Every home a prison?

Prohibition is failing. OK,  you might expect a blog like this to come out with a statement like that, after all the creeping anarchy and state repression created by prohibition is the main reason sites like this exist. What might not be quite so expected is that prohibition supporters also think prohibition is failing. Despite all the hundreds of thousands of people locked up, despite the carnage caused by the drug wars and despite an almost total lack of evidence for any success whatsoever – the reason prohibition is failing according to these people is because we’re not doing enough of it , we’re not locking enough people up.

One of the leading loonies of the prohibition lobby is Peter Hitchins who has a column in the good old Daily Mail. Peter wrote, in his usual objective style, this week

I do not understand why we treat drug-dealers as wicked, vicious criminals, while treating moronic, self-destructive drug-users as victims. It is users who bring misery to their families by wrecking their mental health. It is users who commit crime to pay for their pleasure. It is users who become a danger to their fellow creatures. If there were no users, there would be no dealers.

Peter is a true prohibitionist who sees the only way to safeguard the freedoms we all love as being through intense police state repression. His argument does have a logic of sorts though because in a way he is right; if there were no consumers of drugs, there would be no market in them. Unlike most prohibition supporters, Peter at least seems to understand the laws of supply and demand.

So all you have to do to make prohibition work is to stop people wanting and deciding to use drugs. Simples.

Peter’s “logic” of course doesn’t extend to alcohol, but as we all know, alcohol isn’t really a drug, is it? Peter is talking only of the “illegal” drugs, the ones politicians have decided we should not use. The reason we see all this violence surrounding “illegal” drugs is because so many people make their own choices and don’t do what politicians tell them.

The BBC’s Mark Easton wrote of a report issued last year  and published in the International Journal of Drug Policy entitled “Effect of drug law enforcement on drug market violence: A systematic review” (link). The hypothesis the study tested was that the results “would demonstrate an association between increased drug law enforcement expenditures or intensity and reduced levels of violence” – in other words the more spent on drug law enforcement, the lower the intensity and levels of violence we would expect to see. This, after all, is the reason given for enforcement of the drug laws, there’s not much point to doing it if that isn’t going to happen. Guess what?

“From an evidence-based public policy perspective and based on several decades of available data, the existing scientific evidence suggests drug law enforcement contributes to gun violence and high homicide rates and that increasingly sophisticated methods of disrupting organisations involved in drug distribution could paradoxically increase violence.”

As Mark reports

The very act of disruption, they suggest, creates a more violent climate: “As dealers exit the illicit drug market, those willing to work in a high-risk environment enter, and that street dealing thereby becomes more volatile.”

Ed Dolan is an economist, textbook writer, and author of Ed Doland’s Econ blog, which gets very technical about things economic. This week he wrote an explanation  entitled “Why It’s Obvious We Are Losing The War On Drugs” (link), which is all to do with the way the drugs market responds.

The point of this is that drug cartels are like normal business in some ways, but not in all ways. If cocaine and heroin were legal products like tobacco and alcohol, their producers’ revenue would  still respond to changes in price as predicted by elasticity, and increases in revenue would still be devoted, in part, to innovation and capital investment aimed at expanding supply. But those businesses would not share the extreme badness of the drug cartels. It is not the nature of their products that makes drug gangsters so readily engage in murder, kidnapping, and other forms of mayhem. Rather, the conditions in which skill and enthusiasm in committing acts of violence become a path to promotion and power are created by the very fact that cocaine and heroin are prohibited substances, and those conditions are only intensified the more vigorously the prohibition is pursued.

So ignoring the minor detail that prohibition is at the root of the violence in the first place, if we can’t fight the war on drugs by going for the dealers is Peter Hitchens right? Is the only way to effectively deal with this to declare all out war on all forms of drug use? If prohibition is to work, does it have to be a “bottom up” process, focused not on the supply side, but on the consumer?

Well, there are a lot of arguments to be used against this approach of all out war on a huge section of our population and not all of them fluffy ideals about such values as freedom and liberty – values prohibitionists don’t rate very highly. The sheer practicality of actually locking everyone up would present more than a few problems apart from anything else. But this is the logical end game for prohibition, the only way it might be made to work is when every home becomes a prison and each and every one of us is under constant surveillance and monitoring to ensure we are obeying the law.

So could this work? Sadly for the drug warriors experience seems to just say no. In the home of prohibition, the USA, drug use is endemic and levels of violence worse than here despite far harsher enforcement laws aimed against low level use. Worse, the workings of these drug laws are culturally damaging and in the “land of the free” more black men are behind bars because of the war on drugs than were enslaved in 1850 (link).

In truth what’s happened is that the war on drugs as it’s been fought has not only failed but has created a worse problem than originally existed. Peter Hitchens is not willing to entertain the idea that the basic concept of prohibition is wrong and so the only way forward is take the fight to every man woman and child of the country. The idea that you can force people to obey laws is at the heart of the prohibition concept and so this is the natural conclusion; a war against everyone.

There is, of course, another way – but that involves treating us adults like adults.


