Should Christians consider legalising drugs?

There has been some discussion on drug laws over at New Zealand Conservative, with Lucyna referring to an article called “Don’t legalize drugs” by Theodore Dalrymple, which I shall refer to below.

This is a very polarising issue, with most people either saying “Drugs are bad – ban them” or “You have no right to legislate what people put in their own bodies – legalise them all”. Those in favour of legalising them argue that this will reduce the price, reducing crimes committed by people trying to fund their drug habits, and increase the quality (less people dying from dodgy concoctions). They generally assume that if drugs were legal usage would not increase much, as most people are sensible and won’t take them. I highly doubt this, it is logical to expect that usage would increase somewhat, people are more likely to use something if they can do it on a whim (pop into a shop and buy it) than if it is more difficult and expensive to obtain.

We don’t know what exactly would happen if all drugs were legalised – we haven’t done it yet. As Theodore Dalrymple states:

“But a certain modesty in the face of an inherently unknowable future is surely advisable. That is why prudence is a political virtue: what stands to reason should happen does not necessarily happen in practice. As Goethe said, all theory (even of the monetarist or free-market variety) is gray, but green springs the golden tree of life. If drugs were legalized, I suspect that the golden tree of life might spring some unpleasant surprises.”

I am certainly no fan of the legalisation of all drugs. It is a stupid idea to take drugs, I don’t even drink. However, many Christians rightly see drugs are bad and as a result go completely in the opposite direction – “ban them all”. Many seem to believe for some reason that Christianity requires drugs be illegal, and won’t entertain any discussion about adjusting the drug laws. But nowhere in the Bible is there ANY example of a drug being illegal.

Currently alcohol and tobacco are legal in NZ, most other stuff is illegal. The decision which drugs should be legal and which ones restricted is not based on Christianity at all. Rather, it is a purely pragmatic decision based on the costs and benefits to society of having a substance legal or illegal. Therefore it is perfectly reasonable for us, whether Christian or not, to entertain discussion on the costs and benefits of whether possession of certain substances (such as BZP, or cannabis) should be legal, illegal but not criminal (e.g. you get fined but don’t end up in court, just like a driving offence), or a criminal offence.

Dalyrmple also states:

“Analogies with the Prohibition era, often drawn by those who would legalize drugs, are false and inexact: it is one thing to attempt to ban a substance that has been in customary use for centuries by at least nine-tenths of the adult population, and quite another to retain a ban on substances that are still not in customary use, in an attempt to ensure that they never do become customary.”

Which is also an excellent point. The social acceptability of a drug makes a big difference in whether it is practical to restrict it or not. If enough people find something socially acceptable, it will be impossible to police. You can never control a substance without public support.

But where does this leave socially acceptable illegal drugs like cannabis? Whatever its status in the past, and despite research showing how harmful it is, cannabis is now socially acceptable in many circles. If you doubt that, just think – do you know someone who you strongly suspect uses cannabis? Most people know users, it is so widespread. Have you reported them to the cops yet? If not, why not? Why don’t you respect the law? Do you too find cannabis socially acceptable?

If even you find cannabis socially acceptable and won’t report it, how do you expect the police to control it?

What our drug laws should be is something I am as yet undecided on. And I am strongly aware that changing one small thing can be the start down a “slippery slope” towards more stuff that would be undesirable. However we must be willing to entertain pragmatic discussion on these issues. Christianity has a lot to say about the rights and wrongs of many different things – we can conclusively say abortion is wrong for example. But it has little to say about drugs, so we must be careful not to jump on one end of the dispute (either “ban it all” or “complete freedom”) and hold this as the “Christian” position, rejecting all practical considerations to the contrary.

Legalising P?

Following from the shooting of Sergeant Wilkinson last week while investigating a suspected P lab, there has been some discussion around the blogs on whether we should be throwing greater resources to fight P, or legalise it – two completely opposite approaches that are both designed to take P away from the gangs.

