Land of confusion: Why we’ve lost the war on drugs
Teenage angst is only half of the reason why youngsters want to get high. It’s more about rebellion.
Recently it was the UN sanctioned International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, another day of world leaders, NGOs and others lying through their teeth about their success in ridding the world of the scourge of narcotic drugs to try and justify their pay checks.
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is very different. If you’ve seen the Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 movie Traffic, a remake of the brilliant 1989 British television serial Traffik, starring Jamal Shah among others, you might remember a very relevant piece of dialogue.
It happens when teenage junkie Caroline introduces herself during a rehab support group session, saying:
“Hi, I’m Caroline, and I’m not sure if I’m an alcoholic. I mean, I don’t really like to drink. For someone my age it’s a lot easier to get drugs than it is to get alcohol. I guess I’m angry. I mean, I think I’m really angry about a lot of stuff. I’m just not sure what.”
This sums up the biggest problem with combating drugs abuse across the globe. As anyone not wearing blinders will tell you, the ban on alcohol in Pakistan is an absolute failure (unless you’re a bootlegger), which has robbed the nation of billions in potential tax revenue (that money and more is still being paid, but only to the bootleggers).
Without wasting more time on booze though, the crux of the problem is unchanged. A blanket ban on narcotics can bring only two results. If the ban is followed, we end up like the US, where just over half of federal prison inmates are guilty of drug-related offences, and of those, almost 90 per cent are users, not dealers. To top it off, 51 per cent of total offences relate to marijuana, which is paradoxically listed in Schedule 1, alongside cocaine and heroin, even though the active ingredient, THC, is listed in Schedule 3, two grades lower.
Alternatively, we turn into Pakistan (not much of a stretch for the imagination), where anyone with means or a solid connection can get away with any quantity of illegal drugs or alcohol.
Neither option can be considered a legitimate path.
As Caroline said, getting drugs is a lot easier than getting alcohol in the US, because dealers are unscrupulous. They are the true capitalists: willing to sell anything to anyone to make a buck. In Holland, multiple studies have suggested that marijuana/ hashish abuse dropped after the herb was decriminalised, although casual use did indeed rise. Canada liberalised their drug laws to combat the real problem behind the narcotics trade; hard drugs and violent gangs. Their argument was simple, every dollar that the state collects in the form of taxes is a dollar taken away from the gangs.
As hard as we try, demand has, is and will always create supply. Unfortunately, all government policy deals with the supply side, while completely ignoring the rising demand. In the early 90s, cocaine was almost unheard of here; now, whether or not they actually partook, everyone with ties to the local elite in Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi has been to a party or other event where a suspiciously large number of people seem to have the sniffles.
Globalisation created the demand; dealers just decided to tap the market.
Drug abuse can only be fought through education and the creation of positive city aura; cities should have avenues for entertainment that are accessible to all. Idle minds will always be attracted to intoxication.
As far as young people are concerned, teenage angst is only half of the reason why youngsters want to get high. It’s more about rebellion. The same rebellion that you, me and everyone else lucky enough to grow up with loving parents felt ‘forced’ to partake in, without even knowing why. Long hair, pierced ears, dating, smoking, drinking, and obviously, drugs (disclaimer: I am not guilty of all of the above).
From bending rules to breaking them, kids will always want to test the water, but it’s up to us to make sure they learn to swim first; and especially that they know when to come back.
That doesn’t mean you offer a kid a joint. It means you honestly educate them on why drugs are bad, and not repeating what the government tells you in a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ manner. It means you follow the advice of Michael Douglas’s character in Traffic, Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Robert Wakefield, who, after learning of the extent of his daughter’s addiction, fumbles through a press conference before saying:
“If there is a war on drugs, then many of our family members are the enemy. And I don’t know how you wage war on your own family.”
Published in The Express Tribune.