UKCIA is a cannabis law reform site dedicated to ending the prohibition of cannabis. As an illegal drug, cannabis is not a controlled substance - it varies greatly in strength and purity, it's sold by unaccountable people from unknown venues with no over sight by the authorities. There is no recourse to the law for users and the most vulnerable are therefore placed at the greatest risk. There can be no measures such as age limits on sales and no way to properly monitor or study the trade, let alone introduce proper regulation. Cannabis must be legalised, as an illegal substance it is very dangerous to the users and society at large.

9 thoughts on “Every home a prison?

  1. Is it coming to this?. Have we to look forward to drug testing in every work place, school and home?. I do beleave there are some who think this would be a way to win their War on people. The end of days if i may. A sad world it would truly become. One which i would want no part off. The sad thing is beyound this blog and others i do fear we’ll get some political nutcase who may start to push these ideas. We really do need to see America to wake up and revolt sooner rather than later or else this kind off madness may take root, pardon my pun. I have hope it wont. However. Have i faith at this point that things wont go down this road?. Thats a good question. I do beleave we are coming to a cros roads in human history, were mankind has to wake up and smell the coffee. This war on sick people has to stop. Its gone on too long. Its been aloud go on by all off us for too long. When a tired and failed policy has run out off ideas. This kind off all out total war could be envoked. Thats the fear that should push us on to say no more. Orwell was so right. A man ahead off his time. I do hope we entre a new era if i may take the liberty. Sick people dont need prison cells they neeh help and conpassion they need hope. If the solution is the final solution, this world if Screwed. Good tought invoking artical Derek, well done once again.

  2. I am totally against the Drug Prohibition Regime and can’t wait to see it thrown away into the dustbin of history greatest inequities humankind have inflicted on itself. I would have thought that any rational, responsible and caring individual could see that drug abuse and its profoundly disruptive consequences calls for enlightened policies where education, health and regulation would play central roles; that it calls for policies where no room is left for the Victorian values Peter Hutchins seems so keen on: abstinence or punishment.

    One can only assume that something deeply ideological, prejudicial or irrational prevents people from understanding that the problem is prohibition, and not the drugs themselves; that no matter what drug one is considering, prohibition is not the solution…far from it. If anything, what decades of pursuing and enforcing the prohibition regime and its dastardly offshoot, the so-called War on Drugs, is that it can only make things worse!

    Having said that, I am troubled by the skewed views in some quarters of the anti-prohibitionist movement in drug consuming, developed countries like ours; I am referring specifically to their focus on the demand/consumption side of the equation with total disregard of the supply side. I think I do understand the difference between tactics and strategy, and can see that for many in this movement the priority is to undermine the prohibitionist regime in this side of the fence and in the process help undermine the case for the war on the supply of drugs. As I have consistently been arguing in my blog (apologies for self-referencing): countries that have decriminalised or depenalised the demand have a moral obligation to introduce changes in national and international laws to seek the decriminalisation or depenalisation of the supply, too. Given the extraordinarily high price drug producing countries have paid and continue to pay for this insane war, not to do so is hypocritical, cynical and frankly speaking, criminal.

    Gart Valenc

  3. So essentially what he’s saying is “do as I say or GTFO”. What a tit. I mean seriously, who is it whose letting people like this have a voice in public fora? Why is this wannabe gestapo allowed to spread his particular brand of vitriol? Does he not realise that he’s the same sort of disgusting ingrate that stood in the way of gay rights or equality? It’s about time we started kicking up more of a fuss about these people and what they have to say. We too often just sit back and do nothing more than accept what essentially amounts to cultural discrimination whilst muttering quietly to ourselves about how unfair it is. What other minority would be allowed to be given a moniker like “moronic” without causing outrage. It’s about time we started shouting out about the glaring error in logic that allows pillocks like this Hitchens (not “Hutchins” as you’ve put up there Derek) to suggest such draconian actions against us! I was really shocked to see these views espoused by a guy whose brother is man I hold in such high regard. Maybe we should be asking him if he also thinks Christopher should be locked up for his famous taste for liquor? I’m willing to bet he doesn’t.

  4. I always enjoy reading your blog and so today I’d like to thank you. Thank You! For the simplicity and the thought. Anyone can understand your blog and I believe that counts. That’s me done. Nik

  5. This is a great piece.

    The work of Professor Alex Stevens of the university of Kent is really worth following and directly relates to this article.


    Peter Hitchens; he’s a strange fellow, he’s clearly intelligent, I kind of like him too in an odd way. I think he fulfils a role, I think he knows that if you push the right buttons you stay current. I wonder if he simply acts the pantomime dame in this debate.

  6. I’ve wondered that before HGO, his pieces are so flamboyant and over the top that I wonder if he’s just making a quick buck. He must know there is a market in being the “society is going to the dogs” guy, perhaps he’s playing up his prejudices so he’ll keep getting published.

    Kind of like an anti-Howard Stern.

  7. I’m just starting a related website now so it was nice to come across this blog and the information within it thanks


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