PUBLISHED IN THE HERALD MARCH 2019
Do kids making their Confirmation still also take the pledge to be a Pioneer? This was a solemn promise to abstain from alcohol until your 18th birthday – and ideally, the rest of your life thereafter.
I made the pledge in the 1980s, sticking with it until around 17 and university. I probably hadn’t thought about the Pioneer movement since then even once, until the head of the Irish Catholic Church this week called for society to “reignite the temperance movement” to tackle the “terrible impact” of drugs and alcohol.
Archbishop Eamon Martin argues that temperance – Pioneer-style abstinence, essentially – is the best way to fight the devastation being caused in our communities, down even to village level, by drugs legal and not.
Personally, I feel there’s an argument to be made that all drugs should be decriminalised. I accept the view that society should set its aspirations high, and not cater to low standards or baser instinct in its laws.
Yet I still believe that decriminalisation is worth examining. I say this, by the way, as someone who hardly ever dabbled in the dodgy stuff – coffee and cigarettes are the best way for this bird to fly – and thus have no personal dog in the fight.
For one thing, we live in a free world; mature adults should have the right to a personal choice on ingesting whatever they want, so long as they’re made aware of the effects and, especially, their consequent responsibilities to everyone else.
In other words, you want to waste your days smoking opium? Fine, it’s your life. You want to brain a shopkeeper to get money for your opium fix? Not fine, and I’d come down very hard on anyone who can’t keep their personal habits personal; who makes their problem into someone else’s problem.
There’s also the not inconsiderable fact that it is impossible to control drug-taking anyway. As long as human civilisation has been recorded, and almost certainly much further than that, people have consumed mind-altering substances.
You can’t stop some folks from doing it, because you can’t stop them from really wanting to do it. That’s human nature.
And if their drug of choice is not available, they’ll probably just smoke, drink, eat or otherwise ingest something else. I mean, people get high from licking toads which release a toxic hallucinogenic compound: proof, surely, that human ingenuity, combined with an insatiable appetite for altered states of mind, will enable people to find drugs virtually anywhere.
But the most important factor behind any call for decriminalisation is this: it would greatly reduce criminality, which is the primary source of all that pain and misery.
To go back to our hypothetical opium user, consuming a drug affects one person, ultimately; making that drug illegal empowers entire armies of thugs, scumbags and killers.
Look at Ireland: the drug-fuelled Hutch-Kinahan feud has seen 18 people murdered so far. The small city of Limerick was beset by similar during the noughties, when the Keane-Collopy vs McCarthy-Dundon war was at its height. Current serious troubles in Drogheda are linked to drug-trafficking turf battles.
Making drugs illegal makes them incredibly valuable; after all, there must be some reason why young men risk life and liberty for the chance to sell them. And that in turn makes gangsters very rich: recently, for instance, CAB repossessed a mansion in swanky Raleigh Place, then owned by crime-lord Liam Byrne, which was worth a whopping million quid.
Drug-dealing pays well – if you fight to the top and make it out alive and not in prison, which hardly anyone does. From the top down, meanwhile, there’s a pyramid of ever-expanding loss, anguish and brutality.
Allowing the State to take control of drugs, though, cuts the legs out from under these bastards to a large degree. No trafficking revenues means no guns, no mansions, no deadly feuds, no armoured SUVs, no fancy foreign palaces. It means no muscle, no power, no leverage over ordinary citizens, no danger, no threat to society.
Decriminalisation is also a matter of global equality. Most of the countries which actually produce drugs – Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia – are poor, to greater or lesser degrees. And because of the legal/political “war on drugs”, large parts are turned into horrific hell-holes. Mexico, for example, has a surreally high murder rate: 28,000 last year, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
Well-meaning Westerners buy Fair Trade, lobby for better deals for Third World countries, give to charities and aid groups. But decriminalising the global drug industry would help those people ten times more.
We’re all aware that Prohibition basically ushered in the rise of organised crime in the US during the 1920s. The same thing continues to happen. People are, have and always will take drugs; by making it strictly illegal, all we’re doing is handing the money and power to ruthless barbarians.