Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Needle In the Close

(Non-Scottish readers should note that the word 'close' in this piece has been given its idiomatic Scottish meaning as the common hallway of a block of flats, and should be pronounced in the same way as 'close' as in 'near to', rather than in the word's use as a verb synonymous with the verb 'to shut')

During the edition of 'Question Time' which was broadcast from Easterhouse on 18th October, the speakers were inevitably questioned on the legalisation of drugs. 

I have lived in and around Glasgow for over 40 years, and have been very fortunate never to have lived near intravenous drug users; yet a thought occurred to me while that show was on that might just be the ultimate rebuttal of those who call for the legalisation of drugs. It might be a mere restatement of the so-called 'broken window' theory, but it works for me. 

You can legalise drugs to your heart's content, but you will not satisfy me that they should be legalised until you can provide me with a rock-solid, cast-iron guarantee that when drugs are legalised intravenous drug users will not leave used needles in the common close. In libertarian theory, the individual should be able to do whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want. Drug users want drugs to be legalised because our current laws deem drug abuse to be a criminal act, and very few people, even most criminals, like to think of themselves as being criminals. That might be unfortunate, but it isn't really a strong enough argument upon which to legalise the abuse of heroin. While the core of all libertarian theory on any topic might be that the individual should be entitled to freedom, its consequence is that in order for the individual to achieve their freedom the law must approve of all the individual's choices, no matter how individually or collectively destructive they might be. State approval of your choices is not the same thing as freedom; ask any Soviet.

However, even if the supply of heroin for heroin abusers were to be nationalised (which would be the means by which drugs would be legalised, thus ensuring the British state's heaviest involvement with the narcotics trade since the Opium Wars), there would appear to be no guarantee that heroin abusers would then only contaminate themselves and their private spaces, miraculously stopping their contamination of public spaces like the common close, or the street, or the playground, or the football pitches, or, where they still exist, the park. To my mind, the balance of probabilities suggests that needles would still be left in closes, at one time, and perhaps still, a very frequent occurrence in areas of Glasgow like Easterhouse. While that risk remains, the possession and supply of drugs should remain criminal offences; these offences should be pursued far more vigourously than they are; and the punishments  for these crimes should be very much more severe than they are. 

When they inject, the junky abuses themself. When they leave a needle in the close, the junky abuses everyone around them. When they inject, they put something into their system. When they leave a dirty needle in the close, they leave something that they have drawn out of their system just lying around. Legalising the act will not cause its consequence to disappear. It was gratifying to learn that the SNP does appear to have a drugs policy, making it something of a pity that the resources which have been used to abolish double jeopardy and create a national police service were not directed towards combatting drug crime instead.

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