Pubdate: Sun, 02 Apr 2006
Source: MaltaToday (Malta)
Column: For and Against
Copyright: 2006  MediaToday Ltd
Address: Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 07
Authors: Philip Manduca, Albert Buttigieg
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Should Recreational Drug Users Face Penalties, And Does Their 
Criminalisation Solve Anything?

No one should be put into prison for taking a drug. He/she usually 
has enough problems.

The laws prohibiting the use of drugs are cruel, do not achieve the 
proposed aims and cause more problems than they solve.

I believe they will be removed eventually. Drugs are defined as "any 
substance that can be used to modify a chemical process or processes 
in the body, for example to treat an illness, relieve a symptom, 
enhance a performance or ability, or to alter states of mind". 
Heroin, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, coffee and tobacco are all 
drugs. Before you think "alcohol, tobacco and coffee are not drugs", 
consider the following: every year in the USA 300,000 people die due 
to smoking of tobacco. 150,000 die because of alcohol.

The chronic effects of tobacco and alcohol are devastating. Studies 
have shown that alcohol has the highest addiction liability rating of 
all drugs (1958 Maurice Seevers). Despite all this not only are 
alcohol and tobacco legal but we are allowed to advertise them and 
governments earn huge amounts of tax from their sale. My argument is 
not that one drug is any better or worse than the other but I wish to 
show that drugs are not illegal because they are bad. If that was the 
case then certainly alcohol and cigarettes would be made illegal. 
Alcohol and cigarettes are not illegal for various reasons and most 
people realise that making them illegal would not solve the problems 
but create a far worse problem as happened in the past. The present 
drug laws greatly increase the price of illegal drugs, often forcing 
users to steal to get the money to obtain them; encourage people to 
become criminals by creating an extremely lucrative black market in 
drugs; cause deaths and illness including AIDS because there is no 
quality control in the black market.

Prohibition kills by making drug use more dangerous.

Illegal drugs contain poisons, are of uncertain potency, and often 
are injected with dirty needles.

Many deaths are caused by infections, accidental overdoses, and poisoning.

Prohibition causes a decrease in civil liberties - because drug 
offences differ from violent crimes in that there is rarely a 
complaining witness to a drug transaction and thus to be effective, 
drug agents must be authorised to intrude into the innermost private 
lives of suspected drug criminals. In his study "Thinking about Drug 
Legalization" James Ostrowski says: "the war on drugs is immoral as 
well as impractical. It imposes enormous costs, including the 
ultimate cost of death, on large numbers of non-drug abusing citizens 
in the failed attempt to save a relatively small group of hard-core 
drug abusers from themselves. It is immoral and absurd to force some 
people to bear costs so that others might be prevented from choosing 
to do harm to themselves." The usual reaction of governments in 
relation to drugs is to increase penalties and to spend more money on 
Police Special Forces but the result is always the same: drug use 
continues and the mafia makes a killing. The idea that increased 
penalties will solve the drug problem is as old as it is ridiculous. 
Declarations of "war on drugs", declarations of "plague of drugs", 
increased penalties, young girls being put in prison for six months 
for arriving in Malta with a joint - but the situation remains the 
same - and society as a whole suffers because of laws which are 
fundamentally flawed.

Philip Manduca is a lawyer

It is important to stress that we, as Agenzija Sedqa, the national 
agency against the abuse of alcohol and drugs, are in no way trying 
to interfere with young people's right to enjoy themselves. On the 
contrary, through our prevention programmes, we empower and encourage 
people, especially young people, to have fun. This, however, should 
be done in a healthy way. The agency believes, in fact, that no drugs 
can be regarded as 'recreational'. All of them, categorically, have 
their own harmful effects, both physical and psychological, and these 
outweigh by far any of the short-term positive 'feelings' that any of 
these drugs might have. To give a practical example: individuals 
taking ecstasy, even once, apart from the rush associated with it, 
will feel an increase in heart rate, muscle tremor, tightness in jaw 
muscles and will be affected negatively by nausea, insomnia and 
numbness among other things.

Taking ecstasy on a regular basis, on the other hand, will result in 
more tolerance. Even with other drugs, such as LSD, cocaine and 
downers such as marijuana and heroin, when a person can tolerate 
more, it becomes a vicious circle.

The person will feel the need to increase the dose in order to 
achieve the same effect, and once into the habit, it becomes more 
likely to experience the negative side effects associated with its 
use, rather than the hyped euphoria that lead the person to take it 
in the first place. When discussing 'drugs', we need to be reminded 
that when using regularly, the person will become hooked or addicted, 
even if one might not recognise it as such. It is a fact that many 
ecstasy users may not become addicted physically, meaning that they 
will not experience withdrawals symptoms if they do not use it for a 
period of time, but nonetheless, the psychological urge remains. 
Furthermore, the term 'recreational' might give the impression that 
these drugs could be enjoyed without experiencing any short and 
long-term effects, but this is certainly not the case. Liberalising, 
or decriminalising, any type of drug specifically for 'recreational 
use' will give the wrong message, and will make it possible for young 
people to feel ok about 'playing with fire'. Within this context, the 
agency opposes any direct or indirect attempts to liberalise 
'recreational' drugs, under the pretext of damage control. We hold 
this position not without reason.

 From our work experience, and especially the scientific research 
available, we are convinced that at the end of the day, 
'recreational' drugs are simply harmful.

Using 'recreational' drugs, even occasionally, starts a process that 
leads to destructive behaviour, negative lifestyles, poor health and 
an inferior quality of life. This conviction is based on facts rather 
then on myths.

The experience of the many sad stories stemming from such abuse we 
encounter every day lead us to our firm position: that we are against 
the liberalisation of any illegal 'recreational' drugs.

Albert Buttigieg is primary prevention coordinator at Sedqa
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