Kiwipolemicist does a good summary of the arguments for legalising P and other drugs from a Christian perspective. The argument basically comes down to:

Drugs and alcohol are essentially the same thing, i.e. both are psychoactive substances (something that affects the mind). It is illogical and hypocritical for the government to make one psychoactive substance legal – alcohol – and outlaw other psychoactive substances – drugs. …

… the gangs  that the government bleats about get a huge amount of their power and money through the sale of drugs. The quickest and simplest way to give gangs a kick in the family jewels is to make drugs legal. …

“Drugs are harmful” you say. Yes, drugs are harmful, but that is not a rational reason for making them illegal. Cigarettes are harmful, and no one seriously proposes making them illegal; it is a double standard to support the illegalisation of drugs because they are harmful unless you also support making everything else that is harmful illegal.

Which seems to make a lot of sense initially, as this approach allows you to be perfectly consistent across all substances. Blair Mulholland talks from this perspective with regards to P. If you are interested in the issue, read the whole of both articles.

But would legalising drugs really help? Scrubone effectively pulls this argument apart.

There’s one problem with this. Pure methamphetamine is so addictive that people would most emphatically not stop after the first try. They’d try it again. All I have heard (and I even had a neighbor who was previously addicted to it) is that this drug captures you the first, or at most second time you use it and then that’s it – you’re addicted and it’s incredibly hard to get out. So if only 25% of the population try it, that’s at least 20% who are going to be addicted.

What happens then? Addicts are able to purchase it for $5, so their money would last longer – assuming that they didn’t just ramp up their addiction instead. So a year or two down the track they’ve lost everything. What do they do then?

Well, my bet would be that the portion of the population who would be addicted by that stage would start stealing. Sure, you don’t need to rob a bank to get $5. You can just purse snatch for that, or smash someone’s window or whatever. Trivial stuff.

Except that every time my window gets smashed for the sake of $5, the cost to me or my insurance company is more like $100 or more. Who pays for that? Why, I do and the jolly taxpayer who has to foot the bill for increased police to fight petty crime and people “going crazy”.

Again, read the whole article. We can’t just ban stuff because it is harmful to the user, that is why the Greens moves to ban pies and stuff in schools are ridiculous. But when something causes damage to wider society, as drugs like P do, then the correct response is to restrict them. Greater availability of substances like P could cause great harm.

There has to be a balance somewhere, on most issues the classical liberals talk sense in my opinion. But if you bluntly apply liberal principles to every single issue, you could do just as much damage as if you bluntly apply state control to every single issue.

Sometimes liberalism is the way to go. Sometimes restrictions are the way to go. We need to be flexible enough to use the solution that works best on each issue.

Police officer killed in Mangere

A plain clothes police officer was shot dead in Mangere early this morning. This is a tragic incident. There has been a lot of discussion of what we should do about it over at Kiwiblog.

There are two main points to take from this:

  • If the police officer had been armed, he may have been able to defend himself and we might not be reading these headlines this morning. Should plainclothes officers in covert operations against drugs like this be armed? This is something well worth considering.
  • Arming the officer would not have stopped the crime occurring – we would instead be waking up to news of a shootout in Mangere, possibly still with a dead cop, possibly with a dead criminal, possibly just with injuries on both sides. Although this would have been better as the cop would have more chance of surviving it doesn’t solve the real problem – why the crime occurred in the first place.

To stop crimes like this occurring we must first stop people feeling a need to get into crime in the first place. Many criminals come from broken families, raised without a father as a male role model they seek out gangs for solidarity and for role models to look up to. It is downhill from there on.

We must support families, promote marriage (a commitment which in general results in more stable families than defacto relationships), allow parents to discipline their children effectively, and demand accountability from fathers towards their children. But Labour has been doing exactly the opposite to this over the past 9 years.

Only by tackling the root issues behind crime will we ever solve this dreadful problem. I sympathise deeply with the family of this cop. He is the 28th cop killed on duty here since 1890, his family join a long line of families in the same situation. We must have the guts to break through the PC wishywashy rubbishy policies of Labour and actually prevent this occurring in future.


Family Party press release.