and psychosis ignores the awkward fact that Schizophrenia has not increased per capita during the decades that cannabis use indeed did explode (under prohibition!) since the 1960s.

What's Dr Jurd's excuse for this sloppy commentary? Has he simply adopted a mindset that agrees with our prohibitionist government, that fount of research funding and career advancement?

Even if Dr Jurd was right, what value does he put on 28,000 lives snuffed out so-far in Mexico alone, relative to the treatable harms of drugs?

And would he likewise assert, for the same reasons he gave above, that the prohibition of alcohol in the US should not have been repealed?

Or was the professor simply the victim of terrible editing?

An intelligent comment would have queried how 'legalisation' in Mexico would stop anything while prohibition remains in force in the USA, ensuring that stupendous profits can be made by criminals and the illicit trade would continue. Hmmmn.

Anyhow, I'll email Dr Jurd and give him an opportunity to respond. Watch this space.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the opportunity to respond. If you were given a 12 second sound bite, you too might seem less considered. I do not discount the numerous deaths in Mexico. I do have some concern as to whether Mexico, acting in isolation could sufficiently change the market to decrease the carnage. Isn't all the fighting over US dollars? As to my views on cannabis: It is a well recognised public health axiom that the higher the availability of any drug, the more the drug will be used and the more that a drug is used the more side effects there will be of that drug. Cannabis is associated, in multiple long term studies with an increase in presentations for schizophrenia. It could explain about 14% of schizophrenia. Nor is schizophrenia the only psychiatric side effect of cannabis. Even if legalising cannabis in Mexico could decrese the awful drug war there, it may not be without some adverse effects.