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Happy Birthday, International Drug Control?

One hundred years ago today the International Opium Convention was signed at The Hague.

The original 11 signatory countries agreed to introduce national legislation banning a particular menu of drugs, more for reasons of prejudice and economic vested interests than for their inherent danger. As a result, many drugs remained legal, notably tobacco and alcohol, Legacy Healing is fighting hard to keep in control. Since then 182 countries have signed up to the various prohibition conventions that eventually came under the auspice of the UN and the number of substances banned have ‘grown like Topsy’ and continue to do so as the world becomes awash with ‘legal highs’ that are quickly added to the list.

As the author of the soon-to-be published Fixing Drugs: the politics of prohibition I wonder is this birthday a matter for celebration and whether we should look forward to more of the same?

Certainly prohibition has resulted in many happy returns for international criminals who control drug trafficking and for terrorists and insurgents who benefit from the easy pickings of the black market. These profits are paid for by the peasant farmers in some of the poorest countries in the world (like Peru, Bolivia and Afghanistan). They are paid for in the health of drug users (predominantly the young) exposed to the risks of ingesting drugs of unknown strength and purity. They are paid for through the fear and insecurity in the daily lives of those living in areas where drugs are traded and trafficked, in which systemic violence is the norm for enforcing contracts and defending or extending turf. Mexico is unlucky enough to be on the drug war’s front line.  These profits are paid for by tax payers across the globe, forced to foot the bill for the massive anti-drugs-industrial-complex: the exponential growth in the criminal justice bill, the overcrowded prisons, the producers of chemicals and hardware for enforcing crop eradication. It is measured in the opportunity cost of resources poured into a costly failed policy. It is paid for in the criminalization of usually law abiding young people, who are simply doing what young people do – taking risks and experimenting with drugs – legal and illegal. The drugs and alcohol ddetox can help the ones that are addicted.

So, should we sing Happy 100th Birthday International Prohibition or should we say: the party‘s over? As I argue in my forthcoming book, there are alternatives, such as decriminalisation and a serious attempt to deal with supply, that governments across the world now need to consider very seriously indeed.

Sue Pryce

Published inInternational Politics


  1. Taiwan Teacher Taiwan Teacher

    I emphatically state, “You are so wrong!”

    I gather you have never pulled a shotgun from the throat of drug addicted person.

    I gather you have never met a person who shot himself in the head, yet survived to tell his story to others why drugs f*ck you up.

    I gather you have never grabbed a frightened soul who was trying to jump off an 8-story building.

    I gather you have always lived the privileged life of a person who is immune to suffering, and only sees how the government can save a buck by not trying to prevent people from destroying themselves.

    I concur that there may be better ways to deal with this issue. Perhaps there should be more advertising in the media that directs people to care about each other, instead of caring about your almighty dollar.

    Indeed, you may be the type who on any given day could encounter a sick and suffering person lying on an obscure street, look and them and say to yourself, “Why should I help? What’s in it for me?”

    Legalization is not the answer. Prevention is a better alternative.

    Unless, of course, you are the type who concludes that anyone who is led into trap, deserves to stay there being tortured until they die.

    Get yourself to an NA meeting. And, try to show up with an open mind and an open heart, if you, by some miracle, can momentarily possess either one of them.

  2. Mike Killingworth Mike Killingworth

    TT, I think you need to go to a few more NA meetings. I quit the booze in ’97 & did all the stuff I was recommended to do – and I can assure you, TT, that if you ain’t yet spending at least some the money you used to spend on drugs on a good shrink you ain’t even started your recovery journey. (A cheaper option would be fundamentalist religion, but that may not appeal.)

    As for “prevention is a better alternative” I too would like the trees to bud currency notes for leaves this coming spring.

    Legalisation, however, is not the panacea some, including Ms Pryce, appear to think. What does she expect the huge networks of dealers great and small to do if it were to happen? The rosy scenario is that they carry on dealing, undercutting the tax-paid price, as now happens in Europe at least with cigarettes. The nightmare scenario, the one that keeps top cops awake at night, is that they turn to kidnapping. Probably some of each.

    It is easy to condemn the current state of affairs, less easy to be sure that any alternative would not bring problems of its own. And as TT says, legalisation isn’t a cure for addiction as such. That, I suspect, would involve a fix for dysfunctional childhoods and other causes of mental and emotion disturbance.

    • sue pryce sue pryce

      Hi Mike – glad to hear that you won your battle with addiction. I agree legalization is not THE answer. There is no answer. Prohibition does not stop people using drugs and becoming addicted. However, legalization might mitigate some of the health hazards to users. Drugs are adulterated by all manner of things to bump up the dealers’ profits and someone injecting drugs has no idea if they are shooting up 20% or 60% strength. Drug dealers often let users run up a debt with they then enforce with violence or intimidation, requiring the user to sells drugs or shiptlift or steal to order.

      Prevention would be good but so far it hasn’t prevented nearly 50% of young people trying drugs.

      Legalization does not mean no regulation. But I accept even regulation doesn’t stop young people obtaining illegal drugs but then neither does it stop them obtaining tobacco and alcohol.

      As for NA and AA – they are brilliant – I agree with you.

      All the best.

  3. Taiwan Teacher Taiwan Teacher

    Thanks, Mike. I’ve saved a few; society needs more helpers of all kinds; and, I ain’t dead… yet.

  4. Taiwan Teacher Taiwan Teacher

    The boundary of an Yin-Yang is permeable. Whether it is seen as a noble or a foolish endeavor, I am compelled to be the best osmotic catalyst that I can under my circumstances, hoping to generate a miniscule bit of enlightenment, one that I, by myself, cannot possess in this world.

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